Foreign or alien?
At the end of June, the time had finally come: after a brisk ‘adios’ and ‘hasta luego’ to our families, friends and colleagues, we boarded a plane to Mendoza, Argentina! Before our departure, Mendoza was nothing more to us than a city in the west of the country, known for its delightful Malbec. That all changed when we were suddenly given the opportunity to go work there for an international client: now, it’s our new home for a whole year.
We started our journey feeling just a little nervous and with a thousand questions running through our heads, but a warm welcome and our first asado (a South American barbecue) soon put our minds at ease. Argentina is a stunning and friendly country. Whenever an inquisitive colleague asks me what the main differences are with Belgium, I always joke about the weather: it just so happens that we’ve left behind the hottest Belgian summer in decades for one of the coldest winters ever — and I’m not exaggerating — in Argentina!
Any other differences I mention are mainly inspired by the countless customer journey projects I’ve managed at Möbius: I never hesitate to tell them about the single queue system, for example. In our country, both Colruyt and Carrefour have experimented with this system, and it appears to have made an impact in Argentinian hypermarkets too, making the queueing process noticeably quicker.
Of course, South America has not been exempt from the digital revolution: every man, woman and child on the street uses WhatsApp. But the way in which Argentinians use the app might seem alien to our European eyes: they don’t type their messages, but dictate them instead! When you take a moment to think about the benefits, this actually seems the logical thing to do. Not only is voice messaging cheaper than a phone call, but it’s more effective and personal too: voice intonation provides recipients with much more information and feeling than a typed message crammed with emojis.
The private sector is making the most of this messaging service too: after we had booked, the owner the most recent B&B we stayed in took no longer than five minutes to send us a WhatsApp message, first of all to thank us and to share the exact location of his lodgings in Google Maps, but also to share an overview of the main activities in the area — which, not coincidentally, he helped to organize.
We also noticed a local wine grower using WhatsApp to let his customers know when his reception desk would be staffed, enabling him to schedule the rest of his daily activities much more easily.
To us, this provides a refreshing and pleasant customer experience — but we certainly think there’s still room for improvement. For example, small business owners in Mendoza are still using their personal mobile numbers, even though WhatsApp for Business has been available in Belgium since the end of January.
This new service enables local traders to create their own page with practical information and custom functions structuring all communication with their customers. Entrepreneurs can set an out of office message, follow up on chats using labels or view conversation statistics through insights.
Voice messages and personal greetings are great trends: they show how the digital world has become seamlessly embedded in our everyday lives. But when you give it some more thought, you’ll find that they are in fact nothing more than small, incremental improvements.
For more inspiration, we need to take a look at Asia, and more specifically China. The Chinese haven’t just embraced the digital revolution with open arms; over the past few years, they have really allowed it to set the tone for where their society is going.
People in China organize their whole lives through the ultimate app: WeChat. This platform combines many functionalities we immediately recognise from various Western apps:
just like we do with Booking.com or AirBnB, WeChat can be used to book a place to stay overnight. Once you’re there, your friends don’t need to go on Facebook or Instagram to follow your adventures or see which local businesses you’ve liked: it’s all in the app.
You can also use WeChat to book an Uber-style ride to the last-minute gig you’ve booked. Want to track the walk you did this morning as you would in Strava (a free-to-download Android app especially developed for small businesses)? No problem: you can do exactly that in a local coffee shop while you top up the calories you’ve burnt with a delicious slice of cake — all paid for with WeChat, or course, instead of Payconiq.
However much I’m looking forward to using this app here in Argentina or when I return to Belgium, WeChat expert Matthew Brennan believes it won’t arrive on our shores any time soon:
“It’s not going to be quite the same over here. China is a homogeneous market, while Europe is more fragmented: just take language, culture or regulation as an example. Chinese people have also embraced smartphones much more enthusiastically in their everyday lives: to many Chinese, a smartphone provided their first taste of the internet. They’ve skipped the desktop phase, meaning they’ve developed habits of their own. To a Chinese person, an e-mail is a strange concept.”
Matthew’s comments immediately remind me of Africa, which never quite developed a proper card payment network, but which today has the most advanced e-payment system in the world.
Argentina has already provided me with endless inspiration on how businesses great and small can make the most of new digital technologies by finding original ways to embrace them in their service provision and communication. The main thing I’ve taken away is how in both South America and the Far East, the adoption of new digital services is strongly influenced by how people deal with technology in their private lives. This is something we don’t see as much in Europe: we communicate with colleagues or businesses in an entirely different way than we do with friends and family.
There’s a lot we can learn from foreign trends. Who knows, I might just find inspiration in China or Africa for my next Belgian customer — but one thing is certain: I’m going to miss Mendoza’s asados and Malbec!