7 Etiquette Rules for Importers and Exporters

How to serve customers skillfully in culturally unfamiliar settings

Open your heart. Photo Credit: findingthenow

So you're an importer or an exporter and have a level of commitment and passion that others don’t. At the same time, you know how to take calculated risks to grow a business across borders. You’re an importer or exporter because you want to grow to become great and big, and open to the world for business. These etiquette rules for importers and exporters will help you communicate better with people from other cultures, including people in your own country.


1. Stretch Your Mind and Open Your Heart

Get out of your comfort zone. Prepare your heart and mind to do business with the world. Challenge yourself and your team to think more deeply about the impact you may have in another culture when you are about to do business there. 

2. Learn Acceptance of Others

When you are about to do business with a customer in another part of the world, communicate value, worth and esteem to that person. Communicate respect and dignity to each human being no matter their race, creed or color, or where they are based in the world.  

3. Be Open and Humble to Others

Be both open and humble, or in other words, act in ways that people from other cultures perceive as humble. Being humble is the ability to communicate with others and make them feel safe. Yes, you are selling a product or service, but why not connect with customers in a way that is heartfelt and long lasting?

Work alongside your customers as equals to find and implement solutions. 

4. Transition Slowly Into New and Different Cultures

Transitioning slowly into new and different cultures will enable you to have heightened awareness of the business issues you will face in a new setting. This awareness will allow for realistic expectations and reduce the effects of any difficulties you will encounter in the transition.

At the same time, you will be able to manage the transition effectively and be able to build new, deep and long-lasting relationships. 

5. Don’t Judge or Make Quick Decisions

Yes, we want to move fast on profitable business opportunities, but you must learn to slow down, even stop sometimes to evaluate your own feelings and the feelings of others, to suspend judgment and to ask "why" questions. Why are they taking so long to get back to me? Why are they so curt in their email messages? Why do they keep asking me the same question over and over? Dig deep to fully understand your customers – look below the waterline – and suspend judgment on why they behave the way they do. 

6. Build Rapport With Culturally Diverse Customers

You may not understand your customer’s language, but you can most certainly hire a translator or take a course in your spare time to better understand and communicate with your customer. Even if you make mistakes while learning their language, it’s the effort that earns an A by your customers’ standards.

7. Plan Ahead for Unfamiliar Cultural Settings or a Quick Turns of Events

Set expectations, but realize you still must remain flexible if actual expectations are not met.

I remember once I had this big business deal in Hong Kong that was just about to take off and hit the sky with revenues and profitability only to find out within a month’s time that the key person I had been communicating with suddenly became ill and needed to take a leave of absence to recover. Applying the “stretch your mind and open your heart” philosophy or etiquette rule, in this case, helped enormously in dealing with both the loss of potential business and the loss of communicating for a period of time with my key guy.    

Remember, cross-cultural differences aren’t right or wrong, they are just different. As soon as you recognize that, open your mind to cultural blind spots and adjust accordingly, everything else will fall into place in the global marketplace. That is, when it comes to effectively serving customers the world over.