China has had many labels throughout its history. Today, those labels can range from currency manipulator to the country of scams and low-quality products and services. Yet, no matter how bad the labels sometimes are, people are increasingly interested in seeing how China will manage becoming the future superpower of the world. Investors keep investing, and young professionals keep studying Chinese, doing internships and teaching English in China.
When we started Next Step China, we were aware of the labels and knew it would be hard to sell a service to help people study in China. Not because it wasn't needed, but because the biggest obstacle we had to overcome (and still do) was turning our skeptics into fans.
To do that, we have to break through the question of whether or not our company is safe and legitimate so we can earn the trust of potential customers. If you're considering opening a business (or branch) in China or a similar country, here are seven tips to help you gain customer trust and grow your business:
- Be transparent as a management team. My co-founder and I weren't leaving executive positions or experts with established reputations. We knew very little about the study abroad in China industry and had no connections to help us grow. We also noticed a surge in connection requests on Facebook and LinkedIn -- and since we had nothing to lose, we let them into our lives as friends, which also gave us the ability to market to them directly.
- Build a professional website. A website designed with quality content, no grammatical errors and video testimonials is really important for helping customers trust your brand faster. If you have a website with a bunch of typos or fake-looking videos, potential customers might think twice about trusting you.
- Establish headquarters in a respectable country. Your business may be operating offshore, but you should get an office in a country with a good reputation and legal system for protecting the consumer. Also, having a representative respond to inquiries in that time zone helps a lot with the validity of the business operations. It was only natural for Next Step China to pick the U.S. as its main headquarters, since I am American. Although our customers are actually from all over the world, being an American company is still the gold standard. You can thank companies like Apple, where products are designed in the U.S. but built in China.
- Align with reputable organizations in your industry. Consumers are looking for a way to determine if you are following best practices in the industry. Next Step China has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and when we showcased our rating on our website, we noticed more people mentioning that this was an important factor in their decision-making process.
- Choose appropriate and secure payment methods. Ask a customer to send a bank wire to the country with a lesser reputation, and you just might lose the sale. Instead, use an intermediary company like escrow.com, or accept credit card payments via PayPal, Google Wallet or Amazon linked to a bank account (preferably in the country with a better reputation). Consumers trust these payment gateways and know what their rules are for protecting them if there is a problem with the transaction.
- Have a clear and fair refund policy. If you are in the business of trust, you have to make sure that you have a clear policy on your website. Give it prominent placement and make the font the same size as the rest of your website.
- Go the extra mile. Once a customer asked if we could meet a staff member in their area of town in order to become comfortable with the people running our company. I was in China at the time, and my sister -- who works for our company -- met the mother and her 15-year-old son, who was interested in going to China, at a local Starbucks. Some people won’t go that far to make a sale, but that customer did two summer programs with us in a row and helped us develop one of the best products for our company.
If you follow these steps, I can assure you that you are well on your way to growing your business. As Warren Buffet has said, "It takes years to build a reputation and only a second to ruin it."
Derek Capo was born and raised in Miami, Florida where he attended Florida International University and worked in finance before deciding to pursue a different challenge, learning Mandarin in China. In 2008 he founded Next Step China, a leading study abroad provider dedicated to offering a comprehensive range of affordable and flexible programs in China for students, professionals, and government officials.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.