Do’s and Don’t’s for English-speaking businesses in Korea

Hm. After a great deal of contemplation on the topic “Home businesses that target English-speakers” I think I’ve finally articulated the reasons for why I end up resenting them so much.

1. Things get lost in translation.

Why: This happens when I’m speaking my native language to other native speakers, so it’s perfectly normal if it happens between non-native speakers and native speakers, too. The frustration it causes, though, is avoidable.

What to do: Keep it simple. Keep it clear. Ask another native speaker to look things over for you.

(Quick tip: If someone has to ask you 50 million questions to figure out exactly what you’re selling, you/your website is the problem….not them.)

2. Inconsistency.

Why: Not knowing the times you’re “in the office” can be more than a pain – it can cause you to lose business. Not knowing exactly what your guidelines are causes everyone to waste time asking/answering a million questions.

What to do: You should have firmly established times and guidelines, including what the customer can expect from you, and what you expect from the customer. Make sure it’s visible, not a tiny blurb in a corner! Procedure for disputes about services should also be covered. Some “business owners” seem to actively avoid the fact that disputes can and do happen. Which leads us to…..

3. ….Develop a thick skin.

Why: There’s a damn good reason why I don’t do certain jobs, like “chef” and “business owner.”

What to do: If you’re too sensitive, then running a business isn’t a good job for you. Inevitably, you’ll either hate yourself or hate your customers, or both. Why be miserable? Why have people hate you? Either develop a thick skin, or don’t be in charge of handling customers. Instead, hire someone with good people skills. Or don’t run a business. Simple.

4. Value.

Why: In Korea, it’s easy for a business catering to foreigners to see itself as “unique” – and it is! But it’s a luxury, and you’re banking on a small community wanting that luxury. If you’re not giving your customer the value they expect (the value a luxury entails), they’ll get disgruntled – and rightfully so.
Example: charging 12,000 KRW for small, tasteless portions of food is just ridiculous….and yet, some businesses here are still doing it.

What to do: If you put a hat on a donkey, it’s still just an ass. There’s no excuse for overcharging and then under serving. Oh, you can keep telling me it’s the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten, the rarest beer or the hardest to find book, but if it’s disgusting, old, or overpriced, I’m going to find out pretty damn quick. Ultimately, that suggest you think I’m stupid, desperate, or have very poor taste/money managing skills, etc. Now that I understand your low opinion of me, I’ll take my business elsewhere, or nowhere at all.

So don’t do that.

(Quick tip: If you question your skills as a purveyor of Western goods and services – which you should – find ways to verify them. Ask a friend, offer specials, allow customers to give feedback. Your business is a guaranteed fail if none of us patronize it.)

5. Apology accepted.

Why: I don’t know what it is about people targeting foreigners, but a lot of them are quite rude. They lack even basic politeness, as suggested in their failure at points #2 and #4. Often, I get the feeling that because they speak English (native and non-native alike) I should thank them. But not just thank them – I should also consider them an infallible god-send. This has happened to me on more than one occasion, which really surprises me. There are OTHER businesses. I have Korean friends and co-workers. I have my wits. I don’t NEED their business, but I’ll try it if it makes life easier. Irritatingly, it makes my life more difficult and causes me more stress than before.

What to do: Don’t be an ass. Refer to previous points for specifics. Understand that an apology doesn’t mean groveling (you should never grovel), but recognizes that a mistake has been made on your part. Which is pretty likely, since it’s your business to get it right, and leads us to….

6. Understand customer/business relationships.

Why: I’m paying for the services. You’re providing them.
If I don’t pay you, it’s my fault.
If you don’t deliver, or do a crap job of it, it’s your fault.

What to do: Be professional. That’s what “business” implies.

7. Never, ever, EVER say “We just want to help foreigners.”

Why: If that was true, you’d do it for free. It’s not true. You’re an opportunist, and you sensed an opportunity. That’s what a business is.

Complaining about “rude” customers and trying to guilt trip your entire potential customer base by saying you “just want to help” is complete bullsh*t. You know it. I definitely know it. I now know you think I’m delusional.

What to do: Don’t do it. Ever.

8. Remember I’m a human being, and that YOU determine if I use you again.

Why: If you give me a cell phone only in Korean, crappy food, are late on getting your truck to my house to pick up my furniture, try to overcharge for used books because they’re in English, close whenever you feel like it, don’t respond to an order placed that morning because you’re “taking a break from your business” that evening (and I have to hunt down the information), split a full order of food onto 2 separate plates for the sake of getting back to your video game, overcharge on Western products, and ultimately show absolutely no concern for my well-being…..We have a phrase in the U.S. we like to use. We have a very graceful hand motion as well. You deserve to see both of them. (Every single one of those things has happened to me.)

What to do: Review points #1-6. Get over yourself. Treat me like a human being, not a faceless meal ticket that should worship you because of language skills or blood quantum. Trust me – I can and will find a way to live without you.


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