Sometime ago I was at one of the largest Canadian banks depositing a cheque when I noticed a conflict erupted between an employee and a long time valued customer. At the entrance, a bank employee was greeting and handing out customers a wrapped toffee from a large candy dish.

The bank employee, a young lady from a Vietnamese background, said to the customer “just take one” in a tongue and cheek manner, which is somewhat acceptable in the western culture. But this older gentleman from a South Asian background took it as an insult by her saying, “just take one”.

He loudly stated in an angry tone, which could be heard throughout the bank, “why did you say that to me? I don’t want any of your candies”.

The employee attempted to apologize to the customer saying she was only joking. Then another employee came to offer an apology, but the customer refused to listen. As the customer abruptly left, he said, “I will never come back, I will take my banking to another bank”.

Here is a classic example of cultures clashing in a business setting because this could happen almost anywhere.

Two grown adults from different countries and cultures trying to integrate in a business setting, but due to misunderstanding have created an awkward situation. The correct approach for the employee was simply to ask the customer if he would like a candy and not say “take only one”. By making that statement, it applies in the Indian culture that the customer is poor, a beggar and needy!

Similar situations occur a lot more than many of the businesses are willing to admit. The sad part is that many small and large organizations are not even aware cultural misunderstandings are on the increase. When customers get up-set or become offended, they rarely come back costing businesses in profits.

With a multicultural population on the increase in western countries, all businesses need to pay extra attention as to who their customers are. Plus cultural awareness training should be mandatory for all staff members, including the managers and owners.

Any business that is going to survive in today’s ever changing markets at home and abroad must adapt quickly to the changes of their customers and employees. Profits have no colour barrier!