The Language of Logistics: How Shippers Can Successfully Navigate Linguistic and Cultural Barriers in EMEA

Red tape. Tax compliance. Political uncertainty. For shippers trying to break into the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) region, these challenges can appear huge.

In comparison, the issue of navigating the region’s linguistic and cultural barriers may seem deceptively simple—but don’t be fooled. In a region as vast and varied as EMEA, this challenge should not be taken lightly. Shippers that aren’t prepared for the sheer scale and diversity of EMEA will find themselves on the back foot when trying to negotiate deals, find capacity, and build relationships, so developing an effective strategy is essential.

Barriers to entry, obstacles to growth

Encompassing more than 100 countries, EMEA is an enormous region that’s home to about two billion people and over 2,000 native languages. And while certain languages are more dominant in the region than others, it’s important to avoid assumptions about who speaks what where.

For example, some shippers may associate Europe with the English language—when in reality, less than half (38%) of the European population speaks English fluently. Arabic is the official language of many Middle Eastern counties, but not all. And while Swahili is one of the most commonly spoken languages in Africa, English, French, and Portuguese are important languages in some of the continent’s fastest-growing economies.

This means that shippers will need to adopt a multilingual approach to doing business in EMEA or else limit themselves to a very narrow slice of the market. Without staff who speak the language, or a good translator, securing new business in the region will be difficult.

Language barriers can also disrupt the flow of information across the supply chain, which can leave shippers in sticky situations when problems occur. Producing paperwork in the client’s language, ensuring customs documentation is accurate and compliant, and avoiding phrases that will be lost in translation are all essential steps that need to be taken in order to keep things running smoothly. Otherwise, delays and misunderstandings will happen, leaving customers frustrated and questioning the shipper’s ability to meet their needs.

Different cultures, different approaches

In the age of globalization, it’s not enough to have one employee fluent in German or French. Shippers trying to tap into lucrative EMEA markets must be prepared to navigate the many different cultures and business customs that they’ll encounter along the way—sidestepping any potential faux pas and bolstering client confidence.

Spanning multiple continents, EMEA is one of the most diverse regions in the world. As such, shippers cannot adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with clients, carriers, or even stakeholders and employees at company-owned facilities in the region.

Finding an experienced partner can help shippers dive into new markets in EMEA with confidence. Some knowledge only comes with exposure, and research is rarely a match for experience. Every communication and process should be thoughtfully tailored to the local market to avoid coming across as an inexperienced outsider—and failing to even get off the ground, let alone achieve long-term success.

A blank piece of paper, greater success

To build strong foundations in EMEA, shippers can’t just rely on what’s worked for them in different regions—or even different markets within the region. That’s why at CTSI-Global, we believe in taking a “blank sheet of paper” approach—working collectively with all stakeholders to map out a carefully considered plan that takes both local requirements and the company’s global vision into account.

This is the approach we take for all our clients—including those shipping in EMEA for the first time or looking to strengthen their operations in the region. Based in Ireland, our EMEA team has a wealth of hands-on experience dealing with the region’s most complex logistics challenges and helping shippers navigate them seamlessly. And since EMEA spans multiple timezones, we ensure our support always follows the sun, not the clock—meaning we immediately route issues to other capable hands within our business when a local office is closed, rather than waiting until morning to deal with it.

Find a partner that speaks the language of logistics in EMEA and beyond. Contact CTSI-Global about logistics management today.

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