Communicating with clients in other countries: what to expect

RAB meeting

First meeting with RAB representatives

We are team RAB, joining the Rwanda CAP 2015. Our client, the Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), is looking to build a model to find the drivers of productivity and what specific strategies they should continue to implement in the Crop Intensification Program (CIP).

From the start of our CAP experience, we have been trying to be in contact with the client. We had questions regarding their expectations and deliverables, models that have been built in the past, data collection, and the possibility to talk to people in the Ministry of Agriculture, National Institute of Statistics, the Rwanda Agriculture Board, and consultants who worked for RAB in the past. We encountered many obstacles when communicating with these people.

The time difference between Washington D.C. and Kigali was the first difficulty we encountered. In addition, the cultural differences when arranging a call or a meeting made it difficult for us to know how to approach the client. While in the U.S. we are usually schedule calls, in countries like Rwanda, people simply make the call and the recipient will take it if they are available at the moment.

Once we finally contacted the client on the phone, the connection was poor and it was very difficult to have a clear conversation. By the time we had our first presentation at GW, we had only have one short conversation with the client, exchanged many emails from which we only received answers to a few questions, and reached out to people in different organizations that were ready to help once we were in country.

The American culture involves a lot of planning beforehand, and scheduling is done in advance. Other countries, especially in developing countries, have a much more relaxed way to schedule meetings. On April 28th we received an email from our client who happened to be in D.C., and wanted to meet before going back to Rwanda. The meeting was rescheduled a few times, and was finally set for Monday, May 4th. We did not have full confirmation on the meeting time and place until the meeting day!

Fortunately, the entire team was able to join the meeting. We met with one person working at RAB and another at the Ministry of Agriculture. They were both very helpful and clarified what they wanted from us, the data they had available, what the focus of our project should be, and what we should do before arriving in Rwanda. The meeting was the first time we achieved an ideal level of communication, and we set off a good start with the clients before meeting them in Rwanda.

Be prepared to deal with some difficulties when communicating with clients abroad. Particularly, be aware of cultural differences that may differ from the way of handling business in the U.S.. Once you get to know what those differences are, work around them and you will be successful. The RAB team is excited to complete this project and look forward to arrive into Kigali next week!

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