1. Communication habits & the ubiquity of WeChat
There is little doubt of WeChat’s ubiquity in China even if it is not as popular elsewhere. With the number of WeChat users currently at 581 million, the potential for reaching prospective customers and communicating with keeping current customers up-to-date in a quick, convenient and cost-effective way is immense. There is also, as David’s case illustrates, the possibility of integrating WeChat as a means of communication in the production process of products and services. This means the workflow from the factory floor, inspection, freighting, delivery and retail can be linked through the use of WeChat. Yet, few Australian exporters are aware or willing of the flexibility, timeliness and connectivity that WeChat offers them.
The main impediment to the adoption of WeChat by Australian exporters can be attributed to the lack of language skills and a lack of familiarity with the platform. However, although WeChat is primarily a Chinese interface, translation is built into the app so it is possible for non-Chinese speakers to use it. Admittedly, the translation is machine translation and hardly flawless but it is an option that can overcome the lack of familiarity and language skills.
There are other issues with WeChat as an app. For example, it archives messages locally on the device you use and conversations are only manually transferrable to new devices. Also, because its parent company, Tencent, is based in China, all use and data are subject to Chinese cybersecurity laws. There are also restrictions on the type of companies that are issued official WeChat accounts.
2. Disparate sources of information and monolingualism
As our online audit demonstrated, there is no lack of information on the export of Australian goods and services to China. However, they are dispersed across associations, state and federal government sources, professional and commercial enterprises ranging from business brokers and law to accountancy firms. At the same time, while some sources provide bilingual information, most are available only in English.
This creates unnecessary obstacles for Australian-Chinese business owners who are investigating the possibilities of exporting Australian goods and services to China. To overcome this, we model on our website a bilingual forum as an effective way of conveying and sharing information. The list we provide is far from exhaustive but it is a solid foundation from which to explore the options.
3. Connecting Australian-Chinese Cultural Fluency with Australian exporters
Trust is crucial to all kinds of business but especially so for transnational businesses. Apart from the need to understand foreign export processes, the lack of familiarity with language, business practices and expectations is a major challenge. As the case studies of David, Judy and Gina show, these issues can be overcome through the employment of Australian Chinese who have the cultural fluency to build trust and understanding between exporters and customers. Individuals from China now form the largest proportion (29%) of those arriving in Australia to pursue higher education and as business migrants. Their exposure and experience with Australian ways and practices is a resource that remains largely untapped.
As cultural translators they not only help Australian exporters to overcome language issues and use their ability, to use Gina’s words, “read between the lines” to inform negotiations and decisions. In doing so, they can also pave the way for Australian manufacturers and companies to achieve a sound understanding of differences in business practices and the seemingly baffling expectations they give rise to (as with Judy’s example of the Chinese boss arriving late for dinner).
With their bicultural nous, Australian-Chinese cultural translators can also help to shape how Australian exporters approach the Chinese market effectively. For example, beyond appealing to the Chinese through price alone (as with the example cited by Judy) to emphasize the qualities behind Australian brands such as natural goodness, reliability and expertise. New Zealand, for example, has successfully built a powerful brand out of its assets of “green open spaces and natural, unspoiled landscape”. These are assets that Australia also possesses to a different degree and can be capitalised upon.
Still, recognising the value of bicultural talent is one thing, connecting such individuals with the Australian export businesses that could use their talent is another. Currently, Australian businesses seem to rely on the ethnic media such as community newspapers and radio, word-of-mouth and traditional job advertisements to find the candidates they want. While experienced professionals might have little trouble answering to these advertisements, the talents of thousands of new Chinese graduates trained by Australian universities are also available but left untapped.
To overcome this hurdle, on accf.asia we model a bilingual forum where Australian exporters can communicate and connect with young professionals seeking jobs, business migrants, suppliers and even, prospective customers.