CUSTOMER SERVICE

Interns as Interpreters

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In an ethnically diverse area, business owners often have a difficult time connecting with potential clients because of language, cultural, or religious differences. Eric Cohen Associates, located in New York City, which designs insurance and employee-benefit plans for businesses, had found it hard to reach the hundreds of local Chinese, Indian, Israeli, Pakistani, Russian, and other ethnic businesses. Then it dawned on Eric Cohen and his two employees that hiring college students of these nationalities as interns might help. He now regularly scouts New York, Columbia, and Yeshiva universities, taking on two interns each semester.

The intern's role is to build rapport, explain things to clients in their native language, and identify the personal concerns of the prospective clients. "Business owners in ethnic areas often distrust people who are not from within that community." Cohen explains. "But when they see the intern with me, that changes." Once Cohen develops a business relationship, cultural differences become less of an issue--although sometimes Cohen calls the intern back months later to participate in an important meeting, paying for his time. "In the last two to three years, the interns have doubled my business," he says.

Last updated: Jan 1, 1997




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