The fax machine is the undisputed favorite business tool of international executives when communicating with their foreign customers. In short, fax machines provide proof of receipt, they set forth all agreement terms in writing, and they're impervious to time zones. However, Richard Koehler, president of an international marketing firm who also teaches classes on international business for the M.B.A. program at the University of Houston, warns fax users to be careful. "People using English as a second language are more comfortable sticking with the facts: the terms and vocabulary they work with on a daily basis such as items available, price rates, and terms of delivery."
According to Koehler, miscommunication is a key hazard of doing international business. "The fax helps streamline delivery of information, but precise language in fax correspondence is one of the best services a firm can provide their overseas customers," says Koehler, who cautions that friendly American colloquialisms, acronyms, and slang terms only muddy the waters.
"One of my seminar students couldn't understand why it took a customer an entire week to respond to an 'ASAP' request he had made for some documents," says Koehler. "The foreign client might not have known what 'ASAP' stood for, and even if he did understand the term, he might have interpreted it differently. In the United States, 'ASAP' means drop everything, but in another country, it may mean 'get it done by the end of the week.' It's better to specify dates and times and not leave important facts open to interpretation."