In recent decades, research into and practical applications of the influence of cultural standards in management have evolved at an international level. This paper deals with intercultural communication in the field of relationship marketing using the specific example of the handshake as a greeting and parting ritual. The different greeting and parting rituals in Germany (the handshake) and Japan (the bow) will be identified and compared with one another. As well as briefly defining terms, the points of entry and the impact of culture-based communication, particularly in the field of relationship marketing, will be described. Historical, religious and cultural-anthropological aspects will then be incorporated in a comparative analysis of the handshake/bow. Building on these explanations, the paper will go on to demonstrate how studies on intercultural communication can also be used as a rationale for the influence of cultural standards. This is the only manner, in which the intercultural overlap identified in a comparison between Germany and Japan can be better understood. The objective of this paper is not to fully review the existing explanations, particularly those contained in the individual theories on intercultural communication postulated by Hofstede, Trompenaars or Hall. Instead, the aim is to apply a methodological implication between communication and culture to plausibly and reasonably raise awareness of intercultural communication in the field of relationship management using the example of the handshake.
Keywords: intercultural communication, relationship marketing
“Handshake” - Intercultural communication in the area of relationship marketing
Introduction to the topic
In 2016, reports in the media from Switzerland caused a sensation in Germany. In October 2015, two high school students in Therwil (Switzerland), minors, refused to shake their teacher’s hand. Although the school had negotiated a compromise with the students, the Director of Education in the canton of Baselland decided, on the basis of a legal opinion, that the youths were obliged to accept the handshake. As a penalty for non-compliance, they were threatened with a fine of up to 5,000 Swiss francs or expulsion from the school (Bleisch, 2016). This provoked fierce legal and political debate, not only in Switzerland, but in Germany as well, and included aspects related to cultural differences and their acceptance. The incident shows that not only people but also companies in the respective country have to take into account cultural differences in behaviour and interaction to avoid personal and financial penalties. In Germany and in other Western countries, actions ranging from a handshake to an embrace and kisses on the cheek are considered standard greeting and parting gestures, both in the private and business domain. It is a sign of respect towards the other person. Does this European behaviour also apply to Japan, or does the bow take the place of the handshake as a different greeting ritual? Do German companies understand the national culture in Japan and take it into account in their communication, in order to successfully break into the Japanese market and not to ruin their opportunities against competitors from the start? Does this ritualistic behaviour have an impact, not only in the area of management but also in the discipline of relationship management? How can awareness be raised and with what justification? Can a plausible rationale be derived from the historical, religious and cultural-anthropological approaches available in literature and in practice and the existing cultural studies and theories on intercultural communication developed from them by Trompenaars und Hall, or the originally established dimensions of Professor Geert Hofstede from 1980 and 2003, which compared national cultures?
Objective of this paper
The objective of this paper is to apply and interpret previous research to demonstrate the influence and impact of culture in the structure of customer relationships and in a company's dealings with its employees with regard to the handshake as a greeting and parting ritual, using a country comparison between Germany and Japan. In particular, historical, religious and cultural-anthropological aspects will be shown as a rationale and as an aid to companies when aligning their relationship management strategy. Answering the question of whether the ritual applies equally in Germany and Japan and what impact country-specific communication has on a company's employee management and customer relationships offers companies considerable added value. Awareness of culture-related characteristics makes it easier for the company to understand members of foreign cultures. It allows them to prevent and potentially reduce communication issues within companies and also with customers across countries. This gives companies a not inconsiderable competitive advantage.
Structure of the paper
In order to better understand the connection between “intercultural communication” and “culture”, “handshake” and “relationship marketing”, the terms will initially be explained and differentiated. The influences and impact of cultures on relationship marketing and customer relationship management in a company will be explained. In the next chapter, the ritual of the handshake and subsequently the bow as one aspect of the form of communication will be examined in greater detail by comparing the cultures of Germany and Japan. Historical, religious and cultural- anthropological aspects will be used as the rationale. Moving on, the leading existing cultural studies will be brought to bear as the rationale for the influence of culture on communication. To this end, a comparative analysis of the cultural dimensions of Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hall will be conducted. The results and outlook confirm the influence of cultures in the field of communication and enable companies to recognise a competitive advantage as part of their relationship marketing strategy.
Intercultural communication – the handshake
To aid comprehension, the meaning of intercultural communication and the term “handshake” must first be explained, in order to illustrate that even when exchanging information at a level of common understanding, the handshake must be incorporated as a greeting and parting ritual.
Definition of intercultural communication
The objective of intercultural communication is to establish communication between people from different cultures. Culture is always a collective phenomenon. People who live or have lived in the same social environment share a culture. Many different definitions can be found for the term “culture”. As a result, intercultural communication is wide-ranging area and many scientific disciplines have addressed the issue. According to communication expert Maletzke (1996), these include not only philosophy and education, but also cultural anthropology (which he divides further into ethnology, ethnography, social anthropology and ethno-science), psychology, social psychology, communication science, linguistics, political science, history, cultural geography and economics. However, research focuses primarily on intercultural communication, because communication generally takes place between individuals that belong to two different cultures (or represent two cultures). Both cultural-anthropological studies and economics have had a major influence on intercultural research. The most significant of these are probably the cultural studies by cultural scientist Gerd Hofstede with his research paper Culture and Organizations, the scientist Trompenaars and the anthropologist Edward T. Hall.
The purpose of intercultural communication is to achieve cross-cultural consensus between the acting parties. Acting parties may be individuals but equally companies or organisations, social groups, societies, governments. It makes sense to analyse intercultural communication, as it is the only way that misunderstandings through modes of presentation and means of expression can be recognised and avoided. However, communication does not only mean understanding through words, it is also non-verbal, such as in the form of a handshake.
Definition of the handshake
The handshake is a non-verbal greeting and parting ritual and is standard in many Western countries and the handshake is normally performed with the right hand (Dudenredaktion, n.d.). The hands grasp each other for several seconds and are often moved up and down rhythmically. If this movement is absent, we talk about a hand squeeze. The handshake originated from a waving action to show one’s counterpart that the shooting hand did not contain a weapon. Depending on the culture, the handshake is accompanied by direct physical contact, i.e. an embrace or kiss on the cheek. Although the handshake represents non-verbal communication, communication still occurs. The handshake must therefore be incorporated into intercultural communication as a greeting and parting ritual as part of exchanging information at a level of common understanding. An explanation will then be provided of how the handshake as a cultural practice influences communication in the fields of relationship marketing.
Influence and impact of cultures in relationship marketing
International relationships are becoming increasingly important for business performance. Companies need to adapt to this. This is the only way they can remain competitive and successful in the global world. Both the initiation of individual transactions with customers (transaction marketing) and the management of customer relationships (relationship marketing) are points of entry in a globalised strategy. The altered market conditions resulting from increasing global competition have refined the idea of marketing that arose in the 1960s and 1970s. The focus is no longer on the product (transaction marketing) but customer relationships are considered the starting point (relationship marketing).
Definition of relationship marketing
The literature contains a different perspective of how management of customer relationships is ultimately defined as a concept. Regardless of whether the concept is considered according to Bruhn (2015), relationship marketing includes “all measures to analyse, plan, implement and monitor, initiate, stabilise, intensify and restore and, if applicable, terminate business relationships with a company’s stakeholders – especially with customers – with the objective of providing mutual benefit” (p. 12). The objective of relationship marketing is to place customer relationships at the centre of activities. The type, course and intensity of customer relationships then results in a realignment of marketing activities (Bruhn, 2015). For the sake of completion, it should be mentioned that this term must be differentiated from the term customer relationship management (Hippner & Wilde, 2004). This is not clearly defined in the literature. Some opinions assume that the latter is a „comprehensive, customer- oriented, technology-based management concept “(Bruhn, 2015, p.4). Other opinions assume that it is a purely operational technological tool to process customer data (Schwetz, 2000). The difference of opinion is, however, not important here. Because particularly in the field of relationship management, a company can only perform and analyse the manifold and complex customer data with the aid of information technology. As a consequence, it is always part of relationship marketing.
„So regardless of whether relationship marketing is regarded as a comprehensive, customer-oriented, technology-based management concept “(Hippner & Wilde 2004, p. 15) or just an information technology tool (Schwetz, 2000). The success of relationship marketing relies on relationship-based organisational structures and a relationship-based corporate culture. „Particularly when implementing a company’s relationship marketing plans and thus when implementing a company’s strategy, it is necessary to adapt the corporate culture (at employee level), and the corporate structure and corporate systems (at institutional level), in order to successfully focus on the customer relationship “(Bruhn, 2015, p. 257).
If a company does not engrain a relationship orientation in its culture, it will have difficulty establishing an individual customer relationship focus for its corporate activities and thus building up and intensifying profitable customer relationships. Cultural problems are often rooted in the indifference and insensitivity of employees with regard to customer contact or in employees’ perception that the company’s top management wants to pursue the relationship orientation. In addition, a lack of acceptance of and among employees and an inability on the part of managers to persuade staff often form cultural barriers. Structural obstacles impact, for example, the organisational anchoring of relationship management in the company, resulting in none of the company’s departments feeling responsible for the customer because there is no specific allocation. Systemic obstacles include deficiencies in the use of information, communication, personnel management and monitoring systems.