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Case Study: Intercultural Competence for Sales Staff in Austrian Branch Banks, 2012

Susanne Schwanzer

1.6 Mio. people with migration background are currently living in Austria, which means an average of about 20% of the population – even 30% in Vienna. These neo-Austrians were targeted by the board of a Vienna based international bank group: How can the bank address them successfully in order to win them over as new customers?

Tasks & Challenges

Create an atmosphere, based on respect, courtesy and customer-orientation – towards Neo-Austrians with migration background. This being the base to finally win them over as new customers and create business. Taking one’s own (Austrian) routines, values and patterns as the only ones which make sense, constitutes the main obstacle: This ethno-centric attitude makes sales-employees judge concerns and investments – seemingly “unusual”- as not feasible.

Workshop Feedback

• “Mrs. Strodl-Sollak seemed very competent – esp. in the way she dealt with the – rare – objections that some participants stated. Her highly developed communicative skills seem natural and not as “drilled” as those of many of her colleagues.”

• “The seminar was very, very good. I could learn so much. There are not only conflicts between different cultures, but also within “one” culture. Thus I can take a lot from it and apply it to inter-personal problems – by just taking a fresh view on it.”

• “One of the best seminars I ever attended. I was able to combine personal development with development at the workplace – and add one to the other.”

•  “In the future I will for sure use encounters with so called „cross border customers“ more open. Until now, when they entered I often thought: “Not again this one.” – If I address them more openly I will notice that they are not only willing to open an bank account but also make investments in a much earlier state.”

• “Now I get it, why (over-)expensive consumer goods mean so much to migrants. Thus they tend to raise their level within society.”


• “We do not have a high number of migrants in our area – but I think the contents of the workshop apply to my customers on the countryside as well.”

• “I found it an excellent idea to compose the group across all levels of hierarchy, sales-districts and city/countryside.”

• (from a neo-Austrian sales-woman:) „I never thought, the „old-Austrians“ would be interested in my origins and traditions.”

• “This seminar’s „style“ is totally different from the sales-seminars we’re used to attend. You need the first day to adjust to it. It was of much use for my future work and also very good for one’s personal development.”

• “I got answers to my question of how-to-deal-with rude and boisterous – mainly male – customers.“

•  “This one product, CC, I did not offer up to now. After the seminar I now resolve to offer it.”

• “I did not believe that people with lower incomes also may wish to make investments. From now on I will offer starter-investment products in addition to the normal bank account.”

• “If there was a chance to attend additional workshops to deepen my new knowledge – I would immediately register.”

• “Targeting new customers and customer relations with customers who have migration background is getting a more and more important issue to us, since we already attend to a large number of customers coming from this group – and there will be even more in the future.”

Training Setting

1.  To live to see cultural diversity – and it’s benefits

The concept used the heterogeneity of the group as the central ankle. The group consisted of a representative cross section of the Austrian population: The group contained representants from all levels of hierarchy, from apprendices to head of branch banks as well as representants of different ages. The participants came from different branch banks in various districts and thus shared many different experiences with customers. Some of them had migration background themselves and could tell important steps in their biography of living in Austria/”becoming Austrian”. Others shared experiences of good practice: solutions which worked well for their customers – as well as such who did not work at all.


2. Exercises to raise awareness and to understand “doing culture”
These exercises, done during the 1st day, were useful to unfold many – non-reflected – cultural imprints and social conventions and to encourage and enable the participants to reflect on them.

3.       Tools to win over new customers
On the 2nd day, the participants were given specific tools to transfer them to their everyday sales practices and to win over migrants as new customers.
Brief inputs, exercises on cultural awareness, movie scenes and exercises to reframe irritating situations were used to encourage participants to self-reflect their behaviour and attitudes and to develop solution-focused thinking and acting.

Project Frame

  • 10  2-day workshops in 2012
  • Reflecting the workshop experiences between the trainers and the sponsor in order to further develop ideas and measures in the fields of innovation of products and organizational development
  • The workshop atmosphere encouraged networking which led to further self-directed initiatives: e.g. leadership staff from a certain area connected to adjust ongoing common measures to target Neo-Austrians as customers.

gdi-expert and Workshop Trainer

Gabriele Strodl-Sollak, MA