The concept of multilingual contact centers is clearly the next hot topic in today’s customer-service arena; Google it and you’ll find page after page of ads for services covering hundreds of languages in a far-flung patchwork of cities and countries. If you represent a brand that has, or hopes to have, a global presence, you’re probably already asking yourself how soon you need to tackle the conundrum of multilingual client services.
Recent research by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) provides a pretty clear answer: It all depends on how quickly you want your brand to be successful in international markets.
The study, “Lost in Translation: Leveraging Language to Deliver an Exceptional Customer Experience,” found that:
- 79 percent of contact centers have customers who aren’t native speakers of the primary language(s) they serve.
- At least 60 percent of those customers expect service in their native language.
- 52 percent of contact centers expect the volume of multilingual interactions to increase over the next three years.
- 69 percent of organizations polled plan to support additional languages within the next two years, with Spanish cited as the most common language to be added.
- However, at time of research, only 19 percent of contact centers provided multilingual support for even the most common channel: voice.
It’s the “new normal” in customer service for your clients to expect real-time, seamless service across whatever channel or platform – or language – they choose to use. The preferred language-barrier solution for many companies would be to add multilingual employees to their existing customer service staff; however, almost 60 percent of ICMI’s poll group agreed that the biggest challenge in providing multilingual service is finding and hiring bilingual agents.
Another current set of statistics suggests that the search could be made more effective if your company simply re-evaluates its HR processes. Researchers worked with the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute to survey more than 2,100 U.S. employers on their efforts to hire multilingual employees and published the results in the February 2017 Foreign Language Annals. They reported conflicting overall results:
- 93 percent of respondents “value[d] employees who… are able to work effectively with customers, clients, and businesses from a range of different countries and cultures”; however,
- Only 41 percent reported prioritizing multilingual applicants.
Hiring practices were more likely to prioritize foreign-language proficiency at organizations seeking to hire for positions in customer service:
- These organizations were significantly more likely to identify language skills during the recruitment process (76 percent).
- However, even these organizations show room for improvement, as only 55 percent of respondents reported specifying levels of foreign-language proficiency, and only 56 percent reported giving a hiring advantage to multilingual candidates.
So once you’ve identified the language(s) your contact center should offer, and you’re committed to hiring a critical mass of multilingual agents, what next?
It almost goes without saying that a critical element of your multilingual plan is to implement a cloud-based contact center. Then your agents can be located anywhere they have high-speed Internet access and a personal computer or even a mobile device; they can even work from the countries your multilingual plan will serve. And your service – their service – is a leased software solution that integrates into your existing IT infrastructure.
The goal for your customers’ experience is consistency across all channels, time zones, and languages. So your next step is to add language parameters at key points in the customer journey. You can make subtle changes, such as matching the language options the customer can choose from on both your IVR and your website. You can offer features like customer service callback, which allows your customer to reach out via any channel and have your most appropriate agent contact them. Tools like this also allow brands to analyze the customer journey across each channel and obtain contextual data before a connection is ever made – improving the relevancy of the interaction, increasing the likelihood of first contact resolution, and eliminating the need for customers to repeat themselves or re-enter information.
Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Choose a partner with decades of proven experience in innovating and elevating the customer experience. At VHT, we believe that every customer interaction, regardless of channel, should enrich the brand and deepen the customer relationship. Ready to get started? Contact us.