What We’ve Learned About Contact Centers and Multilingual Support

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As the calendar inches closer to Dec. 31, I can’t help but reflect on the year ending and think about what 2017 has in store.

I worked closely with Lionbridge throughout 2016 to better understand the state of multilingual support in contact centers. Over the past 12 months, we’ve researched this topic extensively. Our findings, outlined below, tell a story of evolution and growth.

2016: A year of multilingual support challenges

Contact centers have struggled to support multiple languages. Finding and hiring bilingual agents is hard and expensive. And low and unpredictable language volumes make it difficult to plan and effectively deliver customer service across languages.

And it’s only getting harder. Consumer expectations continue to grow for real-time, seamless service across channels and platforms. If your company has localized its website or products, you’re on the hook to provide support in those same languages. (Hopefully, you received enough notice to plan!).

Off- or near-shoring your contact center may help lower your costs, but the language talent that your organization needs is less available.

Overall, 2016 showed us that languages are an important issue for contact centers. In the May 2016 ICMI/Lionbridge study, Lost in Translation: Leveraging Language to Deliver an Exceptional Customer Experience, we found:

  • 79% of contact centers have customers who aren’t native speakers of the primary language(s) they serve
  • 60% of those customers expect service in their native language
  • The majority of contact centers expect the volume of multilingual interactions to increase

These points make a clear case for offering language options to customers. Despite that, only 19% of contact centers provide language support for even the most common communication channel: voice.

And across voice, chat, email, and other channels, contact centers most commonly use one strategy to support these customers; they apologize that they don’t speak their language and attempt to service them through whatever language the agents speak.

This finding was surprising. What happens in the contact center closely links to customer satisfaction, loyalty, and revenue. As an industry, we’ve invested in people, processes, and technologies to optimize every part of our business. So why are we ignoring something that has such a direct impact on our success?

We know that providing language services support is hard. Is that what’s holding us back from affecting change?

2017: A year of change

Whether it’s the perceived difficulty or lack of understanding of solutions, I hope that we stop accepting the status quo and make a change in 2017. My frequent co-presenter on language strategies, Tom Tseki, General Manager of Customer Care Solutions at Lionbridge, has five multilingual best practices to help contact centers start, or accelerate, this journey.

  1. Identify your language opportunities.

A good starting point is to analyze the languages coming into your contact center today. What are the most common languages not supported by your agents? For each of your customers’ top three languages, what are the effort, CSAT, NPS, and other scores? How do those differ from English (assuming that’s your center’s primary language)?

Also think about your customer journeys by language: What stands out? Where are the commonalities?

Combining the answers to these two questions will paint a clear picture of the languages and channels that are important to your customers. That’s the foundation for your multilingual planning.

  1. Determine your goals.

With the data in hand, determine what specifically you’re trying to accomplish. Is it better customer experience (CX)? Improvement in CSAT/NPS scores? Call deflection? Supporting new languages? Offering broader coverage or faster response time?

Whatever your goals are, be clear and think strategically. These will drive your appropriate language approach

  1. Investigate your options.

With your new goals in mind, consider what makes sense for your business, culture, and budget. If voice is the preferred channel, does on-demand interpretation make sense? If chat and email are important, have you looked at real-time translation solutions?

If you consistently support just one or two languages, can you hire that language talent? If you need to support a lot of languages across all channels, is outsourcing support to a BPO (business process outsourcer) appropriate?

The important thing to remember is that you have options. The best-fit solution may include one approach—or a combination of several.

  1. Build the business case.

After determining your multilingual approach, the next step is to build the business case. Based on the goals you’ve set and the strategies you’ll use, answer this question: How will you measure the results of your actions? At what frequency?

Languages are similar to the rest of your contact center infrastructures; manage them strategically.

  1. Test and measure, then optimize and expand.

A best practice we’ve seen is to test and control whenever possible. Don’t start by offering all languages across every channel. Instead, start with one or two key languages in one channel. Take the time to optimize this so you can, in turn, document how it met your goals.

With that channel and language(s) successfully in place, identify the next channel and follow your now proven process.

About the authorjustin-robbins

Justin Robbins is the Content Director at HDI & ICMI. He’s a customer service expert who’s coached thousands of individuals around the globe on contact center best practices.

He’s a professional member of the National Speakers Association and has been featured by the New York Times, NBC Nightly News, Fox News, and numerous other media outlets.

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