5 Multilingual Customer Support Options for Contact Centers

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Contact centers give careful consideration to planning and delivering great customer experiences (CX). They have invested significant time and resources into the systems, processes, and training that make these experiences possible.

Research shows that there’s an outlier they haven’t yet mastered: providing scalable and effective multilingual customer support. When the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and Lionbridge teamed up to conduct a large study of languages and contact centers, we found that:

  • 79% of contact centers have customers who are not native speakers of the primary language(s) that they serve.
  • At least 60% of customers expect service in their native language when contacting a brand.
  • 52% of contact centers expect their volume of non-primary language communications to increase over the next three years.
  • Only 19% of organizations can support customers in any language over the phone. This percentage decreases significantly when it comes to other service channels.
  • The #1 way that contact centers provide customer service to customers that speak an unsupported language is to “simply apologize and attempt to handle in the agent’s primary language.”

There’s a glaring disconnect here. Contact centers expect their non-primary language communication volume to increase, and yet they have no strategy in place to support it.

Strategies to support multilingual customers

To help organizations proactively address the shifting landscape of multilingual customer support, we’ve developed a four-part blog series covering the most common multilingual customer support strategies.

By laying out the pros and cons of the language strategies that brands and BPOs typically depend on, you can make an educated decision on a best-fit CX solution for your own customers.

Our blog series details the most common options for multilingual customer support:

  • [Part 1] Back-office resources: In the contact center industry, a back-office resource is defined as a native or multilingual speaker that isn’t part of the care organization. When you use ad-hoc support as a language strategy, there’s no expense. However, your brand can’t be guaranteed of the outcome—nor your consumer of a positive CX.
  • [Part 2] Over-the-phone interpretation (OPI): According to ICMI and Lionbridge research, OPI is the most commonly-used language strategy. The good news is that it provides immediate access to language support and, compared to hiring bilingual agents, it can be cost effective. The downside is that OPI is voice only when many consumers prefer self-service and digital channels.
  • [Part 3] Hiring bilingual agents: This can be a great solution—having the right language skills in house. Digging deeper, it’s not that easy. Hiring and retaining talent is hard. And finding talent with the right customer service focus and passion is even harder.
  • [Part 4] In-region contact centers: This is a common language strategy used to get closer to specific sets of consumers. That said, it’s the most expensive and complex of the multilingual options.

In another article, we explore the newest paradigm in multilingual customer support:

  • Real-time translation: This is the only way to provide omni-lingual and omni-channel support without hiring multilingual agents. Second-generation solutions like GeoFluent combine the benefits of OPI with multilingual-enabled digital channels.

Progressive contact centers are tackling the multilingual opportunities head-on. Multiple strategies exist to fit every level of sophistication and maturity. No matter which strategy you choose, you’ll see improvements in your non-primary language consumers’ CX.

About the author

rsz_headshot_tom_tsekiTom Tseki is a contact center industry veteran. His experience and expertise include helping organizations implement and leverage omni-channel customer care strategies to improve CX, increase revenue, and gain contact center efficiencies.

He has a deep background in contact center technology as it relates to customer communication, analytics, and workforce optimization. Tom works closely with contact center and BPO leaders on strategies to improve care by reducing customer effort—leading to increased CSAT and NPS.

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