The Internet has enabled countries to expand internationally at a rapid pace. They are able to reach out to customers in multiple countries simultaneously. Given that businesses are able to localize their offering and customer experience to suit their target market, customers have become more open to using international products and services.
Designing a product and making it available in different languages is not the difficult part, the hard part is furnishing support in those many languages. Localization is a one-time exercise. Using advanced technology, you can easily translate all the pages, screens, and experiences to make sure it fulfills the purpose. Support on the other hand, is an ongoing process and requires you to be constantly geared up to deal with new unexpected issues each time within a timeline the customer demands of you. Providing the right kind of multilingual customer support can be sometimes as tricky as finding a needle in the hay.
The question it brings us to is this: Why does providing support in different languages constitute such an important task for the operations personnel of a company?
In a recent survey by Execs in The Know, respondents were asked about the biggest challenges they face when it comes to providing multilingual call center and customer support; almost half the respondents said recruiting agents and retaining them is the main problem. Scaling the company’s operations came in the second biggest concern while cost-efficiency seemed to be the third-largest hurdle. Lastly, respondents reported quality assurance and regulatory compliance were also huge hurdles and constituted the fourth-largest problem when it came to providing customer support in multiple languages.
One method of grasping the structural problems and gaps in multilingual support is to look through the lens of a utopian. Let us imagine a world where language barriers do not exist. How will it affect the operations? Here are how the respondents answered:
- Almost one-third of the respondents believed that if they didn’t have to focus on language support, they would be able to concentrate on cost efficiency and talent sourcing.
- Less than one-sixth of the people confirmed they would be able to make support more flexible if there weren’t language barriers.
- Less than one-seventh of people said they could move on to consolidating their support operations if they didn’t have to focus on providing support in multiple languages
What are The Common Barriers
There are six prominent barriers stopping companies from building operational adaptability and cost efficiency:
- Shifting demands
Handling peaks and turfs in the inbound inquiries become even more challenging when it comes to multilingual customer support. Even planned seasonal surge in volumes are stressful as scaling across the languages fast enough poses a big hurdle. When an unexpected issue hits, an increasing number of inbound calls can make the situation oscillate from bad to worse for the skills required to provide fast resolutions and it is further complicated if the support is delivered in multiple languages.
- Not enough volume in languages
In a report by ICMI, 82.73% of company respondents confirmed that the low number of requests for multilingual support caused them to not focus on. This begs the question: what to do when the number of incoming requests isn’t as much to warrant the hiring of full-time native speakers?
- Catering to multiple countries with different time zones
In this era of digitization, companies are under more pressure than ever to provide quick resolutions and support across different time zones. To provide support at all times entails hiring agents around the world or running night shifts inhouse which can be very expensive depending on where you are located. Easier said than done, companies bear a tremendous weight on the operations team while trying to achieve this goal.
- Hiring and training the right talent
Hiring and retaining agents is the hardest part of providing constant multilingual call center support. If you look at the market today, you will know that technical expertise is as important as being adept in a language. Every company providing multilingual customer support is always on the lookout to hire people who have the requisite combination of both the skills mentioned above. Indeed, it has made finding and hiring people with the right skillset a hard task and retaining them a harder one. Corporations keep their focus on providing support in popular languages to cover most of their customers; all this while letting their customer base who speak lesser-known languages go underserved for a lack of resources.
Moreover, agents who tick all the right boxes and have both the skills are always on the lookout; they are ready to move to another country in the hope of better opportunities and short contractual jobs which pay well. Attrition can severely impact the level and quality of support a company can provide, a problem that cannot be solved just by multiplying recruitment efforts.
- Cost of providing multilingual customer support
Since the advent of the internet, companies have been able to successfully minimize the costs for providing customer support. Thanks to the idea of outsourcing, companies hired customer service personnel in Southeast Asia who could speak and cater to their largely English-speaking customers. It doesn’t matter where the customer support is outsourced; scaling for multilingual customer service operations constantly to deliver support for your international customers is the next big challenge. If a multinational company fails to deliver multilingual support, chances are that it will fail at the big stage.
- Empathy is the key
In this era of digitization, all you need is copy words of a document written in another language and feed it into a software to listen to the words translated in your native language. There are a few such services and software which serve the purpose, but they are not yet advanced enough to be the voice of your brand or give a personalized touch to resolutions. Customers crave empathy from support representatives. AI can never replace the personal touch of a customer support representative, they lack the emotional quotient to be empathetic which is key to awesome customer experiences everywhere.
How to Scale Your Multilingual Support
The vital question here is this: how to make sure you stand tall on each requisite?
Boxes To Tick: Going Through The Checklist
For which languages should you hire service representatives? Is hiring a native for each language feasible?
There is no way you can hire a native speaker of each language, nor would it be financially or logistically feasible. One way of going about it would be to hire speakers of popular languages and focus on the lesser-spoken ones later. Or maybe you want to support all the languages. Planning in this regard can be quite tricky. After all, there is a higher chance of customer retention if queries or issues are resolved through a native speaker; it will also help an organization build trust and reliability. On the other hand, it can sink your boat with the financial implications of setting up centers and hiring individuals to provide support at the right time.
Should you provide support in every language? Can you hire natives for catering to speakers of different languages? Will you be able to localize your services for specific markets?
We will have to understand a few points here before thinking of making these decisions.
Figure out what languages your customers speak
It isn’t as obvious as you think it might be. To understand your customer’s language preferences, you need to follow a few steps. Scrounge through the date to analyze user behaviors, pointing their locations, and emails. Do people from the USA spend more time on your website than people from Saudi Arabia? Which country brings you the most traffic?
Combining auxiliary languages for support
In many countries, there are two languages, which are prominent and spoken in different regions of the country. In Spain, you can find many people speaking different languages but Spanish and Catalan are most common. Much like that, English is spoken far and wide making it an alternative language in several countries. If a country has two common languages, it can greatly reduce the problem of tending to them in a language they understand.
Make sure your product is right
Let us say a company starts receiving a whole lot of complaints in a certain language about a product that is much more than what the support staff for that language can handle. There might be a bigger problem at play here; one you are ignoring which pertains to localizing the product or perhaps cultural misappropriation. In this scenario, you should worry about creating the right product than hiring customer support representatives to resolve issues.
Analyzing Language Usage Data
Interestingly, only one-fifth of the content available online is in English. That implies that contrary to popular belief, there are many more languages you need to focus on if you wish to successfully penetrate international markets and be a global force. You need to analyze which languages you should be prepared for. Going by the global trends, there are 16 languages including Spanish
, German, Portuguese, Simplified Chinese that are gaining prominence and if you cover just these languages along with English, you are likely to have covered 90% of the revenue that online market has to offer.
Paying attention to questions which arise
- Which languages does your customers speak?
- After covering popular languages and large customer bases, which languages constitute smaller percentages of your customer base?
- Do you find a difference in the language used by support professionals and your frequent customers?
- Are there any alternative languages spoken in the countries we cover?
- In the future, which languages should you focus on?
Give customers tools to serve themselves
Most users have already checked for answers online and are calling up support because they don’t have a solution to their problem. Even if you have provided most resolutions online, chances are that the customer might have a unique problem. There is also a chance that your Frequently Asked Questions section isn’t as comprehensive as you think it is. If a customer is unable to find the resolution to his/her problem online and has called up the helpline only to be irritated with the voice machine and the endless wait, chances are that he/she will stop using your services altogether for a substandard class of work.
For starters, make your FAQ section comprehensive and online help tools as self-sufficient as you can; conduct a frequent check and update the section every three or six months. Do remember to translate it in the languages your customer speaks. Also, dive into the processes, which can be automated which don’t require a human touch.
Answering the questions that arise:
- Have you translated and published all the customer support related information?
- Are customer feedback and reports fed into building the Frequently Asked Questions?
- Is there a process you can automate?
Adapt your services to suit local cultural expectations
Cultural attributes affect how people connect with each other; that affects the expectations from customer service as well. For example, people from South America like to chat longer with the support staff, which means you need to plan for more staff than what your stats reveal. In the Middle East, it is considered rude to call women when their husbands are not home. Companies need to hire and train your support staff in accordance on the cultural nuances and cultural distinctiveness. They need to lay emphasis on delivering support in tandem with the cultural attributes of that country; the right kind of reply is much better than the fast kind of reply and hence, most multilingual call center outsourcing companies now hire natives to deliver multilingual customer support.
Points to take care of:
- What do the locals expect from your service?
- Does culture play a big part in specific areas on the style of communication?
- What are the local’s cultural values? What would be a no-no while talking to them?
Strategize for different time zones
In today’s competitive environment, speedy communication and resolution are as important as a factor for the customer as any. We have become used to receiving fast service on the Internet. If a customer complains to a service, they expect fast responses. An email in reply could be sent back within one 1-24 hours depending upon the company’s policies. A 2019 survey pointed out that a speedy response constitutes the biggest factor in making customer satisfaction. This brings us to the big question: how to you manage that if you operate in a different time zone? Let us say, you operate in a 9 am – 9 pm timeline then what is ‘outside’ work hours for you is indeed normal workday for your customers situated in the other part for the world. It will mean an over 14 hours of horrific wait time for your customers, which you know goes against the customer-centric image you are trying to create. The only solution businesses rightfully come up with is establishing round-the-clock customer support centers or hire a Multilingual call center outsourcing company to cover this part of the job.
Important questions to ask yourself:
- What is the reach of your business? Do you need to take into account different time zones?
- What is the best-case or worst-case scenario with your current workforce? Do you think the response times are in alignment with your vision of customer support?
Estimating the language long tail
The long tail is a popular term used in marketing and retail where it depicts a few goods constituting the highest number of sales; all this while, a larger number of products make up for a smaller percentage of sales. Let us take a few examples:
Books: Amazon, an eCommerce retailer sells 57% of its books through long-tail targeting. Their marketing is based on the philosophy that what you can’t find offline is easily available on the Internet. That philosophy helped Amazon target niche products and sell them in huge numbers.
Apps Store: An analysis a few years back showed that 25 of the major developers on Apps store account for 50% of revenue while hundreds of thousands of developers are not able to hit their target. It showed us that the major developers have engulfed the market with their strategy targeting short tail as well as long-tail products.
In a similar scenario, call centers or customer service departments can hire native speakers to provide support in popular languages, but they must decide if providing support in long-tail languages would be profitable.
Questions to ponder over:
- What are the long-tail languages for your company? Is it time to switch from in-house teams to specialized multilingual call centers for need-based support?
- Is it economically viable to provide support in all languages?
- Which long-tail languages constitute the highest demand? Is the demand for support in a specific language on the rise?
Eventually, it is all about keeping your international customer base intact. It is likely you may not support all the languages but these tips will enable you to deconstruct the complicate multilingual customer support task into little simple steps that you can follow and make the process hassle-free and efficient.