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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Language and Service Part 3 – It’s a Small World: Serving All Your Customers

This is the last part in our series on the impact of language in the service industry.  

The first blog explored how service improves when the customer and service professional truly comprehend each other.   It’s not just basics of grammar and vocabulary, but a heartfelt connection.  (Read Here)

The second blog offered tips to help offshore call center representatives or non-Native English agents when they cannot understand the customer, if it is a USA based business. (Read Here)

Today’s blog covers when a call center agent cannot understand the customer because the customer does not speak the main language of the business.  Businesses are now global. Customer populations are diverse, and have to be for businesses to grow.   But how do we effectively serve this diversity?

Keeping It Real

I have a difficult time understanding anyone with accented English.  

It is no one’s fault.  They try, I try, but it unexpectedly extends any conversation by several minutes.  Part of it is I am partially deaf, and sometimes verbal communication is difficult for me.  Partly, it is easy to live in the United States only speaking one’s native language because of limited interaction with people outside of one’s cultural circle.  

But in this beautiful modern world, at some point when working in the service industry we will have to serve people we do not fully understand.

This is much easier in face-to-face interactions with the use of nonverbal gestures, and a smile goes a long way.  In a call, visual hints are unavailable, and many customers use cell phones to contact call centers, which can have unstable connections.  What can agents do to still create a successful service experience?  

The Gurus’ Training Solution to Serve English as Second Language Customers

1.       Immediate Take Action Now Solution – Be Nice first, and then Be Right

Always Be Nice.  Train your agents to be sensitive and have patience to this situation.  An agent’s job is to service any call, the easy and the complex.  Your organization has marketed to this customer that you will serve them with excellence, so it is up to the agent to deliver on this.
Ask the customer to gently slow down, and listen for key words.  When asking them to repeat information, be respectful.  There is nothing more frustrating for a customer than being asked to repeat information they believe was said crystal clear. 

It’s Critical to Be Right.  The agent must clearly recap to the customer what they said, and what action or information is being requested.  This is the only way to ensure both parties understand each other, and the agent is delivering the correct service.   Practice this repeatedly in role plays.  

2. Longer-term Organization Health Solution

Some companies strive to hire native speakers of all languages they serve.   Geographically, they are in a labor pool of international diversity and can do so.    

If you can do this, then do it. You will also need to investigate if a language pay differential is available.  In my Central Florida market, it is getting less common to pay for Spanish, but less available languages like Mandarin may still pay a compensation differential. 

Also understand as a business  who are your clients and customers.  If it is multinational, it would be an exercise to help your agents understand a little about different cultures.   Some cultures believe it is rude to ask questions, which can make a service interaction difficult.  Some cultures are very direct, and that can put an agent on the defensive.    Awareness can go a long way towards high customer service survey scores.

The end desire for customers and employees is to have a positive and effective service experience.   Challenges come in all sorts of wrappers at a call center.  This challenge is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition, by paying attention to niche segments of your customers.  This will only help you in the future, because it is a small world after all. 

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