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Hola, hola. Alguien habla Español? (A Little Story on Cultural Differences)

I recall some years ago, I was first introduced to the concept of cultural differences. It was not just about time zones and locations, it was more than that. Fahrenheit’s versus Celsius, zip code versus postal codes, states versus provinces, winter versus summer. And the list can go on and on….

This is only what we can see on the tip of the iceberg, it’s not the complete picture.  What else do we need to consider when providing outsourcing customer service to the US? Much, much more; for sure.

Having worked with people all over the world (I now live in Argentina), I’ve been exposed to many cultures.  There are many similarities among customer from different cultures, but there are also vast differences. For the purposes of this blog post, let me illustrate the differences by focusing on one simple concept: intonation. If an American says “I´m angry about this situation and I expect a resolution right now”, he/she doesn´t necessarily need to sound irate, and his/her voice does not need to be raised to express dissatisfaction.

On the other hand, if you were in Argentina, and you wanted to express this same dissatisfaction, you’d need to also “sound” angry, not just express the idea.

Why is that the case? Basically, because although an agent in Argentina may be able to understand what an American customer is saying, intonation doesn’t always translate across languages. What is the downside of not considering these cultural differences?

A great language barrier/misunderstanding can result in poor customer service (or perceived poor customer service), horrible CSATs and a very angry customer.

For example:

US Customer: “I´m very worried about this situation.” (normal voice tone)

Agent: “Ok, let me validate in the system” (standard response)

Agent response customer was expecting: “I apologize for this inconvenience, please let me validate in the system and see how we can correct this issue”.

Latin American Customer: “I´m very angry about this situation and I think your company qwepoirjhkldjnfklashdf iuasdhfiasuh!!!!!!” (Yelling)

Agent: “I see, I’m sorry about this, let me validate the system and see how we can correct this issue.”
Would you like another example?

Customer: “What should I type on the field Password?”

Agent: “a Password?” (Sic)

In this case, for a customer, it might be hard to tell if the agent is being sarcastic, or if they’re confused.
In many cases the customer would assume the agent does not know the answer and is trying to double-check with the customer, when in reality the agent is being sarcastic about an obvious response. If you hear a native Latin American answering a simple question as it were a question, be sure that agent is being sarcastic, not doubtful.

Why are we facing these challenges in interpretation? It’s quite easy to understand, but quite difficult to resolve: we are located in different parts of the world.

How can we correct these issues? As with any other type of problem: detecting the root cause (composition of customer base, cultural origin of population taking calls) is crucial.  Identifying customer feedback, and compiling a list of common differences to give to agents can also go a long way in helping.