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The Modern Day Tower of Babel: Solutions for the Multilingual Contact Center

Leaving aside the question of where and when it was actually constructed, the structure commonly known as the “Tower of Babel” is an interesting metaphor for what can be a challenge for many a contact center nowadays. The story goes that when the Babylonians tried to construct a mighty tower, God disrupted the work by confusing the language of the workers so that they could no longer understand one another. Not surprisingly, the tower was never completed. The people were dispersed over the face of the earth – each and every one of them now speaking their own language.

Tower of Babel

Today, it is estimated that approximately 7,000 different languages are spoken around the world. There is consolation in the fact that 90% of these languages are used by less than 100,000 people. Still, just looking at the number of languages widely spoken in the US can be daunting: the prevalent languages are English, Spanish and Chinese, but there are also over one million people each speaking Tagalog, French, Vietnamese, German or Korean. And in a time many businesses go global, companies need to address the extensive language requirements of their international customer base.

Let’s take a look at the four most common challenges arising from this, and how to best address them.

1.    If you have a contact center that serves customers in more than one language, you need to get contacts to the agent with the correct language skill(s) and proficiency. You may also support multiple contact center channels (email, chat, SMS or Social Media) in addition to voice. So not only do you need to consider the language skills, you must also deal with the fact that your phone agent “champions” may not be the best fit for “written” channels (and vice versa). To further complicate things, you must also balance skill and proficiency requirements with Service Level and Average Wait Time targets. In order to meet your Service Level goals, you might need to relax your skills requirements to get the customer to a live body in an acceptable amount of time.  You need a contact center environment that allows you to define routing strategies based on complex skills combinations as well as current contact center conditions. If your solution facilitates all that in an intuitive, graphical user interface – even better!

2.    On the front end, you have to determine your customers’ language requirements to ensure they are connected to a qualified resource. For voice, never underestimate an integrated, easy-to-use IVR or voice portal which allows callers to select their language of choice up front, saving you time while making sure you keep your customers and your agents happy. Equally important is your ability to determine language for other channels such as email or chat – make sure your multimedia contact center solution supports that as well. And while we’re at it: be sure you can report on what happens in your IVR and on contact volumes based on language. That way you can understand and measure how intuitive your IVR prompts and flows actually are. Reporting will also provide you with insight into how your numbers add up in terms of language requirements. Note that unless you have a large pool of polyglot agents, “volume by language” will obviously impact resource scheduling as well – but that’s a whole different story in its own right…

3.    Once you know which languages you need to support, then "where, oh where” do you find the agents that actually have the required language skills? Here’s where a cloud contact center solution comes in very handy. For starters, it is simple to deploy locations pretty much anywhere, so your contact center can go where the qualified agents are. Potentially even where the required language is the mother language! And if you consider home-based resources to further extend your pool of eligible agents, then a cloud contact center is the ideal fit!  Deploying remote and home based agents is easy, and offering your reps to work from a location close to where they live, or even from home, has huge benefits in terms of agent satisfaction. Which translates into higher retention, less training for new resources… you get the picture.

4.    Lastly, if you plan to have agents that already natively speak your required language, regardless of where they live (inside or outside the US), it can be very helpful to offer the agent interface in “their” own mother language. Make sure you confirm that your solution allows for the agent interface to be run in any or all languages that you will want to support, and that this can be set on a per agent basis – your agents in the US will have different needs from users let’s say in Mexico or in Canada.

Bottom line: since all attempts to “do away” with languages (including Esperanto, nice try!) have failed, and the results of computer-assisted translation most of the time fail to deliver anything other than the unexpected, finding the right contact center solution is your best bet to avoid a “Tower of Babel” scenario in your contact center!