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How Languages Impact Customer Experience

Customer experience is the new battleground for organizations. By 2020, CX will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. And according to Gartner, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience.

This CX focus extends to contact centers. A recent poll from ICMI found that 55 percent of contact centers say improving the customer experience is their top priority this year.

The language connection

This article looks at an aspect of contact centers that has a significant but sometimes misunderstood impact on CX: languages.

Multilingual Support

Multilingual support is important. 74% of consumers are more likely to repurchase if after-sales care is offered in their language (Source: Common Sense Advisory). And in the seminal ICMI/Lionbridge study (“Lost In Translation: Leveraging Language to Deliver an Exceptional Customer Experience”), contact centers specifically said that:

  • 79% of contact centers have customers who aren’t native speakers of the primary language(s) that they serve
  • 60% of those customers expect service in their native language
  • Quality scores increase when they receive support in their language
  • And, the majority of contact centers expect the volume of multilingual interactions to increase

A surprising gap

Because CX is important and languages have a clear impact on CX, there’s a strong case for offering language options to customers. Despite that, the same Lionbridge/ICMI study found that only 19% of contact centers provide language support for even the most common communication channel: voice.

While voice is absolutely important, it is not customers’ preferred communications channel – that gave way in 2015 to chat and self-service (Source: Forrester). Across virtually every channel, including voice as well as chat and email, contact centers most commonly use one strategy to support these customers; they apologize that they don’t speak their language and attempt to service them through whatever language the agents speak.

This is surprising. What happens in the contact center closely links to CX as well as loyalty and revenue. As an industry, we’ve invested in people, processes, and technologies to optimize every part of our business. So why are we ignoring something that has such a direct impact on our success?

Multilingual support is easier than ever

In Lionbridge’s experience, part of the challenge is that contact centers believe that multilingual support is difficult. If omni-channel is difficult in English, omni-channel across languages is even harder.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to provide broader language support. And, it isn’t limited by the cost and management challenges of hiring and retaining bilingual agents. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping in the form of real-time translation technology that can transform English-only communications channels into high-quality multilingual services. Used in conjunction with over-the-phone interpretation, existing agents can communicate across languages with no changes to how they or customers already communicate.

Getting started

1.    Identify your language opportunities.

A good starting point is to analyze the languages coming into your contact center today. What are the most common languages not supported by your agents? For each of your customers’ top three languages, what are the effort, CSAT, NPS, and other scores? How do those differ from English (assuming that’s your center’s primary language)?

Also think about your customer journeys by language: What stands out? Where are the commonalities?

Combining the answers to these two questions will paint a clear picture of the languages and channels that are important to your customers. That’s the foundation for your multilingual planning.

2.    Determine your goals.

With the data in hand, determine what specifically you’re trying to accomplish. Is it better customer experience (CX)? Improvement in CSAT/NPS scores? Call deflection? Supporting new languages? Offering broader coverage or faster response time?

Whatever your goals are, be clear and think strategically. These will drive your appropriate language approach

3.    Investigate your options.

With your new goals in mind, consider what makes sense for your business, culture, and budget. If voice is the preferred channel, does over-the-phone interpretation make sense? If chat and email are important, have you looked at real-time translation solutions?

If you consistently support just one or two languages, can you hire that language talent? If you need to support a lot of languages across all channels, is outsourcing support to a BPO (business process outsourcer) appropriate?

The important thing to remember is that you have options. The best-fit solution may include one approach—or a combination of several.

4.    Build the business case.

After determining your multilingual approach, the next step is to build the business case. Based on the goals you’ve set and the strategies you’ll use, answer this question: How will you measure the results of your actions? At what frequency?

Languages are similar to the rest of your contact center infrastructures; manage them strategically.

5.    Test and measure, then optimize and expand.

A best practice we’ve seen is to test and control whenever possible. Don’t start by offering all languages across every channel. Instead, start with one or two key languages in one channel. Take the time to optimize this so you can, in turn, document how it met your goals.

With that channel and language(s) successfully in place, identify the next channel and follow your now proven process.