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The Surprising Value of Accurate Language Screening

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Operating a contact center efficiently and profitably is a difficult task. It is only made more difficult with unpredictable events such as COVID-19 that have accelerated the need for digital transformation and workplace flexibility. In the last decade, as I built an offshore business process outsourcing (BPO) focused on staffing software developers and a 500-plus-seat market research contact center, I constantly looked for an edge in recruiting and customer satisfaction. Every contact center manager and executive is looking to: 1) hire and retain the best talent and 2) improve customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores in order to increase the bottom line. For onshore, offshore, and nearshore bilingual staffing, accurate language screening plays a crucial role in recruiting, retention, and customer experience.

Hire and Retain the Best Bilingual Talent

An efficient process for employee recruiting is key to contact center success. It is even more important when hiring bilingual agents. In building a contact center and BPO, I found that turnover is often very high, competition with other contact centers is fierce, and ensuring an applicant can speak the language for which they are hired is difficult. Fortunately, there are now tools that allow for accurate and scalable testing of agents’ language-speaking ability.

Streamline Bilingual Applicant Processing

When the ability to understand and speak a language clearly is the top requirement for employment, assessment of speaking ability should be moved to the front of the applicant screening process. Automated speaking tests like the TrueNorth Test by Emmersion allow companies to assess their applicants’ speaking ability quickly and accurately in less than 15 minutes. With this tool, recruiting teams are only spending time on applicants who meet the basic requirements of the job. It would be a waste of time and money to interview and assess candidates who cannot speak the language for the job. Additionally, automated web-based tests allow companies to continue to screen candidates remotely when in-person or in-office meetings are not convenient or possible.

Reduce Employee Turnover

The largest cost in the contact center industry is employee turnover—voluntary or involuntary. Turnover is expensive for recruiting, onboarding, training, and customer satisfaction. It is caused by many factors, including ability, attitude, employee satisfaction, and other opportunities. Many employees leave or are let go because they do not have adequate skills for the job. In the bilingual contact center industry, the most important skill is the ability to speak the language in which they will be working. Regardless of the reason for the turnover, the cost is high. Industry experts estimate it costs $3,000 to $5,000 to recruit a qualified contact center agent and another $3,000 to $5,000 to train the agent. Accurate assessment of candidates’ speaking ability during the recruiting process, and as a basis for promotion, helps ensure that agents are qualified for the job.

Improve Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction and experience in the contact center industry is key to increase retention and growth. For both internal or outsourced contact centers, the end customer is usually an individual consumer. The end customer satisfaction is based on the speed of response, resolution of concerns, and overall sense that they were heard and understood. Prior to implementing automated testing for oral proficiency, I lost numerous customers because the language ability of my agents did not consistently meet their standards. With accurate, scalable language testing, we were able to retain—and in many cases expand—our revenue with our customers.

Improved Response Time and Accuracy

Contact center and BPO agent performance is very closely correlated to the agent’s understanding and ability to communicate in the required job language. Response time is greatly improved when the agent can understand and communicate efficiently with the end customer. If the agent only understands part or none of the customer's problem, it takes extra time to formulate the response and reach the ultimate solution. Lack of language understanding is the key driver of inaccurate responses and solutions. Unreliable customer resolutions often leave the customer angry and frustrated and can cost the company time and money providing useless resolutions. Better screening of language ability in the recruiting process helps contact centers improve response time and accuracy.

Keeping Your Customers’ Customers Happy

Customer experience is vital to customer retention and growth. Every consumer you talk to has a story about being on a call with a contact center agent without being able to understand what the agent is saying. In these situations, the agent is also unable to understand the customer’s needs. Rightfully, the customer gets frustrated and feels they have not been heard. The customer leaves the company without a satisfactory solution and shares the negative experience with their network of friends. Even if the customer chooses to remain a customer, they will still tell many of their friends about the poor customer experience. Ensuring contact center agents provide consistent quality in their communications improves customer experience.


Language screening seems like a small and simple step in the recruiting and training process, but, in my contact center and BPO experience, the impact of doing it well is surprisingly high and overlooked. The cost of not screening language ability well far outweighs the cost of the technology solutions that make it so easy to do. Focusing on improving this process will help save time and money on training and recruiting, reduce agent turnover, and improve customer experience.