Blog - Agent Topics

Hiring Contact Center Agents? Don’t Forget Multi-Lingual Markets

01/07/2014

When considering trends for customer service and how to best empower agents, it is easy to remember technology, social media and customer experience, particularly with voice of the customer being such a prevalent metric. However, there is also the issue of multi-lingual markets to consider. After all, the U.S. is a melting pot of cultures, so it is important to consider these cultural differences, including language, when building a contact center focused on the customer.

The statistics speak for themselves, as you will see below. However, finding the right talent that can speak the language may not be that easy, particularly if your recruiting reach is limited to a geographic region. Review the statistics below and then ask yourself – is this a good opportunity to outsource to a partner who can accomplish multi-lingual support?

Multi-Lingual Statistics are Compelling

According to the U.S. English foundation, there are 321 non-English speaking languages in the United States. English and Spanish are the prevalent languages spoken in the U.S., but the other languages might surprise you. They rank as follows:

  • Chinese (being the language most commonly spoken at home)
  • Tagalog
  • French
  • Vietnamese
  • German
  • Korean

Another interesting fact about languages spoken in the U.S. is that among Spanish speakers, nearly as many were native-born as foreign-born, which is not the case for other languages. The Latin community has shown strong ability to maintain consistent use of their native language while also speaking English very well.

The Latin-American market is the most prevalent today with 52 million Americans in the U.S., according to the 2010 Census. They already have an annual spending pattern of $1 trillion and will climb to $1.5 trillion by 2015 (per Nielsen Media Research).  This market is of great interest to many organizations wishing to tap into their increasing spending power.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the American Community Survey codes 381 distinct non-English languages, with 169 of these being Native North American languages. Obviously we speak more languages than English here! This definitely impacts the contact center agent.

Customer Experience Equals Understanding the Customer in Their Language

Customer experience is important as a market differentiator. However, it will be increasingly difficult to generate positive customer experiences if contact center agents are not prepared to handle the multi-cultural environment in which we live. There are several ways to better equip agents for what will be an increasingly important part of the customer experience:

  • Choose an Outsourcing Partner with Experience – this is an excellent opportunity to work with an outsourcing partner that already has multi-lingual support and can offer this type of diversity to your existing contact center. Doing so provides a cost-effective approach to managing this very important aspect of customer service.
  • Hire bi-lingual and multi-lingual agents– to ensure multi-lingual support is to hire agents who speak other languages in a fluent and conversational manner. Of course, it is possible to have agents who are good at writing in other languages handle transactions outside of calls. Just be sure your team is able to understand nuances of dialects and stay away from unnecessary slang. Having a recruiting process that can determine the level and appropriateness of an agent’s language abilities is important.
  • Provide cultural training – with such diversity comes a need to understand other cultures more thoroughly. It is easier than you might think to offend someone with some of our “Americanized” ways, so make sure that agents understand the need to work with the customer without judging. It will ensure the transaction goes more smoothly. This type of training will need to be ongoing to ensure that the nuances of varying cultures are engrained in the agents.
  • Provide Ongoing Professional Development – by ensuring that agents are continually updated on cultural differences and backgrounds, you empower them to simply do better. Also, it is important to stay apprised of what is happening globally, so they can be sensitive to how it impacts others. Again, this is an ongoing effort so that agents are empowered to handle cultural variances in a positive way.

The continued growth of varying cultures in this country is important for contact center leaders to consider because customer experience is critical. The U.S. was founded on the principle that people can come to this country and be accepted. However, many Americans have a tendency to assume everyone they meet speaks English. As we have outlined, this is simply not the case.

Contact center leaders desiring to provide better customer experiences must embrace cultural differences.   The ability to switch to a caller’s native language during a transaction offers the opportunity to connect more fully with the customer, understand and resolve the issue more quickly and provide a better overall experience.  Bi-lingual and multi-lingual agents will be a keystone to better service for a wider audience. The truth is our melting pot society is full of customers that all have expectations, and it’s up to us to serve them to the best of our ability. Rather than tackle this tall order alone, finding an outsourcing partner that already provides multi-language support may be the best option.

Menu