Second language

Giving your customers the option of placing orders in a language other than English can be a great way of tapping a new market. But if you don’t do it right, the result can be just the opposite of what you intended — shoppers too frustrated to place an order in any language. Brad Cleveland, president/CEO of Annapolis, MD-based call center consultancy Incoming Calls Management Institute (ICMI), offered the following pointers:

  • Be aware that you will have to invest in heavy cross-training for reps taking calls in more than one language. “Agents who handle more languages also need to be able to handle more products and services,” says Cleveland. “If you’ve got just a small group, or even one agent, who handles specific languages, you don’t have a lot of choices beyond training them on the full gamut of service questions.”

  • “Do as good of a forecast as you can,” says Cleveland of preparing bilingual reps for the kind of calls they will be receiving. Product queries, call volume, and call length will all be different in a bilingual environment. For example, Cleveland says, German takes slightly longer to write and speak than English does.

  • It’s a good idea to assess the staff you already have before hiring bilingual agents, advises Cleveland. “You may already have a lot of Spanish-speaking agents and not know it.”

  • Put a routing plan in place to identify bilingual calls coming into your contact center. That means setting up a unique toll-free number or having bilingual callers select an interactive voice response (IVR) option to get directed to a bilingual agent.

  • Since the number of bilingual agents in contact centers is likely to be limited, figuring out a plan for overflow calls is essential, says Cleveland. Most likely you won’t have the luxury of offering bilingual services for overflow calls, so you need to figure out what the next best option would be for these shoppers. For example, Cleveland says, one of his clients, based in a French-speaking area of Canada, had English-speaking agents handle all overflow from Asian shoppers, knowing that Asians are more likely to speak English than French.

  • “Do specific reporting around languages, so you know what’s happening with different groups,” says Cleveland. He recommends generating different call and agent performance tracking reports for each language that your contact center handles.

  • Try to include bilingual speakers at the management level of your company. “It’s important to look at your supervisors and see if there is someone to coach, train, and assess quality for your bilingual calls,” says Cleveland.