When one in five of your customers speak something other than English as their first language, providing bilingual customer support is critical. Without it, you risk taking a hit to your CSat scores, your brand loyalty, and your bottom line. But what mix of live agents versus AI is best for your business? And how do offshore solutions, interpreters, and texting play a role? Let’s dive in.
In our opinion, the basic formula for every great customer service interaction begins with your customer having easy access to a fast, accurate resolution in the channel of their choice, at the time of their choice, in the language of their choice.
Providing bilingual French-English support has been a way of life in Canada since, well, forever. The most recent census reports that 21.4% of Canadians speak French as a first language. Any company doing business across Canada knows that access to a robust French language talent pool and the ability to train and support bilingual agents effectively is a necessity.
For many organizations, that French Canadian consumer group is best served by onshore solutions providers, like Blue Ocean, with a long history and a deep understanding of the nuances involved in supporting French Canadian consumers effectively and efficiently.
And by the way, what’s true of Canada is also true in the U.S. Today, one in five people speak something other than English as their primary language—a number that’s tripled over the last several decades. That’s where the “language of their choice” piece of the puzzle can get complex.
We would wager, that even with the evolution of AI, brands serving consumers in the Americas will continue to benefit from providing support in French, Spanish, and, for some organizations, Portuguese through a live agent model. The impact of bilingual support on the customer experience cannot be understated. But what’s the best approach? And what about offshore? Or AI? We cover all that and more below.
When a bilingual solution is offered to the customer, companies quickly find that quality scores increase accordingly. The same is true for first call resolution and average handle times. Data from ICMI also reveals that 76% of call center professionals believe bilingual support improves the customer experience, brand loyalty, and customer satisfaction. Surveys of consumers who speak English as an additional language (rather than their primary language) have revealed similar statistics. Customers are significantly more likely to purchase from a brand again when information and support is offered in their language.
Additionally, as we’re fond of saying, happy agents make happy customers. ICMI data shows that 66% of agents get frustrated when faced with language barriers. It reduces their confidence in providing accurate or timely answers due to possible misinterpretation. If agents are frustrated, we can only imagine that the customers they’re speaking with are too.
We’re an onshore Canadian contact center outsourcer and pride ourselves on delivering sophisticated (bilingual) customer care through strategic partnership. It’s our thing. So, of course, we’re biased. We believe that your French-Canadian consumers deserve support from agents who understand not only your brand, but also understand the consumer landscape and consumer support expectations in Canada. We believe that everything from the quality of the interaction to factors like handle time and first resolution are positively impacted by an onshore Canadian solution.
Likewise, we know that offering live agent support for Spanish consumers is a competitive advantage in many markets in the U.S. and, obviously, for brands serving consumers in Mexico and South America, Spanish is a necessity.
Finding a partner who has a proven track record of attracting, training, engaging, and retaining agents in the language of your high-volume customer demographics is going to be the top priority of your RFP process. You’ll want to ask about labor markets, hiring timelines, retention stats and more. You’ll also want to be sure that your potential partner is able to coach and support language agents effectively, and you’ll need to ask about the escalation process for calls in your language queues.
(We have resources available to give you a boost in the RFP process if you want to check them out here.)
When considering nearshore versus offshore for your high-volume language requirements, especially French for the Canadian market, it can be difficult to quantify the value of staying onshore or nearshore when there is a wide discrepancy in price. Things like lifetime customer value/cost of customer churn come into play beyond the straight dollar-for-dollar cost of an agent hour.
Your customers expect the same brand experience they have at every other moment in their journey—your website, your storefront, your marketing. If customer retention plays a big role in your success metrics, you’ll want to do some careful analysis of the offshore scenario versus onshore/nearshore ahead of your RFP launch so you can measure your competitors’ track records in a meaningful way and ensure that you’re seeing the whole picture upfront.
For example, we just launched a new program for a client repatriating their customer care from a huge multinational offshore partner back to an onshore solution. Customer saves are a key metric, and we outperformed the previous partner, with nearly ten years’ experience under their belt, right out of the gate, realizing a nearly 5% increase in retention during our first quarter in production. The value of that improved metric plays a big role in the client’s bottom line.
But, as the title of this blog implies, a live agent model might not be the best option for all of your language requirements. One of the scenarios we often see is North American companies that have high volume requirements for English, French, and Spanish and also have small but important consumer groups in other regions.
Supporting multiple low volume languages presents many challenges – cost, obviously, is a factor. You are either paying for a highly skilled bilingual resource who may only use that second language on a small percent of the calls they handle; or you have uni-lingual resources who are under utilized throughout their shift. Hiring can be difficult – it is easier than ever to set-up agents anywhere, but the process of attracting, recruiting, and training agents in low volume languages is not without its challenges.
And then there is the issue of QA and agent performance management for low volume language agents. The good news is, in today’s world, there are more options than ever to provide high-quality, cost-effective support in multiple languages if you’re willing to look beyond the traditional live agent model. Read on.
At its core, on-phone interpretation is a seamless process linking your agent and customer, through a cloud-based platform, with a live interpreter trained in your brand and business. There are, of course, pros and cons to this option. In our opinion, the pros outweigh the cons, and we have been deploying OPI successfully for clients with complex, low volume, language requirements for years.
Text-Ony Channels: A Great Compromise for Low-Volume Languages
Most major CRMs include API options to seamlessly translate customer contact content, including real-time translation for channels like chat or social media. Offering your specialty language customers the option to interact with your customer care team via text-only channels can be a pragmatic approach to manage costs and expand your service reach.
However, careful consideration of the limitations and potential impact on the customer experience is essential. A hybrid approach, where automation is complemented by human support for critical or complex cases, can provide the best of both worlds. Ideally, balancing cost and customer experience, for a North American company with a smaller cohort of consumers in Europe, your European customers can connect in the language of their choice via text, but any escalations would be routed to an agent supported with OPI.
The critical piece of your design is to ensure that every touch point of that customer’s journey is supported in the language of their choice. Routing a German-speaking customer to an English-only IVR is not going to do your CSat metrics much good.
We can’t leave this topic without touching on AI. Once generative AI entered the public sphere thanks to ChatGPT, suddenly everyone—including your customers—became aware of the possibilities and potential for this bleeding edge technology in their everyday lives. AI in the contact center is nothing new, but it is a whole lot more accessible than ever before.
Conversational AI can mimic human support through online chat—in whatever language a user desires—to help customers get to resolutions faster. The quality of non-English interactions with virtual agents in a conversational manner in their primary language improves with machine learning. You can succeed with a crawl, walk, run strategy – expanding the scope of your language support and seeing it continually improve with each month’s interaction. It’s a win for everyone.
Your brand reputation and trustworthiness depend heavily on delivering a customer journey that is seamless and exceptional from storefront to customer support. If mistakes, delays, or escalations happen because of misinterpretation, your customer loyalty—and your bottom line—is going to suffer.
We’re not shy about the fact that we’re really good at what we do. We have a deep local talent pool from which to hire bilingual agents, and we’re obsessed with strategic partnership. It’s a recipe to ensure that what you (and your customers) get when they pick up the phone is better support than you ever expected.