Sep 19, 2019

6 Steps to Provide Excellent Multilingual Customer Service


A PwC report reveals that 86% of consumers are willing to pay a higher price for a product or service if it comes with great customer service. When it comes to customer service, empathy and communication are key factors in creating a great customer experience. The best way to combine these factors effectively is to be able to speak the customers’ preferred language, thereby encouraging, trust and loyalty. Let’s put this into perspective by looking at some figures: 

World's most spoken languages


There are roughly 40,000 languages that have been created by humans of which 6,000 to 9,000 are still in use today. Of these thousands, 23 languages form the native tongue of 4.1 billion people across the globe with each language being spoken by at least 50 million people! With the majority of the world population speaking a multitude of different languages, it becomes imperative to embrace linguistic diversity. For any brand to make the switch from local to global, it must take the right measures to satisfy the customer service needs of a global, foreign-speaking audience.

While the numbers above are telling, many businesses are at a loss when it comes to forming a localization strategy for customer service. Here is everything you need to consider to begin offering support in multiple languages!

Multilingual customer service checklist


1. Analyze your target audience and their language requirements

If you’ve decided to take the multilingual route, you will likely be faced with the difficult decision of choosing which languages to offer support in. 

Analyze Traffic

Start by analyzing your current data – if your business is primarily online, track the locations from where you receive the most amount of traffic. Check emails, inquiry call logs and any other sources from which you receive client information. Once you have a list of regions, spend some time researching the content consumption habits of individuals in those regions. While people in some foreign countries are very comfortable using English or another language as a second language, others are not. 

Choose languages to Support based on Demand: 

The best way to choose which languages should be catered to on priority is to check where the volume of demand significantly drops in your list. For example, if the difference in demand between English and Spanish is 10% but the difference between Spanish and Italian is 30% with other languages following, you know that your focus should first be on English and Spanish.

Ensure a Fast Turnaround Time

Once you have a fair idea of where your existing and prospective business is located, check whether providing prompt and timely service will be a possibility. The thing about taking your business overseas is that you will often be dealing with multiple time zones with not always sufficient people to manage them. 

Depending on your service model, ensure you have enough time to respond to clients if you plan on using any interactive channels such as email, live chat or phone support. Remember, customer support is an ongoing process, unlike localizing a product. Even if you have a largely automated process, you will need to maintain speed and accuracy at all times. 

2. Localize your marketing efforts and product offerings

You can’t offer support in multiple languages if your product or service is only offered in one language. You must first ensure your product is correctly localized to compliment your customer service efforts.

Your product or service could be anything; a lipstick, an app or even a burger. More likely than not, you will have an online platform such as a website through which it would be available either for direct order or for marketing purposes. Ensure that the user interface has a localized design, dynamic layout and can be easily adapted to languages that are written from right to left. 

Let’s take the example of Zomato, a website and app that helps you to discover restaurants, their ratings, and menus in 24 countries across the world. Each restaurant can upload their menu on their Zomato page/profile. For tourists that are new to a country, it’s culture and cuisine, being able to view menus in their preferred language can be a key differentiator. Although the platform supports 11 languages, individual restaurants don’t often make the most of this functionality.

For instance, Prague is one of the most visited cities in the world. In the city center, you will often find someone standing outside each restaurant with menus in 3 or 4 languages, including English. Unfortunately, not all of those menus are available on Zomato which is a great disadvantage as many travelers prefer to shortlist eateries before their trips.

3. Decide on the extent of multilingual support to offer

There are two main ways through which you can offer support – through human or AI-supported interaction or via self-help tools. Which approach you choose is dependent on your budget, the availability of multilingual support agents and the company’s future vision.

multilingual customer service


Hiring Native Speakers

Every time a customer chooses to talk to a representative of a company, chances are that they have already tried various other methods. Native speakers understand the cultural nuances that are associated with a language or region and can often pick-up verbal cues that non-native speakers cannot. However, this can often be expensive and you may not always find native speakers of a foreign language, locally. 

This is a viable option if you need reps to be present in person such as front desk staff or if you need someone to attend to client calls or live chat. 

Online Self Help

According to Zendesk, 91% of customers would rather use an online self-help tool like a knowledge base if it were customized according to their needs. The interesting thing to note here is that customers expect customization and that includes language. No one likes to explain their problems to multiple agents over the phone or stay on hold for countless hours. For the technologically aware and savvy customer, online self-help is a gold mine that’s waiting to be found. 

Creating a multilingual knowledge base and regularly updating the content is a great way to increase customer satisfaction and reduce the cost of hiring multilingual support reps. 

4. Choose the right platform to provide multilingual service

Technology is the greatest enabler in today’s time. Regardless of the type of support you decide to provide, choosing the right customer service tool will be an activity you will need to carefully engage in. 

If you are at the nascent stage of your business, you may require only a support ticket system which provides a common team inbox and a customizable knowledge base. For more mature organizations with a full-fledged customer support department, multi-channel support tools with additional features such as live chat, and social media support may be required.

There are numerous tools in the market that support the functions listed above. However, do your research carefully as not all of them can support multiple languages. 

5. Communicate according to the local cultural norms

Each culture has a specific set of norms that are generally followed and customer service is no exception. Even for regions that speak the same language, such as the U.S and U.K, the same set of words or phrases can have different meanings. With cultures separated by language, the difference is even greater. For example, in some European and Asian languages, you can address another personal both formally and informally depending on their age and your level of familiarity with them. Something as minor as using the informal form while addressing a customer in those cultures can come across as highly disrespectful. 

This is where localization comes into play. Having a thorough understanding of your target market can help reduce cultural errors. One way to do this is by ensuring that all your material is translated and localized by a professional human translator so that the finer aspects of culture are taken care of. Another way is to ensure that your front-line executives are periodically trained to adhere to the cross-cultural best practices of the regions they need to handle. 

6. Find the right localization partner

The final step to providing multilingual customer service is finding a localization partner that can help you execute your localization strategy.

A competent language service provider will ensure that all translation and localization services are carried out only by humans that are experienced and are native speakers of their target language. Furthermore, the agency should offer a Translation Management System (TMS) or separate integrations with customer service tools to help you localize customer support. This will minimize any manual effort on your part and help you provide your clients with a seamless customer service experience in a language of their choice. 

Wrapping Up

When it comes to global support, you need to start locally. Take small but firm steps in establishing relationships with customers no matter how near or far they are located. Start with offering online and self-help material in different languages. As your business grows, you will be able to address more complicated processes such as in-person multilingual customer care.

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Ruju Patel

Ruju Patel

Ruju Patel leads the Content and Design Team at Translate By Humans. She has a background in Psychology and Business and former experience as an HR professional. She is a people's person and a pro at drafting contracts, policies, and articles. Her creative edge helps give life to all the written and graphic content produced by the company.

When she's not writing, you'll find her reading with her cats or combining her love for food and culture by traveling around the world!

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