Businesses around the world depend on English as their lingua franca for business communication. However, just because 1.75 billion people speak working English doesn’t necessarily mean a restricted language policy is the best way of conducting business. At the heart of customer service is the ability to communicate effectively, and doing it in a customer’s native or preferred language helps achieve just that!
Most businesses offer customer service through a combination of these channels:
This article explores the industries and brands that have successfully adopted multilingual customer service to better customer experience, increase customer loyalty, and boost sales.
Travel and Hospitality
Millions of people travel for business or leisure every year. Along with the sights, experiences, and cuisine, language is an integral part of travel. The travel industry has recognised this factor and understands that to be hospitable, they must offer native language support.
This year, however, travel has dramatically reduced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With millions of people under lockdowns, it’s no surprise that even a short trip away from home is looked upon as a newfound experience.
I realised this on an emergency flight a few weeks ago. Mask, face shield, and sanitiser in tow, I paid close attention to the instructions during the in-flight announcements by the Indigo crew. I’m glad I did because I caught a line that I seemed to have missed earlier:
“The crew on-board this flight speaks two languages, English and Hindi.”
This simple line gave passengers a clear indicator of which languages would be supported for in-person customer service on board the flight – especially important for emergencies when clear and timely communication is crucial. Earlier this year, the private carrier was the first to launch its Hindi website in India. Although they still don’t have a multilingual knowledge base, it’s still a much-needed step in the right direction.
Another example goes back to 1966 when Delta Airlines established the Delta Care Team Program. The team is a group of trained volunteers from across the company that is mobilised to offer assistance in an aircraft emergency. The Delta Care Team comprises volunteers from 29 countries who speak a minimum of 19 languages!
On March 22nd, 2016, deadly explosions took place at the Zaventem Airport in Brussels, killing 32 people and injuring 300. Three dozen Care Team volunteers were flown in from North America and Europe. The team was chosen based on the volunteers’ ability to speak Dutch, French, German, or Spanish. They worked closely with Delta’s partners at Air France and KLM in assisting customers, crew, and their families with their immediate needs, such as food, transport, and lodging across eight hospitals.
Some other notable travel and hospitality brands to have localised their customer service are Booking.com, Uber, Airbnb, KLM, and Skyscanner.
Tools and Technology
There are ample examples of how brands have localised their marketing strategy or how they’ve translated their online websites to appeal to the locals. Often, however, when a customer has a question or encounters a problem with a product, multilingual customer support is still a distant reality.
But every now and then, we come across brands that embrace localisation to make their tech tools amazingly accessible. Consider the online business communication and collaboration tool, Slack. Their app, along with other essential products and their help centre, is available in 7 languages. Not only that, they’ve published a blog post about localisation at Slack, why it’s important, and how they do it.
Similarly, Hootsuite’s social media management tool offers its help centre in 7 languages along with its website and its product in 16 languages. For Hootsuite, however, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. They learned early that machine-based translation isn’t accurate when their Google translated IOS app in German wasn’t met with applause from their German customers.
They setup the crowd-sourced Hootsuite Translation Project and eventually partnered with a language service provider (LSP) to scale their translation needs.
From the introduction of telephone switchboards to VOIP calling and more, the telecommunications industry has been evolving. There’s no doubt that technology helps us stay connected with people across the globe. However, like any other service, sometimes, we need to communicate about how we communicate, and telecommunication brands need to be prepared in every language!
Swedish VOIP service provider Rebtel does this well by using the Translate By Humans app for Zendesk. They provide multilingual customer support to their global customers in 52 languages with the option to scale up to 60 languages. From once having to turn down multilingual queries, Rebtel now reports a significant increase in CSAT scores and the volume of their multilingual customer support tickets.
In 2017, Vodafone, New Zealand’s largest telecommunications company, launched their Red Connect service for Chinese customers. When the Chinese population in NZ was estimated to grow by 80% in the next eight years, the company recognised the need to provide customised service. The service includes dedicated Mandarin or Cantonese speakers in contact centres and select Vodafone stores and an official account on the Chinese social media platform, WeChat. Vodafone uses this platform to share localised content such as product information, guides, subtitled videos, and more.
Banking and Finance
The banking and finance industry is a vital component of the global economy. With millions of transactions taking place in various forms every minute, multilingual support is a basic necessity.
Some companies like Visa ensure that customers who use their credit cards benefit from phone support in all major languages, 24/7. Whereas other brands ensure their financial products are correctly localised, and help is offered in multiple languages. A prime example is that of banks. When it comes to personal financial matters, customers look for a service they can trust and a team that will help in the face of a challenge.
Take a look at Luxembourg, a multicultural financial hub, and home to several international, foreign-owned banks. With international banking being one of the most important industries in the country, the banking Association lays great significance in maintaining a multilingual labour pool to achieve success. Enter a Luxembourg bank, and you will often hear people behind the counters talking in German, Dutch, Luxembourgish, French, English, or multiple other languages.
Many international banks try to restrict their official languages to a few to ensure the standardisation and correct financial translation of terms. Nonetheless, you will find employees at Luxembourgish banks effortlessly switch between languages as required.
A similar example is that of HSBC bank’s Bridge Street branch in Sydney, Australia, where the staff speaks 11 languages! Since the branch is located near a port where several international customers visit to exchange currency, multilingual support is a way to help them feel at home. The staff each wears a name tag with an indicator of which languages they can speak. They feel that the multilingual environment helps build a good rapport and make customers feel comfortable and welcome.
Medicine and Healthcare
There are multiple instances where things have gone wrong because of faulty medical translations or amateur medical interpretation. Medical emergencies can happen anytime and anywhere; not being able to communicate in such situations can lead to dire consequences. Moreover, access to healthcare should be available to all, without language acting as a barrier.
Many healthcare institutions make it a point to hire a professional medical interpretation company and translate all necessary documents, reports, and information.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reminder to healthcare facilities worldwide to continue making healthcare more accessible and inclusive.
Earlier this year, the UK government announced that COVID-19 information and advisory was made available in 25 languages for people whose native language was not English. With 88 languages commonly spoken in England and Wales and over 800,000 people with little or no English proficiency, campaigners felt the government’s reach wasn’t wide enough. Additionally, the time taken to publish the information was often so long that the information on the virus had changed by the time it was made available.
A charity called Doctors of the World urged the government to make resources available in more languages and expedite the process of translation. Dissatisfied with the government’s response, the charity had documents, audio guides, and videos translated into over 60 languages in view of public safety.
While there is a lot more importance being given to multilingual customer service, it’s still rare to come by a brand that can support enough languages to be considered entirely inclusive. Providing support in multiple languages is no easy feat but, professional LSPs can help you scale your needs without the extra burden of hiring linguists. One thing’s for sure; your customers will thank you!