Supporting Customers in Multiple Languages
Our customer service team talk with people from all over the world, every day. At 10:01 we are speaking with someone in France, at 10:05 someone in Italy, at 10:12 Dubai and 10:15 the Netherlands. It’s a good problem to have - it means our customer base is international and that our technology can be used outside of the country in which it is created. However, it also has its challenges. How can we best communicate with people in a foreign language? How do we convey technical terms? How can we make sure we make our international customers feel as valued as our customers who speak English? We are always looking to improve, but the below ideas are our most reliable so far...
A Multilingual Customer Support Team
Perhaps the most obvious solution to this is having a support team made up of polyglots. At any one time, we have team members who can speak a number of languages. At first, this was a happy accident, but now when we hire people we put a bit of emphasis on speaking more than one language. At the moment, for example, we cover English, German, French and Italian. Although it wouldn’t be sustainable to hire a team made up entirely of multi-language speakers, we do feel that we have a lot of our ‘bases covered’ so we can fairly consistently provide a high level of human support. Human is the operative word there - the great benefit is that genuine human language still tops a translate bot! If, for example, an Italian customer is frustrated by a problem on our platform, having a genuine human interaction with an Italian speaker on the other end of an email will provide some relief.
With the above said, Google Translate is still our friend. However, we only use it a.) if we cannot communicate with the customer in English or their native tongue and b.) if we have simplified what we need to say before translating. For example, I want to say: ‘Oh dear! Sorry to hear that - let me take a look for you’. This is idiomatic and would not translate well. Therefore, I change it to ‘Sorry. I will try and fix this problem now’. It seems unfriendly, but it is much better to be clear. Renato Beninatto, an Executive at Moravia Translation Service, writes:
Google Translate is not a fluent, native speaker in any language. So while "my god was it raining like hell all of this vacay!" will be understood by many native English speakers, the translations for native speakers of other languages might just raise more laughter than sympathy. Sure, "it rained a lot during our vacation" may not have the same flair, but aim for comprehension first.
We frequently use images to avoid confusion. For instance, if the customer is describing a problem they are seeing on our registration flow, but we cannot quite understand what they mean, we can cut short lengthy back-and-forth by asking for a screenshot. We now know the word for ‘screenshot’ in every language!
For example, describing the issue in the above image (I’m having trouble inputting my promo code) would have taken quite a few words and a couple of emails back and forth. Instead, we’ve saved time for both ourselves and the customer.
Knowing what works in one language and what doesn’t in another is really valuable information and we make sure not to dump that knowledge once the immediate issue is resolved. For instance, we start to notice patterns. We've noticed that the word ‘heat’, meaning ‘start time’ in English, doesn’t translate well - it is much clearer to say 'vague' (wave) in French, 'batteria' (battery) in Italian or 'tanda' (series) in Spanish. Therefore, we ask: where on our platform do we use the generically translated 'heat'? Can we change this? This is just a small example, but remembering these issues helps us tailor our support and our platform to an international customer base.