Mastering Multilingual Customer Service

Eight country flags arranged in a circle on top of a dark background.

It’s possible to master multilingual customer support with some less expensive, and quite effective steps that will allow you to test your new market without the risk. Here’s how.

Picture this:

Your business is thriving. Your sales team brought in more sales last month than they did last year. Last Sunday, while browsing your analytics, you stumbled upon a gold nugget: you discovered a growing contingent of customers from Sweden. Last year, they made up just 5% of your customer base. But now, that chunk size has increased to 15%. Maybe it’s time to cater to these customers specifically? You muse.

You consider what might be involved in such a move: full translation of your website (or hadn’t you heard something about localization?), hiring Swedish representatives to join your customer service team, possibly even setting up an office in Stockholm… Yikes, this all sounds expensive, you cringe.

And yes, it would be expensive to make all those moves right away. But it wouldn’t be prudent to blaze forth into Sweden immediately upon discovering the country’s affinity for your product.

Discover what language(s) your customers speak

The first task at hand is to figure out just what languages — and dialects of said languages — your customers actually speak. You may be surprised.

For example, let’s say your customers are largely in Albania. The Albanian language has two distinct dialects — Gheg, spoken in the north of the country, and Tosk, spoken in the south. However, most Albanians speak two languages or more, which can range from English to Italian to German to French.

How do you find out which language your customers prefer using online? Lookup IP data, email data, and perhaps even consider conducting a simple survey with your website visitors to see which new customer service languages they’d love to see introduced.

Beef up your self-service offering

An easy way to appease your customers who prefer engaging in a language not yet covered by your customer service agents is to offer self-service options in that language.

Start translating your FAQ or knowledge base into your chosen languages. This serves two functions: not only will your customers then (hopefully) be able to find the answer to their question independently, but this also reduces the strain on your customer service team, who they may not have to contact if they can solve the problem on their own.

Bonus strategy: incorporate strong visuals into your website to complement your written content. If used correctly, this could negate the need for translation/localization, or at least work as a stop-gap until these elements are ready and added to your site. Plus, strong visuals make your site more captivating and eye-catching.

Finally, once the FAQ or knowledge base has been translated into your chosen languages, shout it from the rooftops! Announce the newly translated sections on your website — in the target language(s) too. This will ensure your customers know that it’s there if they need it.

Bring a chatbot on board

In some cases, your company may be treading carefully into a new market, and resources may be low while you find your footing. In such cases, hiring a new customer service team with native speakers for this new market may not be feasible.

Enter: the intelligent chatbot.

These clever little bots can stand in for an entire customer support team — at least at the front end. What’s more, their dialogues can be translated and localized into your target languages, allowing you to offer basic customer support live chat to your customers.

Of course, there will be more complex cases that need to be escalated to a human agent. In those cases, you can either hire a single customer support agent who speaks the target language, or you could simply state that you are currently building your team and don’t yet support customer support human agents in this language.

Don’t translate — localize

We use the word “translation” throughout this article for simplicity’s sake, but what we really mean is “localized”.

What’s the difference? The translation is simply changing text from one language to another (think: Google Translate). Localization, however, the cultural and non-textual norms of the new language, in addition to linguistic components.

Tobias Wiesner, localization expert and CSO at AdHoc Translations, explains that the focus of a translation should be on “readability, correct grammar, use of specific industry-specific terminology and precision.” 

“For localized content, we expect all the above to be followed as well, however, the content needs to blend much more into style, tone and feel of the target audience and culture. This means honoring rules, regulations, values and customs as well as idiomatic phrases.”

So, for example, localizing content into Japanese would include the addition of various degrees of politeness and formalities to accommodate the country’s extremely stringent conventions. Conversely, localizing for British English from American English would actually require different spellings and wordings for some of the verbiages. Some things to think about when localizing:

  • What are the service expectations of the language speakers you’re translating for? (for example, South American customers prefer phone communication — so any company targeting customers in this region should expand their phone support)
  • What kind of social norms do the language speakers you’re translating for follow, or expect you to follow?

If you fail to localize and translate only, you risk missing out on your target market. Research shows that customers prefer to search in and engage with websites in their own language (naturally), and if your site doesn’t speak their language the right way, they’ll find one that does.

Location, location, location

When you are ready to grow your customer support team in your selected language markets, think carefully about location. Will you provide integrated chat support in target languages, with one or two target language-speaking human agents to handle any escalated cases?

Or will you set up an in-country customer support team? If the latter, you’ll do best setting up shop in vibrant, multicultural cities — particularly those with busy and popular student areas. You’ll have much better luck finding, and keeping, multilingual customer service agents in these types of areas.

Consider time zones, too. Ensure that your support is available — in some capacity at least — in the most popular hours of your target language’s timezone.

Focus on the employee

There are, of course, some areas where multilingual customer support agents are difficult to find. And while it’s always important to keep your team members content and engaged, pay particular attention to this if your company is operating in these areas, to encourage your employees to stay loyal to your company.

It’s important to also train both your chatbot and human agents to ask unambiguous questions to clarify any vague user responses. One way to ensure this is always done with your human team is to have your agents recap the conversation as it comes to a close.

Multilingual customer support, you see, doesn’t have to be as daunting (or costly) as it sounds. Using a few tips and tricks, as we’ve highlighted here, can do wonders for expanding your customer base in your target languages.

From improving or creating self-service options, to training and installing a chatbot, to localizing rather than simply translating your text — all in your targeted languages — you’ll find that mastering multilingual customer support can be a pretty smooth, and budget-friendly, process.

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