Modern communication channels and distribution services have made it easier for companies to reach international audiences. Even small businesses can expand globally through third-party marketplaces and engage with customers all over the world. This creates an awesome growth opportunity for companies, but also presents a major logistics question as well.

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The roadblock that some businesses are facing is how language barriers affect their support and service teams. As you continue to expand globally, you'll work with more customers who speak different languages, and these customers will expect you to use their preferred language when you interact with them.

An increasing number of businesses are leaning towards multilingual customer support as a means to bridge these communication gaps. In fact, research shows that 74% of customers are more likely to do business with a brand that offers support in their preferred language.

In this post, let's explore multilingual customer service including it's benefits, how to implement it, and companies that have adopted it successfully.

Benefits of Multilingual Customer Service

1. Improves Customer Communication

We've all had a poor customer service experience when it's been conducted in our preferred language. Now, imagine communicating an issue to someone who can barely understand what you're trying to say.

When language barriers occur, common customer roadblocks become far more complex than anticipated. What should be a quick call can turn into a stressful situation where both parties struggle to share information. This is where it helps to have support options in various languages. Even if they're self-service resources, these can provide a starting point for troubleshooting the issue.

2. Promotes Human-to-Human Interaction

With customer service departments rapidly incorporating automation into their strategies, two challenges begin to surface. One is that fewer human-to-human interactions occur, which is problematic because 70% of customers still prefer human representatives over bots. The other problem is that AI and machine learning has yet to be perfected, and often these tools produce inaccurate translations or solutions, especially when customers use slang or shorthand.

You can counter both of these roadblocks by providing multilingual customer service through a language expert. Humans have a direct advantage when it comes to translating languages because, unlike machines, they can decipher context and apply correct grammar and syntax.

3. Increases Customer Loyalty

96% of customers believe that customer service determines their loyalty to a brand. And, great things happen when a company goes the extra mile to provide support in a language most comfortable to the customer. Smoother communication helps both parties arrive at a quicker solution, and the customer is left satisfied, knowing that the company took the effort to cater to their needs.

4. Drives Customer Acquisition

Your business can grow its reach dramatically by adding more language options to its customer service offers. That's because you can confidently say that you have support options for these audiences and can leverage that as a marketing tool to acquire new leads. People will be interested in working with your business if they know they'll have reliable and convenient long-term support. Additionally, 84% of companies that improve their customer experience observe an increase in revenue as well.

Now that we've made the case for multilingual customer service, let's explore how your team can adopt it.

How to Adopt Multilingual Customer Service

A good place to start is with translating your help center or knowledge base. This area of your website presents answers to questions before customers ask them, leading to fewer support queries and more delightful customer experiences. Having alternative translations to these documents is an easy and affordable first step that most businesses can take.

But, for live customer interactions, there are really only two viable options. First, you can hire employees who speak multiple languages. These employees are extremely valuable, but sometimes they're difficult to find depending on where your business operates. And, if you're looking to expand the reach of your existing team, it can be costly to bring on new personnel.

Your next option is adopting a customer service tool. For example, for emails, tickets, and chat threads, a human translation service can translate a customer's message into a language your agent understands. Once the agent drafts a response, it's translated back into the customer's preferred language. This way, agents who speak only one language can communicate with customers around the world without experiencing a language barrier.

If you're looking for more tools to adopt, keep your eye out for these ones that typically support features and content in multiple languages:

These fundamental steps can help your business get started with multilingual customer service. Once you collect customer feedback and get an idea for how customers are responding to your new services, you can build on these foundations and create a strategy tailored to your customer base.

Not sure what that looks like? Let's take a look at three companies that have successfully implemented multilingual customer service.

Multilingual Customer Service Examples

Here are three brands that have gone beyond traditional customer support to provide their customers with a highly personalized experience.

1. OLX

OLX is a classifieds platform where users can buy and sell goods and services. Founded in 2006, the company was taken over by Naspers Classifieds and now caters to 45 countries with over 54 million listings per month.

With such a widespread global presence, OLX discovered that cultural considerations and the need for multilingual customer support were central to its customer base. So, in September 2014, the company migrated from its previous in-house customer service solution to external customer service tools.

This allowed OLX to cater to the needs of each region that it serviced, customizing its approach to what would work best in each particular market. For example, not everyone in Africa has an email address, but they do have phones, so phone support is given top priority.

What's worth noting however, is that OLX saw a 40% reduction in tickets after localizing self-service articles in its knowledge base. Customers could now find answers in multiple languages without having to contact the customer service department. This meant that not only were customers more satisfied, the company saved a significant amount of time, effort and money.

2. Skyscanner

Skyscanner was founded in 2003 and was the only search engine to find and share low-cost flight data. The company now sees over 40% year-over-year growth with 100 million monthly visitors that speak over 35 languages.

In 2012, however, when monthly traffic was nearly 30 million users, there was just one customer support rep managing all of its customer queries. With Skyscanner's offerings evolving and the company shifting to a service-oriented strategy, one rep wasn't going to be enough to manage the spike in customer demand.

When the company appointed Jon Thorne as the Global User Satisfaction Manager in 2013, his primary goal was to maintain growth in the customer service department as the company continued to expand internationally. While he was able to address some of the problems by hiring more customer service reps, the more significant challenge was the language barrier that reps faced as the customer base became more diverse.

Skyscanner's internal analysis found that five languages accounted for 80% of the company's customer queries, with 58% of those inquiries being made in English. For the remaining 20%, some languages had a considerable number of users, so the company needed a flexible solution that accounted for these audiences as well.

Skyscanner revamped its help center to include multiple language options and began communicating in 35+ languages using a range of third-party integrations. Now, Skyscanner receives only 2,000 support tickets per month, which is less than 1% of total traffic that its self-service help center receives. Additionally, the company's CSAT scores have increased by 18% as well.

3. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is Europe's 4th largest airline and the world's oldest. Although the company is based in the Netherlands, over 80% of its customers are not Dutch, which is reason enough to lay great emphasis on language.

According to Jozien ten Zijthoff, Foreign Language Coordinator for Cabin Crew Management, "If you want to make a promotion in KLM as a cabin crew member, you have to qualify in English and one other language, either French, Spanish, Italian, or German."

In December 2017, the airline stepped forward with an event that hit close to home for many travelers at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. In an attempt to break the language barrier and spread some holiday cheer, the company placed two seats facing one another that could translate any language. This would facilitate a real-time conversation between two people who would otherwise not be able to communicate.

What happened next was incredibly heart-warming with individuals from several nationalities sharing personal stories with people who were otherwise strangers.

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"We are in the business of bringing people together all over the world, and we always aim to offer our customers a memorable experience. The Connecting Seats definitely did the job." says Natascha van Roode, Head of Global Marketing Communication.

The definition of a great customer service is shifting. Not only do you need to solve problems, as you need to ensure that the overall experience with the brand surpasses expectations. As players in the global market, localizing your customer service isn't an optional benefit, it's an essential service.

For more ways to expand your reach, read about growing your customer base.

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Originally published Mar 13, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated March 13 2020

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Customer Service