At my most recent job working on a help desk, we had a couple of clients where the majority of the users did not speak English as their first language. These tickets were always extremely difficult to handle and ended up frustrating for both the client and the technicians working on the current problem. The first issue we would encounter would be trying to figure out what is the actual problem being reported. Many computer issues are hard to explain even when both parties speak the same language. Adding the element of a language barrier on top of that compounds the problem even further.
Once we have figured out the problem the user is facing, the next hurdle is trying to explain how to fix it. Luckily we were usually able to remote control the machine, and fix the problem. Even this situation proved difficult on occasion, as the language setting of the computer was also not in English, and we would have to rely on memory or images to know which buttons meant OK and which ones meant Cancel.
Multi-Language Service Desks: Research Results
If even a small firm like ours in Southern California had to deal with language barrier issues, I'm sure it's more of a widespread issue for firms across the world. Indeed, a new research report, Multilingual Service in the Support Center, from HDI and Lionbridge, examines the need for multilingual support and its impact in the IT service management industry. Within the report, it showed that 71.5% of respondents indicated that multilingual support in their service center is a priority, while over 28% of respondents plan to add languages within the next year.
It came as no surprise to me that 73% of respondents in the report confirmed that customer satisfaction scores were better when support was provided in the customers' native language. I know first hand how frustrating it can be solving issues for someone who does not speak the same language.
Additionally, 46% reported that problem was resolved within the first contact when the technician was able to speak the same language as the person reporting the issue. This also makes sense, as we would have to have several back and forth conversations while trying to figure out what problem the user was facing. Even at times, I would need to wait for the person who spoke the best English to come back from break so they could try and explain what the problem was.
We often thought about hiring someone who spoke the language of the couple of clients that we had, but realized the cost of doing so would outweigh the benefits for our small firm. It didn't change the fact that we thought about doing it every time a call came in from those same clients. Roy Atkinson, senior analyst at HDI stated that a support center that can deliver on multilingual service will have an inherent advantage in the marketplace, with the ability to support markets that its competitors cannot.
It is a unique issue to consider though. When looking at hiring support technicians, the ability to speak more than one language can put candidates at an extreme advantage, and will likely be considered when narrowing down the options. If nothing else, technicians should at least figure out what the word Cancel looks like in multiple languages, so you don't have to keep asking the user which button you should push on their computer.