How to Deal With Customer Service Language Barriers

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In today’s global village it is not uncommon to find yourself face-to-face, or on the telephone, with a customer who is struggling with your language.  It can be a tremendously awkward and frustrating customer service situation for all concerned.  Here are six rules for overcoming language barriers:

Be Patient
If you think you’re frustrated, imagine how your customer must feel!  If you have ever tried to function in a second (or third or fourth) language, you know how inadequate you feel when the service person you’re dealing with doesn’t understand you and is looking at you like you’re stupid.

Look Pleasant
Smile, for goodness sake!  Let your face send the message that, despite the communication barrier, you care about this customer.

Listen For Creativity
Often, when someone is searching for words, they will try different strategies to get their ideas across.  So, for example, if someone says, “I need an eyes-closed place,” don’t just shake your head in frustration.  He (she) may just be wondering where the nearest hotel is.

Use Body Language
Ever play charades?  Great body language can often compensate for other language barriers.  Use your hands!

Use Visuals
A picture is indeed worth 1000 words.  Use pencil and paper, maps, calculators – any prop that might help facilitate communication

Involve Other People
If there is someone else you know who might be able to help – get him involved!

It takes a lot of courage to try and conduct business in a language that’s not one’s own.  Make sure that you treat this customer with the respect they deserve!

Good luck!

“Don’t be too hasty to assume it’s the other person who has the communications problem!” – Shaun Belding customer service keynote
[This is from the Archive Project – where we are attempting to get 10 years of Winning at Work on the web! Original publication date: 28 May, 2005]

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