Is language a customer experience issue that you are overlooking?


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We all know that when it comes to customer service and things start to get technical, it can be challenging to explain/find out exactly what has happened or what needs to be done next. Moreover, in situations like these, customers will, in most cases, resort to picking up the phone.

Now, I’ve written before about how ‘grit’ in a customer experience can have a big impact on customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty. Given that, I’ve been thinking lately about the impact of language on the provision of customer service and whether it represents another piece of ‘grit’, particularly if we think about the UK with its diverse population, which according to the 2011 Census of England & Wales, has eight per cent of the population (4.2 million) aged three years and over that has a main language other than English.

Although this is a relatively small percentage, this could represent a large pile of ‘grit’ for the customer experiences of many UK brands and organisations.

Or, it could present an opportunity for them to improve their customer satisfaction, engagement and loyalty.

Some UK organisations are responding to this issue and we are seeing language and interpretation  solutions being put in place in a range of NHS trusts, housing associations, Police departments, areas of the UK’s Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), some utilities and local authorities like Tower Hamlets, which caters for around 90 different languages (or groups of languages) that are spoken in it’s borough.

Now, I would assume that the rationale amongst these organisations has something to do with demographics, concentration of customer numbers and economies of scale.

But, what about other organisations like insurance providers, banks, telecommunication providers etc etc that will share customers in these areas? Why don’t they offer such a service?

I understand the cost and time challenges that a contact centre manager will face in recruiting and training the right people with the right language skills and so many don’t address this customer issue. In fact, many of these organisations when faced with a language issue will ask non-English speaking customers to have somebody call back on their behalf.

Is that the sort of service or customer experience that we aspire to?

UK firms are not alone in this problem. US firms have been grappling with this issue for some time and many, if not most, large organisations have language solutions in place. They are also getting past the economies of scale and customer concentration issues by implementing innovative solutions from firms like Cyracom, which provide simultaneous, on demand interpretation services.

Moreover, in doing so, they are also seeing the benefits too where, according to an 2014 ICMI report (The Growing Need For Multi-Language Customer Support), they found that, in the US, first-call resolution (FCR), average handling time (AHT) and quality were all positively affected by 36%, 20% and 32% respectively when a language interpretation service was introduced.

Is this another example, as described by David Conway of Nunwood in a recent interview, of how and why the UK is 2-3 years behind the US when it comes to customer experience?

Could language be an issue that many UK firms need to ‘catch up’ on if they are improve their customer service and experience?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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