Scaling your business out globally is good for the bottom line but can present some problems for your customer service. For example, how do you help current customers with billing problems, do pre-sales with prospective new customers when they are in far away time zones or speak one of the 6,500 spoken languages of the world that you may not have in your tool kit?
Sure, if you’re large enough you can create CS teams by language and schedule per time zone* but that kind of scaling isn’t always available to the average small-but-growing business. Here’s a few best practices tips we’ve found for taking care of our many customers whose first language is not English (Olark is a small team based on the west and east coasts of the US and Canadaland).
- Be patient. Just because their English is not strong doesn’t mean they aren’t a Nobel Laureate. Imagine yourself trying to ask for a technical solution while speaking to a Slovakian support rep.** In fact, I always make an effort to bolster their confidence when they start apologizing for their poor English skills by saying things like “No worries, your English is 100x better than my Finnish!”
- Use Google translate, but make sure you tell them you’re going to use a translator so they understand why it may take longer than they expect for each reply from you end.
- Keep trying. If the chatter has multiple languages, Google translate might do better with another one. Case in point: Just two days ago I was in a chat with a person from Brazil and I was using Google Translate to listen and speak in Portuguese with them. Google was just mangling the text making it unintelligible. We tried Spanish and it got worse. But when he wrote in French and Google made sense of it…or at least close enough that we were able to resolve the issue.
- Learn a new language. Really. Just like when traveling it is polite and respectful to learn as much of the language of the country you’re traveling in, if you have many visitors from Germany, pick up some German so you can at least speak rudimentary, schoolboy German to them. If you can say “Nicht so schnell, bitte, mein Deutch is aber nicht so gut” it can help a lot towards easing the tension of a painfully stilted conversation.
- In relation to tip #3, cut out the slang from your post. Local idiom and slang most likely won’t travel well or be understandable to a non-native English speaker — not to mention Mr. Google.
- Be patient. This is such good advice that it warrants repeating. If their attempts at speaking your language are slow and painful, relax. Ask for clarity when necessary and generally be supportive of their efforts. It may take a while but the point will come across and you’ll end up with a very happy customer.
Hope this helps. Best of luck and remember to have fun talking with your sites’ users from all across the world!
Check out Zendesk’s recorded webinar “Best Practices for Running a Global Help Desk” to learn more!
* I once toured one of AOL’s cs call centers back in the day and they had a huge facility with hundreds and hundreds of customer service agents — with little flags of the world above each group’s pod so you could easily find the French team or Brazilian team. Sweet.
** Nathan, our front end designer reinforces this tactic adding: Take the extra time to really listen and ask for clarity if you have any doubts about exactly what it is they need. This can save you from going down tangents of confusion if you start giving them advice on something they haven’t really asked about.
About Bill T.
Bill is old skool Internet jedi and gangsta vintage Winamp and SHOUTcast –> and now resides @ Olark. He’s been involved in Online Community, CS, and general yacking as long as the Web has been around. Bill currently abides. View more posts by Bill T.