Why Your Customer Support Team Should Study Foreign Languages

Localizing your business to expand into new markets is easier than it has ever been. There’s a lot of software out there that provides instant translation for email, chatbots, you name it. And the quality of machine translation these days is pretty awesome.

But effective customer service has always been about the delicate balance between efficiency and the human touch. If you automate your localization efforts, you risk losing that human element completely.

This is never more apparent than in those interactions where your customers have questions, comments, or problems. These are the most critical moments for your customer experience and the way your brand is perceived. Don’t let language be a barrier.

How to do localization right

Some localization agencies and software providers recommend a two-pronged approach: first, use human agents assisted by dynamic machine translation to make sure that you’re accessible to every market, then identify the most important markets and hire native speakers of the local languages.

It makes sense, but this approach works even better with an additional middle prong.

Sometimes there are markets you know will be important for you one day, but you’re not ready to invest in addressing them yet. Serving them your bare-minimum automatically translated experience risks alienating your potential early adopters. Sometimes you find there’s a lot of interest from a location you didn’t expect, and you want to have deeper conversations with customers there. 

Machine translation won’t cut it. You need some of that human touch.

How to build a multilingual support team

The conventional business assumption is that there’s a certain level of skill in a foreign language we can call “professional working proficiency.” People who have actually worked in a second language know that this is a fantasy. Language skills are anything but linear. One professional can participate in an animated group discussion about finance in another language and struggle to read a sports magazine. Another person can be the opposite.

There’s more:

  • Language learning can be oriented toward specific topics. 
  • Professional conversations can utilize two or more languages, working toward common understanding. 
  • A basic level of knowledge in a customer’s native language can be enough to display courtesy and warmth, before switching to the more efficient lingua franca.
  • Intermediate speakers can make use of machine translation, tweaking both the input and output to achieve a more desirable tone of voice.
  • There’s evidence that foreign language learning makes us better communicators in our native language.

What this adds up to is that your customer-facing staff should always be learning languages, particularly in support roles.

But it also means you don’t necessarily need to hire support specialists who claim to be fluent in multiple languages. A basic level and a clear interest in developing those skills is enough.

Providing foreign language learning resources for your customer support team can have a measurable impact on your customer satisfaction KPIs.

Why Your Customer Support Team Should Study Foreign Languages

How to facilitate language learning

Foreign language classes can be expensive. On the other hand, some apps lack any way to reliably track progress or focus on certain outcomes.

Ideally, you need a system that makes it easy to identify any correlation between language learning and performance against objectives.

For example, you want to see that a support agent who studied 4 times this week got 20% more perfect ratings from customers. 

This kind of data is exactly what Lingvist can give you. Lingvist Classroom was designed for formal education settings, to give teachers this kind of visibility into their students’ progress and level of engagement. Later, its usefulness for businesses became clear.

Even more advantages for employees

It might make sense to offer language learning under the auspices of formal training, but it can also work as an employee benefit.

Today’s professionals are eager to develop their soft skills and build their own path, rather than following a prescribed career path. The opportunity to learn a foreign language is an exciting offer, bringing prospects of travel, social opportunities, and professional development together under a single purpose.

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the modern skills marketplace. AI is creating doubts about which types of jobs will still exist a decade from now. Language learning can give your team a way to improve in their current role and become more well-rounded while also providing a layer of security.

Learn more about what Lingvist for Business can do for your company.

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