Many companies operate in more than one language, but the people charged with building and managing the contact center are not always used to thinking multilingually. Here are a few reminders and pointers for a successful multilingual contact center. Some may be obvious, but I can assure you that each of the points below has caused major issues for at least one contact centre project.
The defining characteristic of a multilingual contact center is of course that it handles multiple languages. But this is often not the most important difference.
It may not be necessary to employ different agents for each languages. In many multilingual countries, such as Canada, Switzerland, Ireland, India, and even the USA, it is not hard to find multilingual agents.
Similarly, it may not be necessary to have different desktops, different IVR and self-service applications. The new generation of browser-based desktops can be configured for multilingual use. IVR and speech recognition applications can be multilingual. The key to success in these cases is to design for multilingual use from the start, and to get expert advice.
Most of the “gotchas” in a multilingual contact center do not come from using different languages: they come from WHY you are using different languages. The business drivers for multilingual contact centers often involve different geographies, different infrastructures, and different business cultures. These factors need to be well understood if the contact center is to operate smoothly.
We all know about time zones. Even so, the impact of doing business in different time zones is often poorly understood.
If a call comes into your contact center from a different time zone, how is that call reported on? Does the report show the local time where the call was made, or only the time in the contact center? When a caller complains about how their 9am call was handled, do you need to know where they called from to find the call?
When you are troubleshooting an issue, will all your logs show the same time, or do you have servers on different time zones? Do you have to adjust some times, and if so, do you know which ones and how much to adjust them by?
Time zones change. Some have daylight saving time, and some do not. Europe changes from winter to summer time on a different day from North America. One large worldwide logistics firm had issues in their call reporting whenever the time zone changed, and I believe they still require manual intervention, because the systems were not designed for this fact of life.
Telephony is not uniform across geographies. Some countries still have strong national telecoms companies who impose particular restrictions. Other countries vary in their use of SIP or TDM telephony. Data may not be transmitted in the same way, audio may be differently encoded.
In most cases this does not present a large problem. The differences between European A-law and US/Japanese Mu-law encoding, for example, are well understood and it is easy to convert between the two. However, at least one major switch provider has released features which only worked with Mu-law telephony: this US-based vendor had simply not tested the new releases with A-law telephony.
If callers or agents in a particular geography are using G.729 encoding, this can cause issues for IVRs and call recorders. G.729 saves on bandwidth, so it is used by some organisations internally, but it provides much poorer audio quality than G.711 encoding, and can cause issues with speech recognition and even with DTMF interaction, as well as reducing the quality of call recordings. It is a good idea to find out in advance of any of your callers or remote agents are likely to be using G.729 in their telephony systems.
It is also important to consider any delays in telephony connections between different countries. These delays can be critical for IVR and self-service applications, and can also have an impact on agent behavior and caller satisfaction, unless they are handled intelligently. Expert advice in this area can make all the difference.
If your multilingual contact center will use back-end systems in different countries or time zones, the same concerns regarding delays and timestamps apply to these systems.
Additionally, the integration to these systems may vary, and the amount or type of data returned by them may not be uniform across all countries. It is vital to test these integration points, and check that the interfaces and the data returned are well understood. I know of at least one project where the use of different character sets in the back-end systems caused a major headache.
With the continuing mergers of banks and other large businesses, it is important to have a flexible integration model so that any necessary changes can be made as efficiently as possible.
The availability of additional data in some countries can be surprising. For example, in parts of Italy parcels are only delivered on certain days, so arranging a delivery date requires more intelligence than you might expect. This brings us to the issue of cultural expectations.
The impact of culture on business is hard to define, but almost everyone agrees that it is an important factor. Your agents should be culturally competent as well as linguistically competent. But that’s not the whole story.
Customer expectations vary between cultures. While a Spanish customer may be content to wait a week for a reply to their email, a German customer is likely to expect a quicker response. Within the same language, British and French customers will expect different spellings from their English-speaking and French-speaking fellows in North America.
Perhaps more importantly for business, the timings and lengths of holidays vary dramatically between countries. I was not aware until recently that many Americans celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December: I did know that this was common in Europe, and that Greece celebrates Christmas in January. The dates for Easter are equally variable. Also, of course, in some places it is considered wise to refer to these events as the Winter Holiday or the Spring Holiday, whereas in other places it is offensive NOT to use the specific Christian, Jewish or other terms for these holidays.
Unofficially, the summer holiday in countries such as France and Spain can mean that very little business is done around the month of August. Surprisingly, the same is true in parts of German-speaking Europe during carnival celebrations – Fasching or Fastnacht – normally held in February.
There are many other differences between cultures, whether defined by language, religion, geography or other factors. Our advice is to test your business assumptions on as many cultures as possible. As with everything else, test early, and test often.
How PSS Works With You
As an independent integrator of contact center technologies, PSS is able to provide an objective view of business strategy and cost-benefit analysis of technology change. PSS is motivated by customer service, not by selling upgrades or new technology. We pride ourselves on giving you the best advice for your business.
PSS can provide consultancy, test resources, and implementation services across a range of multilingual contact center systems.
If you’d like to understand more about your multilingual contact center, why not have a chat with PSS. Our reputation is built on helping customers do what’s best for their business, whether transitioning to new technology or maintaining existing systems.
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Multilingual contact center help from PSS