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Taking Online Support Global: Key Considerations for Contact Center Executives

by Yvonne Cekel, Vice-President, SaaS and Communities, Lionbridge - March 31, 2014

By Yvonne Cekel, Vice President SaaS and Communities, Lionbridge

With product sophistication on the rise and margins on the decline, manufacturers and service providers across a broad range of industries are eager to find smart and innovative ways to reduce the costs of supporting their offerings, without impacting brand reputation or customer satisfaction. That’s why a growing number of contact centers today are rapidly adopting lower-cost self-service support channels, including chat, email, user forums, knowledge bases, and online self-help, to deflect the cost of expensive phone interactions.

Among the most powerful strategies is online chat support. Instead of waiting to speak to a representative (a profit-draining proposition for the manufacturer and a time-consuming frustration for the customer), consumers are going online to initiate efficient, focused chat sessions with trained agents who can quickly zero-in on problems and provide fast resolutions to many common issues. It’s a winning formula that is being replicated globally – but there’s one major barrier to broad adoption: language.

Most companies operate in multiple geographies and market their products to consumers both inside and outside the US who don’t speak English. In fact, only 27 percent of Internet users speak English as their primary language. Many companies struggle with how to bring cost-efficient online chat to non-English-speaking consumers. There is an answer to this challenge – multilingual chat, a recent breakthrough in real time communication. By integrating customized, real-time translation technology into their existing chat applications, contact centers can turn their English-speaking agents into global, multilingual communicators.

Conceptually, it’s simple: The agent initiates a chat session in his native English. The real-time translation engine converts the chat stream into the customer’s native language. The customer sees the chat in his native language and replies online in his native language. The translation engine then converts the chat message back into English for the support agent to read – all without any latency or delay. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1
Multilingual Chat is an innovative solution that turns English-speaking agents into multilingual global communicators using real-time translation technology.

With a multilingual chat infrastructure in place, companies can achieve a stream of important benefits. For instance, a company can centralize support efforts in cost-efficient locations and reduce or eliminate the costs of in-country support in numerous markets. Well-executed chat sessions prevent or reduce the number of expensive telephone inquiries and free senior teams to devote more time to challenging issues. And the entire support team can become more productive and efficient. But for call-center executives eager to roll out a multilingual chat solution there are important factors to consider before choosing a solution and undertaking a deployment.

1. Evaluate Your Call-Center Footprint – Multilingual real-time chat capabilities can enable you to revamp your call-center strategies. Agents don’t need multilingual capabilities to provide support in multiple languages. In fact, a single English-speaking agent can conduct several simultaneous chat sessions in multiple languages. That means you can alter your hiring strategies, lower your cost structures, and consolidate/relocate operations to more cost-effective English-speaking locations and regions.

2. Take a Holistic Approach – With the right technical foundation, multilingual online chat can be just the start of a broader global-support strategy. The same technology can also translate the vast content resources that companies have today. For instance, you can translate knowledge-base content, online support forums, emails, Web pages, and more. With all of that self-help content presented on-demand in the user’s preferred language, you can offer a range of options to users that deflect inbound phone calls to lower-cost self-service channels. (See Figure 2) For instance, when a user clicks on a “Contact” button to get a phone number or clicks on a “Support” page, you can present a range of self-service resources that address the customer’s concern and prevent the costly phone call to your call center. That lowers your costs and gives customers more options and control in their search for support answers.

Figure 2
With Real-Time Multilingual Translation, Call Centers can deflect expensive phone calls to lower cost support channels, such as chat, email and self-service web-based support.

3. Don’t Forget Your Current Markets – Numerous markets around the world are multilingual. For instance, Spanish is the first language for more than 10 percent of the population of the U.S. Companies seeking to expand into Hispanic-American markets can experience large spikes in call volumes if they don’t provide access to multilingual chat. With a sufficiently capable translation engine, a company can support several different languages within every country it serves.

4. Take Advantage of Online Selling Opportunities – Real-time multilingual chat can also be a revenue generator. Many companies have identified critical junctures in the purchase process where site users bail out and abandon their shopping carts. At those points, a real-time chat option enabling a discussion in the buyer’s native language can help convert prospects to customers – and reduce abandoned shopping carts.

5. Remember that Customization Matters – A commercial provider of translation software and services can help you deploy a customized solution – which is critical to a successful adoption of both multilingual chat and web-based self-service support. That can involve “training” the system by loading in previously translated text strings, adding key words that are unique to your business or industry, and more. These modifications can dramatically improve the quality of translations, which means greater customer satisfaction and increased productivity for the call center team.

6. Steer Clear of the “Free” Tools – Not surprisingly, there are a broad range of shareware and free tools that provide primitive translation services. Unfortunately, these are woefully underpowered and inadequate for enterprise-class, real-time translation. They rely on generic vocabularies that don’t incorporate your unique lexicon and they don’t reflect the brand image you’re seeking to project. What’s more, there are open questions that are unresolved. For instance, who “owns” the content once it’s translated – your company or the provider of that “free” translation service? How do they provide security and privacy for your sensitive content?

Multilingual real-time chat in the call center breaks down language barriers between agents and non-English-speaking customers. These technologies turn your agents into truly global communicators who are equipped to handle multiple conversations – across multiple languages – all from a single location. For companies seeking to cost-effectively bring their support operations to a more global stage, multilingual real-time chat is a powerful and efficient solution.

Yvonne Cekel, is vice president of SaaS and Communities at Lionbridge. Lionbridge GeoFluent is a custom, real-time translation solution. Integrated into common chat applications, GeoFluent is customized to reflect each company’s language and style, which can increase translation usability in a customer-care environment.

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