5 Signs Your Multilingual Support Operations Need a Makeover

There are a number of things in life that are easier said than done. Examples include: keeping a New Year’s Resolution going past February, convincing a child to eat their vegetables, and providing efficient and cost-effective multilingual customer support.

If that last example resonates with you, we get it. With customers increasingly expecting brands to provide customer support in their native language, organizations that serve a global customer base must have multilingual support operations in place. To accomplish this, most turn to staffing up an in-house team of fluent customer service reps or outsourcing multilingual support to businesses that specialize in it. 

While these approaches certainly help brands provide support across a variety of languages, they often come with a set of challenges that brands struggle to overcome. Here are five such indicators that your multilingual support approach has a problem—and, at the end, how to overcome them.

1. Occupancy Rates are Too Low

Measuring the occupancy rate at your contact center is a key way to understand your agents’ productivity, as well as the performance of your team as a whole. When your occupancy rate is too low, this is a troubling sign that agents are spending too much time idle—resulting in wasted company dollars.

If occupancy rates are low for your agents, particularly those with specialized language skills, this is an indicator that there is not enough volume of demand in a specific language to warrant those agents being there full-time.

But not having those agents on board isn’t an option, either. Even if a French-speaking agent’s occupancy rate is low—let’s say only 50% of their total available work time is being used to service customers—not having that team member there to field inquiries in French leaves your French-speaking customers without in-language support. For this reason, an organization may choose to keep the French-speaking agent on board, even though they are not reaching max productivity.

 2. Occupancy Rates are Too High

Yes, a low occupancy rate indicates there’s an issue, but so does one that’s too high.

Every organization should have an occupancy rate target, but that target should never be 100%. A typical occupancy rate goal hovers around 80-90%. That extra 10-20% of an agent’s time is usually spent in team meetings, getting one-on-one coaching, or simply taking a much-needed breather after resolving a particularly challenging ticket. 

If occupancy rates regularly exceed 85-90%, this indicates that agents are overwhelmed by demand. At a multilingual contact center, it’s often the case that occupancy for a specific set of agents—those with proficiency in a specific language—is too high, while the occupancy for other agents is either normal or potentially too low.

Here’s an example of how this can be harmful: a brand may suddenly experience a spike in demand for customer support in Spanish, such that Spanish-speaking reps have more incoming tickets than they can manage. Meanwhile, this organization’s Polish-speaking reps are experiencing a downturn in demand, but due to language barriers, they cannot jump in to help their Spanish-speaking colleagues. This results in one set of agents that’s over-capacity and another that’s under—a nightmare scenario for a brand looking to optimize costs and efficiency.

3. Customer Wait Times are Too Long

Providing support across languages is just one expectation that customers have for good customer service. Another critical aspect is providing that support fast. One-third of customers report waiting on hold as being the single most frustrating part of receiving customer support, while 19% say a slow response time frustrates them the most. The takeaway here is that speed of response is critical—no matter what language you’re speaking.

Because multilingual agents can only handle one customer at a time, customers who speak a specific language may experience high wait times. This is especially true when occupancy rates are high, resulting in a poor experience for both agents and customers. 

One way to mitigate long customer wait times is to provide self-service options. This is why delivering multilingual support across more than just live channels (such as chat and email) is critical. While brands need to be able to communicate with customers in multiple languages in real time, the need for FAQ articles across various languages and multilingual chatbots cannot be overlooked.

4. You’re Spending Too Much Time in the Hiring Process

Another thing that’s easier said than done: finding the right people for your multilingual customer service staff.

Why are there so many hiring headaches when staffing up a multilingual support team? Finding good customer service representatives can be challenging on its own; add in the requirement for bi- or trilingual proficiency and the candidate pool only becomes narrower. Bringing on a recruiting firm can help find candidates, but this makes the process far more costly and doesn’t necessarily guarantee results.

If you’re hiring agents who speak a language that you currently don’t support, the more time spent in the hiring process means the more time that customers who speak that language go without ideal support experiences. If you’re experiencing overly high occupancy rates and are seeking more bandwidth on the team, a cumbersome candidate search will extend the amount of time agents are over-capacity.

5. You’re Hiring for Language Skill Rather than Customer Service Skill

In order to circumvent the previous obstacle, in which the hiring process is too long, organizations may opt to ease expectations and requirements for multilingual candidates. If a customer support team is in dire need of French-speaking agents, then they may be more willing to bring on a French-speaking candidate with little-to-no customer support experience than they otherwise would be.

However, the time saved by hiring a candidate with little experience may be lost by all the training required to get them up to speed. Worse, it may result in hiring a candidate who simply isn’t cut out for the job, leading to poor customer experiences and the need to start the hiring process all over again.

Overcoming the Common Challenges to Providing Multilingual Customer Support

The aforementioned challenges are all indicators that your approach to providing multilingual support isn’t working as well as it should. Customers either have to wait a long time for in-language support or simply don’t have access to it, while the cost of providing multilingual support is too high both in terms of time and money.

At Language I/O, we solve these challenges and more by providing technology that enables organizations to use monolingual agents to chat, email, and author FAQ articles in more than 150 languages, all in real time. Here’s how this solves each issue:

Occupancy rates are too low: Rather than hiring an agent to handle support requests in languages where there isn’t enough volume to warrant a full-time staff member, organizations can instead use existing team members to communicate in those languages. As an example, English-speaking agents can easily communicate with French-speaking customers, as those messages will be instantly translated from English into French, and the customers’ messages will be translated back into English.

Occupancy rates are too high: Remember our example of the over-capacity Spanish-speaking agents? With real-time translation technology in the mix, the Polish-speaking team members experiencing a downturn in demand can now jump in to help out, with seamless translation of messages from Polish into Spanish and back.

Customer wait times are too long: With all of your agents now able to handle support requests in any language, customer wait times can be reduced dramatically, as customers no longer have to wait for a specific agent to be available. Furthermore, by authoring FAQ and knowledge base articles in multiple languages, global customers have access to self-service resources that may reduce the volume of incoming support requests altogether.

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Spending too much time in the hiring process: Using real-time translation technology can either reduce or entirely eliminate the need to bring on agents with proficiency in a specific language. When hiring new agents, the process of finding the right candidates no longer hinges on language.

Hiring for language over customer service skill: As you might guess, giving your agents the ability to communicate with customers in virtually any language means that you can hire the best of the best when it comes to customer service know-how, rather than simply hiring based on language fluency.

If you want to solve these problems and give your multilingual support approach the makeover it needs, reach out to Language I/O to get a demo.