By Mike Mattsen
The last ten years have brought a sea of change to the contact center industry from both an operations and technology standpoint. Outsourcing and offshoring seem to make the most headlines, particularly in today’s economy when more and more companies are looking for more affordable methods to service customers. But while the contact center industry seems to be in a constant discussion around outsourcing and offshoring, little attention is being paid to the increasingly growing field of multilingual contact centers.
As the U.S. population continues to grow, the Spanish-speaking segment is growing even faster. In fact, the last U.S. census revealed that more than 28 million Americans speak Spanish, with only around half saying they speak English “very well.” This percentage of the population has grown more than 60 percent over the previous census and continues to rapidly outpace any other multilingual influence. What’s also compelling for businesses of virtually all industries is that Hispanic purchasing power is expanding rapidly as well. According to HispanTelligence, the research division of Hispanic Business Inc., Hispanics’ purchasing power is in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Historically, Spanish-speaking contact centers were only available at major utilities or other public function-type of organizations, but today virtually all contact centers, particularly inbound sales and support contact centers, have multilingual functions. Because Spanish language calls are becoming a significant portion of all calls coming into contact centers, managers must ask themselves whether the quality assurance rules for Spanish calls are the same as they are for English calls. How does a contact center manager know if there is quality problem if he or she isn’t a Spanish-speaker?
The question of managing quality within a multilingual contact center revolves not around the technicalities of Spanish syntax but around the customer experience. “There is no reason to think that a Spanish customer wouldn’t share negative experiences with their social circles any less frequently than English-speaking customers, so it’s important to keep the quality high on all calls in order to maintain your brand,” said Sarah Schwitters, vice president of marketing for Seattle-based HyperQuality. HyperQuality provides contact center call monitoring, evaluations, and quality analysis for some of the largest brands in the U.S., including Guthy-Renker, Allconnect, and Waste Management.
The most important factor in any successful contact center is the quality score. Without a quality experience, customers will defect. Even previously uncompetitive industries such as utilities, public healthcare, and government agencies are becoming deregulated, generating additional competition, or applying a keener eye to the customer experience for general operational efficiency. No matter what type of industry, it doesn’t make sense to allow any group of customers to have a poor experience, because dissatisfied customers cost money in the long run.
This philosophy applies equally to Spanish-speaking contact centers; however, a common mistake contact center managers often make is utilizing the exact same quality evaluation scorecard for an English interaction and a Spanish interaction. In fact, there are some differences contact center managers need to be aware of and account for when monitoring for quality.
The first difference is average call time, a frequent measurement in contact centers. Quality evaluators must recognize that in most cases, Spanish language calls take longer than English language calls. This is primarily because Spanish language agents must use an English-based script for their calls, and quite often words don’t translate well, particularly technical or medical words. As a result, agents must spend extra time providing additional explanations using a hybrid Spanish/English format. Agents usually have to spend extra time breaking down terms and processes for customers.
The second common flub in evaluating Spanish language calls is monitoring for perfect grammar, which is a general quality practice with English language calls. Because the vast majority of U.S. contact center agents are bilingual, many have learned Spanish informally and have not lived in a primarily Spanish-speaking country. While it is always important to strive for perfect grammar and supervisors should coach agents on errors, what is more important is to work with agents on creating rapport with the customer while still conforming to the essential elements of the call.
“We look at whether the agents are adhering to the call script and flow, the procedures and processes, and whether they are actively servicing the customer as they should,” said Eduardo Ramirez, Spanish-language expert call monitor and evaluator for HyperQuality. “In the end, these things will determine whether a customer is getting a quality experience, English or Spanish.”
The third and final gaffe when managing quality in a multilingual contact center is forgetting to actually manage the quality of the multilingual calls. Too many contact centers monitor and evaluate only a small portion of their calls – typically around five per month. Because Spanish-language calls are only a fraction of most companies’ calls, in many instances few, if any, Spanish-language calls are being evaluated. Most companies don’t have a handle on whether their Spanish-language agents are providing the same quality care as they do in English. Investing in additional resources for evaluating and monitoring all calls can help prevent this problem and ultimately increase ROI within the contact center.
Overall, the Hispanic population is continuing to thrive and expand in the U.S., meaning that almost all corporations and industries must continue to invest in Spanish-speaking agents. And while it’s admirable to add bilingual agents to the contact center, doing so without the proper quality measurements is a bit like continuously filling a bucket with a giant hole in the bottom.
Mike Mattsen brings over fifteen years of executive leadership within international contact center operations and is currently the chief operating officer of HyperQuality. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[From Connection Magazine – September 2009]