Real-Time Multilingual Chat for the Call Center: Engaging the Global Market

By Yvonne Cekel

Pity the consumer: All he wants to do is use his new wireless color printer, but when he tries to print his latest photo – no luck. He bravely attempts to remedy the situation by pushing a few buttons on the printer and then impatiently walks through a help screen on the installation DVD. As he suspected, it’s not long before he’s lost in the nested menus of his feature-rich printer.

Discouraged by what he anticipates would be a lengthy wait for the support center to take his call, he goes to the manufacturer’s website. After a few clicks on various pages, a pop-up window on the site offers him the opportunity to start a real-time online chat session with a trained technician. The consumer accepts and, after asking a few questions and carefully explaining a couple of simple steps, the technician at the other end of the chat determines the solution and the printer is online and printing. The consumer is happy, and the manufacturer has avoided a costly call to the help desk.

It’s a scenario that manufacturers are eager to replicate and expand as the imperative for smarter, more efficient customer service grows. The fact is, in a growing number of business-to-consumer markets, product sophistication has become both the differentiator and a potential profit-killer as margins continue to shrink. Whether it’s a new smartphone, barbecue grill, or next-generation wireless router, new features often drive more volume at the call center, which imperils service reputations and profitability. In response, companies are throwing their weight behind cost-effective measures such as user forums, online self-help, and the increasingly popular live chat, which effectively engages customers to solve problems at a fraction of the cost of telephone interventions.

Unfortunately, for companies that want to serve multiple geographies, language remains a formidable barrier. Only 27 percent of Internet users speak English as their primary language, and a growing number of companies are eager to tap into new, non-English-speaking markets. But what’s the right way to cost-effectively support this exponentially larger group of multilingual customers?  To date, creating in-country contact centers with native speakers from each individual market has been the primary strategy. But as many companies have realized, this strategy can be quite costly and challenging to manage. Free translation services on the Web have been available for many years to provide a rudimentary meaning or “gist” of content, but those translation tools aren’t easily integrated into chat applications and are not usually comprehensible enough for customer support purposes. Public translation sites also carry concerns about security and even “ownership” of the translated content.

Broadening the Reach: Real-Time Multilingual Chat: In response, many call centers are taking a close look at how real-time automated translation can be integrated into common chat applications to engage answer-seeking customers in their preferred language for presales engagement and post-sales support. This new-breed technology enables contact center agents to continue to do what they do well: apply deep knowledge and well-developed expertise to respond to multiple customers in real-time using interactive chat windows.

What many call centers are also realizing is that their talented agents can seamlessly and transparently respond to inquiries from consumers across global markets and languages with real-time translation embedded in the infrastructure. For instance, suppose two different customers initiate live chat sessions at about the same time. One customer is in France and one is in Spain. The customer in Paris enters a question in French – and the agent sees it in English. The customer in Barcelona enters a question in Spanish – and the agent sees it in English.

An embedded engine intercepts the French and Spanish chat strings from the users and translates them into English in real time. The English-speaking agent based in India sees both inquiries in English, without any delay. The agent then types the responses in English – which passes back through the translation engine, so the consumers see the replies in French and Spanish. To all participants, it “feels” like they’re chatting with someone in their own language.

To refine and improve each party’s experience, the real-time translation engine can be customized by using the contact center’s previous chat scripts and logs, translation memories, and other glossaries and assets. This improves the comprehension of the translation, the precision of the instructions, and the consumer’s brand experience.

Speaking Their Language – and Removing the Barriers: With real-time multilingual chat, contact centers can exponentially increase their value to the enterprise by achieving a simple yet powerful user benefit: the ability to speak to customers in their own language. This dramatically enhances a company’s ability to enter new geographic markets with greater confidence and speed, knowing that it can deliver cost-efficient customer care services for its products, both for presales engagement and post-sales support. Multilingual real-time chat also reduces costs by enabling the talented and experienced customer-care team to support global markets without relying on costly in-country staff, lengthy training, and turnover worries.

Real-time multilingual chat removes one of the major obstacles to a truly World Wide Web by eliminating language barriers that separate companies, customers, and partners.

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.

[From Connection Magazine June 2011]

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