Successfully Serving the U.S. Hispanic Caller

By Craig Handley

“Name? Item number? Credit card number? Have a good day!”

Sound familiar? These brief, to-the-point words represent a conversation most of us have experienced numerous times in our life. A well-worn approach to data capture, this metrics-driven, reliable script has become the easiest way for call centers to control costs, collect your money, and move on to the next caller as quickly as possible.

But what if this timesaving tactic doesn’t work? What if a call center’s fast-talking, impersonal speech proves ineffective in certain regions of the country – or the world? This is the case for the U.S. Hispanic call center market. Encompassing a variety of ethnicities and dialects, Hispanics rely on an entirely separate set of standards when interacting with call center representatives. And, as not only the fastest growing market segment in the United States but markedly more responsive and loyal, it’s important that their needs are recognized and met.

Thinking of dipping a toe in the U.S. Hispanic call center market? Here are some considerations before getting started.

Technology: Something Old, Something New: Most call centers in the U.S. today are multilingual, handling both inbound English and Spanish callers but lacking the interpersonal and verbal skills needed to fully assist their Hispanic callers. While call centers centered solely on the Hispanic community have popped up in recent years, often they possess the interpersonal skills necessary but lack the technologyneeded to drive sales forward.

In creating success within the U.S. Hispanic market, it is vital to integrate traditional, proven technological tactics with modern call center equipment. Some of these traditional, vital measures include Interactive Voice Response (IVR), speech recognition and synthesis, and a universal queue that integrates all of your center’s communication outlets (phone, fax, and email). More advanced automation includes the ability to route incoming calls to a center’s top performers and the performance analytics necessary to report on campaign success – helping to better target consumer segments, geographic segments, and media outlets.

Not All Scripts Are Created Equal: Since campaign success is contingent on targeting the right marketing segments, the success of a script is contingent on meeting the needs of the demographic it reaches. A script that has proven effective for South American callers will in all likelihood fail to produce the same results for Mexican callers. With each demographic comes a different dialect that necessitates a different script, and these intricacies must be noted when working with multiple campaigns.

I have always believed that a “soft-offer approach” – a lighter touch that representatives in most U.S. call centers lack – is required to improve the efficacy of all campaigns, but particularly those based in the U.S. Hispanic market. Spanish-speaking callers do not respond well to a wheeling-and-dealing approach. Therefore, call center representatives must be trained to disarm and connect with the caller – not simply capture his or her credit card number.

Limit Call Time But Not Charisma: While I believe mastering the art of the U.S. Hispanic sales call means approaching Spanish-speaking callers with a personal, casual touch, I also know this can lead to a lot of talking – and not as much selling. It is imperative that call center representatives be properly trained to know when (and when not to) veer off the course of the script – and how to close the deal in an encouraging, friendly manner.

It’s a delicate balance, but it’s the only way to approach this market. Too impersonal and you can control costs, but your results suffer. If keeping talk times under control means that you don’t get any sales, you lose; I’ve seen too many calls going into an IVR or U.S.-based center that fall into that category. On the other side, sending U.S. Hispanic calls to Argentina or Panama can result in talk times that are triple the call length and end up with inaccurate data. These are important details to keep in mind when kicking off a multilingual campaign.

The Devil Is in the Details: Without the correct training, even my own name – Craig Handley – can take three minutes to obtain and still end up as “Greg Janley.” A mistake like this means an order you can’t process and an inevitable customer service call from me looking for a product that is never going to arrive. Thus, when dealing with Spanish-speaking callers, your center needs to provide its employees with hours of training on the not-always-so-simple task of capturing the caller’s name and address. U.S. and Spanish translations are different, and each demographic is marked by a varying set of phonetics. Inadequately prepared call center representatives equal an increase in frustration for the caller and a decrease in sales for you.

Understand Your Employees: The happiness of your staff is just as important as the happiness of your clients and their callers. In the U.S., there is an 80 percent turnover rate at call centers.

Incentive-based programs have proven to drive results in foreign-language regions. To better understand the incentives needed to boost sales at your call center, it is important to ask good questions. “What is the culture of the area I’m working in? What drives workers to keep their job?” Knowing the answer to these questions will help you to pick the right area to set up a call center and retain your agents over an extended time.

Data Security First: A major data breach is one of the last things you or your callers want to deal with, which is why PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance is one of the biggest issues in the industry today. Callers want to be assured that their cardholder information is protected from fraud and theft, yet many call centers still opt not to be PCI-compliant, or only meet the bare minimum requirements.

Are you PCI-compliant? I suggest researching the types of compliance available. Although it is an investment of both time and money, compliance is a safeguard against violations that could potentially destroy trust and ruin the reputation of your call center.

These considerations aside, I want to stress the booming growth of the U.S. Hispanic call center industry today. With precise market evaluation, attention to security, and a compassionate demeanor, success can be right around the corner.

Craig Handley’s combination of hard work, a little luck, and lots of creativity has sparked the ingenuity and vision that drive the success of both companies he leads: Listen Up Español and its sister enterprise, Revenue Enhancement Consultants (REC). Listen Up Español is a near-shore Spanish-language call center serving the U.S. Hispanic DRTV market, which recently expanded to 500 seats and over 1,000 agents. REC offers innovative programs to help DR merchants, service providers, and affiliates boost sales and revenues, both online and offline.

[From Connection Magazine October 2009]