For decades, contact centers in Europe and Asia have recognized the need for bilingual agents. Many of these businesses are required to support as many as 14 different languages.
Such considerations have been slower to arrive in the United States, but they are here now. Spanish-speaking agents have become essential, and as companies expand their global reach it is important to have agents who can speak to these customers in their native language.
Why Bilingual Agents are Necessary
Reducing call time is always a contact center priority. If calls can be routed quickly to an agent that speaks the customer’s language, call time is reduced and customer satisfaction will increase.
The inclusion of bilingual agents is particularly beneficial at 24-hour contact centers, making it possible for different customers from different countries and time zones to call when it is convenient for them, and have their query resolved.
However, while agents may be hired for their fluency in a different language, that is not always the case for managers, coaches and trainers. How can they monitor an agent’s performance on a customer conversation in a language they do not understand?
Bilingual Quality Monitoring Strategies
Effective quality monitoring (QM) for bilingual agents starts with a confirmation that the quality monitoring system in place at the contact center is performing up to expectations.
Before factoring in the additional challenges of second and third languages, review that status of your quality management program: Have the goals for this program been clearly defined, based on how your customers would define excellent service? Are agents, managers and coaches on the same page when it comes to interpreting data, and how calls should be scored? Do you have sufficient data to reach accurate conclusions?
These are just some of the questions that should be answered. Here are a few more:
Have you set performance goals and rewarded achievement?
Are you starting with agents from day one?
Who monitors the monitors?
Are you testing before implementation?
Make sure that you also have the right technology in place. Measuring quality manually is a long and arduous process, that is made much more efficient when relevant data is accurately compiled and analyzed automatically.
Monitoring of customer interactions should be simple for agents, and the intelligence gathered through the system should be easy to analyze for managers.
Once the call center is effectively achieving quality-monitoring results in English, managers can focus on bringing that same level of insight to customer engagements in other languages.
Hiring Qualified Management
The most obvious solution to this challenge is hiring or training bilingual personnel to assume the quality monitoring responsibilities for calls in the language in which they are fluent. However, if the contact center has agents that speak 5, 7, 10 or more different languages, it may not be feasible to have management on staff for each of them.
Recruit Your Customers
If a certain percentage of your calls come from customers in Japan, and you have Japanese-speaking agents but no Japanese-speaking managers, try gathering quality data from the customers handled by these agents.
This can be achieved through a customer satisfaction survey with questions on how their situation was addressed and whether the agent was helpful. Don’t make the survey too long, or customers may not take the time to respond. However, simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, or “on a scale of 1-10” assessments may not be enough for effective performance evaluation. Provide customers with an opportunity to describe what they liked and what they did not.
Of course, the survey results will also have to be translated, and you’ll have only qualitative data from which to draw conclusions. But this is valuable feedback that can be obtained in a relatively easy way.
Speech analytics is now in use at dozens of contact centers, and is capable of analyzing customer speech in up to 44 different languages. This data when translated can work alongside scorecards to improve quality assurance practices.
Promote From Within
Once a bilingual agent has established a consistent track record in customer service, appoint that agent to your quality assurance team, and have him or her monitor other agents’ calls in their second language. Even better, train them to not only score calls but also to provide appropriate training and coaching.
Reassure Bilingual Agents of QM goals
Managers may hire agents for their native fluency in Spanish, French etc. Often these agents also speak English, but perhaps not as well. That may provoke a sense of alienation in a contact center where everyone else is speaking English on his or her calls and to each other. Those feelings may be exacerbated when a second party is brought in to monitor bilingual calls – agents may feel that they are not trusted by their employer, or suspected of making personal calls on company time (which will look and sound the same to someone who does not speak the language).
An effort should be make to educate these agents about the procedures of a quality assurance program, why it is important to evaluate performance, and how this benefits not just the company but the agent as well. The objective is not to catch them doing something wrong, but to acknowledge what they are doing right, provide incentives for continued exemplary performance, and identify areas where some additional training may be necessary.
Another way to make QM more palatable is to involve these agents in the action plan that will help them improve their performance.
Call centers that offer more personalized communication through the employment of bilingual agents are already ahead of the curve. Diversity in language and meeting the needs of customers, regardless of their location, bolsters a company’s reputation for outstanding customer service. However, management must be cognizant that these customer engagements are just as important as those in the primary language of the contact center’s country of origin. Quality monitoring, though more difficult in bilingual situations, must be maintained to keep the standard of service consistent regardless of language.