ICMI Research Finds Contact Centers Lack Language Skills

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Research released today by the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI) and Lionbridge Technologies found that most contact centers are not prepared to handle the increase in customer contacts in languages other than English.

As organizations aim to increase their global footprints and serve customers of all languages, they still struggle to provide multilingual support across voice, self-service, and digital channels, the research found.

This comes at a time when 52 percent of contact centers expect the volume of calls and other contacts in other languages to increase during the next three years, said Justin Robbins, community manager at ICMI and the author of the report, during the morning keynote at the ICMI Contact Center Expo.

Already a full 79 percent of contact center leaders reported that they are frequently contacted by customers whose primarily language is one that is not supported in their facilities. At the same time, the very large majority of contact center leaders recognized that customers expect to receive service in their native languages but said they are unable to address this need.

The most common response when customers reach out to companies in languages that their contact centers do not support is to apologize and to attempt to resolve the issue in the agents' primary language, Robbins reported.

That, he said, is unacceptable today, as contact centers have always been about customer experiences.

"As our world grows closer and more connected, the importance of delivering service that is personal, comprehensive, and easy for a customer to understand could not be greater," Robbins said.

Companies today have "robust opportunities" to improve the service they provide across contact channels with the proper language tools, Robbins continued. "The customer experience is the key differentiator in today's service economy, and it is essential for companies to move on this opportunity to stand apart from their competition."

The research also found that the single biggest challenge in providing support beyond a contact center's primary language is finding and retaining in-house agents who speak more than one language. Nearly 20 percent of the more than 500 contact center leaders surveyed said they provide scripted responses and make no further attempt to support customers who do not speak the contact center's primary language. Thirty-two percent only informally find someone in the department who can speak the language or translate for the agent who took the call.

"With voice giving way to self-service and agent-assisted digital channels, contact centers should evolve their language support," said Tom Tseki, vice president and general manager of GeoFluent and customer care solutions at Lionbridge, in a statement. "Providing over-the-phone interpretation as the primary multilingual support option is no longer effective and positions brands as laggards in terms of CX."

Additionally, 20 percent of contact centers do not even measure the quality of their non-primary language contacts, the research found.

But that should come as no surprise, because most contact centers are far behind the curve in their use of any kind of analytics. According to Robbins, a full 42 percent of contact center leaders do not conduct any sort of root cause analysis on the drivers of repeated contacts.

Additionally, 71 percent of contact center personnel identified outdated and inefficient systems and technologies as the top contributors to employee stress.

This was a running theme of the conference, which saw a number of speakers talk about the need for more modern contact center technologies and processes. Among them were omnichannel and cloud technologies, new rules of engagement, new training and coaching tools, new forecasting and scheduling tools, and evolving metrics.

Lu Battaglieri, senior vice president, chief public affairs officer, and chief of operations at Delta Dental of Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana, pointed out that benchmarking is an often-misused tool.

Benchmarking, he said, "can tell you how you stack up against the competition." But in today's economy, "that tells you too little," he added, "and every organization has its own unique customers."

"Statistics alone are a rear-view mirror. They only tell you what you've done in the past," he said.

And while that kind of information can have value, it can't be used alone. "Customer needs are constantly changing over time," Battaglieri stated.

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