Let’s start by going back to 2012, when the Harvard Business Review – in an article written on multilingual customer service and business in general – pronounced: “ready or not, English is now the global language of business.”
The HBR (a fantastic publication by anyone’s standards) used Rakuten as an example. Japan’s largest online retailer had just acquired dozens of overseas B2C consumer marketplaces, and announced its global language policy, which would make the business operate in English as a default language. According to HBR, it affected some 7,100 employees in Japan, who would have two years to learn and demonstrate competence in the language, or risk demotion or even dismissal.
“Adopting a common mode of speech isn’t just a good idea. It’s a must, even for an American company with operations overseas,” the author concluded.
But while English-only communication might have made sense throughout the early 2010s, it failed to identify what technology would shape the world in the years to follow.
Multilingualism is now the language of the world, and the global language of business. Today’s technology has made it easier to be a multilingual business, even when your people aren’t – and made it worthwhile, too.
Here are three reasons why any business should focus on bringing multilingual customer service to their frontline.
1. Because your customers are multilingual
OK, we don’t know your customers. But with 20% of US citizens, 56% of Europeans and around 60% of the world’s population able to speak more than one language, it’s safe to assume many are multilingual.
In truth, your customer base is likely made up of dozens, if not hundreds, of cultures and associated languages, which collectively makes for a fine opportunity if you can support their needs. In the US alone, the buying power of people from ethnic minorities – those most likely to need or want non-English customer support – is $2.5 trillion.
And here’s another safe assumption: customers like it when they can communicate in the language they know best. More than that, they’ll pay to use their mother tongue.
Almost three-quarters of people say they’re more likely to buy products that are presented in their native language, and 74% of consumers are more likely to repeat business if customer support is offered in their language.
It’s particularly pertinent for global brands. A huge three-in-five consumers (59%) say they “rarely or never” buy from English-only websites.
So, whether you’re educating potential customers, making a sale or offering support, the message is clear: it pays to be speaking your customer’s language.
2. Because multilingualism can build brand relationships
Forget the transactional value of multilingual customer service for a second; because it’s also a great way to build relationships to your brand on your customer’s terms.
As historian Sir Michael Howard once said: “a common language is the most obvious binding element in any society”.
When you speak in a common language with your customers, you’re more likely to find understanding, you communicate complex ideas better, and you’re more likely to find common ground and build trust.
And to come full circle and bring it back to the transactional implications of that, there are countless studies showing how trust improves brand positioning, customer experience and ultimately revenue. Just ask the 70% of consumers who say their purchasing decisions are influenced by their trust in brands.
3. Because now there’s no reason not to be
Perhaps the reason why the HBR once said “English is now the global language of business” is because being multilingual customer service was previously anything but easy.
Even breakthrough translation technology had teething issues, as anyone who ever used early versions of Google Translate can probably tell you – most likely with their own story of a frankly hilarious mistranslation.
It’s still unfeasible for customer service assistants to ask customers to wait while they run each question and answer through a translation tool. Similarly, it’s near impossible to hire staff with 100% coverage of the languages they might encounter speaking to customers.
But integrated translation technology and low-latency communication channels have moved customer communication into a new world – particularly when that conversation is presented through a digital human conversation.
Today, any business now has the means to create multilingual customer service conversations, at scale and around the clock. In fact, it’s a strong test of how far translation software has come that your digital human can communicate naturally in another language consistently without latency becoming an issue.
Multilingual, AI-driven, “face-to-face” conversations also enable automated customer service initiatives to work harder. How much would it cost to hire or train a customer service rep who’s fluent in 16 languages? What would the value of that be to your customers if your entire customer-facing digital workforce could understand 63 languages?
At the time of writing, this is how many languages are spoken and understood by UneeQ’s digital humans. And that number is growing, thanks to the ease of integrations with today’s breakthrough translation software, like Lingmo International.
So yes, there’s now no barrier to being multilingual as a business – on top of the other benefits of innovating with digital human solutions. So, to put it simply, why wouldn’t you?