As customer demographics change, companies and hiring managers need to look closer at language and culture as part of the customer service experience. Language proficiency is an indicator of an individual’s ability not only to connect with a customer but also to identify cultural nuances in a shared language that would create trust and customer retention.
In customer service, there is always a script aligned with the introduction, Q&A, and closing that is part of employees’ training. While scripting helps to maintain consistency, how that script is translated has an effect on the customers who are receiving the information. Translations are affected by the language competency of translators or interpreters and their cultural experiences and awareness. Customers are influenced by their language competency, use of language variations (i.e., slang), and their cultural background. When a translated script is presented to a customer, how the script language is constructed, along with the customer’s language proficiency and cultural background, has an effect on that customer’s acceptance or declination of the information (Clute Journals, 2009). Having employees who are certified in speaking and writing in a target language creates an advantage in customer service for multicultural customers in the following ways.
- Having a high level of language proficiency allows representatives to nuance their conversation to meet the needs of the customer’s preferred mode of communication (i.e., formal, informal, dialect-specific speech).
- With language proficiency comes experience. A representative who can communicate effectively can also identify idiosyncrasies in the conversation that allow him or her to change direction and support customers the way they need to be supported.
- Language proficiency aligns with cultural awareness. When representatives are proficient in a particular language, they bring with them their experiences, culture, and past interactions with others that represent the tapestry of that particular language. For example, Spanish is a commonly spoken language. However, there are cultural differences between Castilian Spanish, Caribbean Spanish, and Central and South American Spanish, for example, that do affect how people with a similar language background may interpret a conversation. Representatives that demonstrate high levels of proficiency in a language may also have a greater degree of experience in multicultural speech across a particular language that allows them to communicate more effectively.
As we continue to globalize in all human interactions, taking into account language proficiency and cultural awareness is imperative in continuing to meet the promises made to customers in effective, efficient, and supportive customer service.
Delpha DiGiacomo is a professional coach and business consultant. With over 20 years of experience in the corporate world, she has developed employee’s business programs that support customers and employees equally. Delpha is passionate about inclusive leadership development that integrates the employee experience in a way that supports companies’ goals and culture. She is the author of the blog Leadership is a Lifestyle.