Entrepreneurs

Combating Language Discrimination In Customer Service

Vasco Pedro, CEO and Founder of Unbabel, recently told me a story when I spoke to him on my podcast about his experience with British Airways’ customer service facilities in Portugal. He told me that if he calls British Airways’ English-language customer service line, he can get 24/7 support. But, if he calls the Portuguese customer service line, he can only do so between 9 am and 5 pm, Monday to Friday.

He told me this story not to pick on British Airways but to illustrate how customers who speak languages other than English often have to put up with lower service levels. He refers to this differing level of service as a form of language discrimination.

Now, this is not a situation that is exclusive to English speaking brands. I am sure that this situation is familiar to many people who have traveled to a country where they have not been fluent in the native language and have sought help from a local brand or organization.

But, what is clear from all of this is that language can often be a limiting factor in the quality of the service that customers receive.

Given the heights that brands are trying to achieve, I don’t think that is acceptable.

That is not to say that brands don’t recognize this, and many are trying to tackle this inconsistency in various ways. Some hire multi-lingual agents to help customers, some establish dedicated country and regional teams, some outsource their service operations to specialist and multi-lingual service providers, some use translators and translation tools, while others rely on Google Translate to help them engage with and serve their customers across different languages.

However, regardless of whether you are a large international brand, a start-up or a scale-up, these options range from difficult to set up and complicated to manage to expensive, slow and prone to error.

That makes what Unbabel is doing interesting and exciting. They have built an artificial intelligence (AI) powered human translation platform that integrates closely with many leading customer service and engagement platform players. In short, their platform combines an artificial intelligence translation engine that covers up to 28 different languages and operates across, email, chat and FAQs with a global network of expert human editors who, through their work, are continuously training their models so that the system gets smarter over time. 

They call it a Language Operations (LangOps) platform. While their first area of focus is customer service, it is designed to help every team across a company easily interact with customers in any language.

According to Unbabel’s VP of Customer Operations, Jason Richardson, in a recent webinar, their approach offers organizations either operating internationally or wanting to expand into new markets four main benefits:

  1. Improved experience – Language is the most basic form of personalization and plays a significant role in a customer’s experience. So, allowing customers and prospects the ability to communicate in their language of choice, they are likely to feel more welcome and more comfortable. This is likely to produce a better dialogue and a better experience.
  2. Greater reach – Leveraging a LangOps platform can help brands expand their reach while minimizing the risk and investment typically required when operating in or expanding into new markets.
  3. Ease talent-hiring difficulties – When businesses expand into new markets, their main hiring priority is language skills. However, the use of translation tools can alleviate that requirement and allow the brand to hire not only based on language skills but also on experience, attitude, personality and fit with the business.
  4. Improved efficiency and quality – A translation platform that is constantly learning is very likely to speed up response times and boost accuracy rates.

The idea that customers have to put up with different levels of service depending on their language is acceptable. We should be aiming to raise the level of customer service and customer experience independent of language and location. Unbabel’s solution goes a long way towards helping address these inequities.

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