Speaking the Customer’s Language Through the Pandemic

Multi language customer support team

Edmund Ovington, VP at Unbabel, discusses the impact of the pandemic and the challenges customer service teams face to scale up and respond quickly to customer needs.

The period of lockdown from which we are slowly emerging has been near catastrophic for industries like travel and hospitality, while businesses in other sectors, such as technology and gaming, have seen a huge boost in sales.

At both ends of the scale, customer service organisations have had to manage unprecedented volumes of enquiries, from all over the world, in multiple languages and time zones. Their ability to scale up and respond quickly, with the right tone and translation quality, will have impacted their customer relationships, company image and success going forward.

Testing times for travel

Many of us have experienced travel industry customer service during this crisis. More than 90% of all global flights have been grounded; millions of holidays and events have been postponed or cancelled. We as customers have been demanding information, refunds and re-bookings, while businesses in this sector have been overwhelmed with contact from a customer base that has been angry, frightened and often panics. Most organisations recognise the importance of communicating with customers even if there isn’t a definitive or pleasing answer to give, but fast responses in this situation have been extremely difficult to deliver.

Emotional intelligence in translated messages

One of the challenges faced by customer service teams has been managing high volumes of enquiries in diverse languages. Bad translations can lead to misunderstandings, which delay the support process, while customers stuck in support limbo are likely to submit multiple queries, creating bottlenecks that exacerbate the problem. Expedia, one of our clients, aims to deliver fast responses in an empathetic tone. Before adopting an automated approach it found this particularly demanding when the customer’s native tongue differed to that of the customer service team: it could take 24 hours to translate a message in many non-English languages, while Asian languages up to 48 hours.

Automation certainly helps speed up response times but it doesn’t always achieve the required quality of translation and tone. The answer for Expedia has been to use Unbabel’s AI-human translation platform which enables the team to translate and respond to emails from customers in near real-time. These are first translated by sophisticated Neural Machine Translation, and then the global Unbabel community of human translators double-check the results to ensure accuracy and emotionally intelligent customer support.

The opportunity for the tech industry

Meanwhile, the pandemic has presented some technology companies with a more positive challenge: a surge of users and new customers. As millions of people have been forced to stay at home, gaming, home entertainment, productivity and communications have been in high demand. Logitech, the world’s leading PC and mobile accessories company, has reported fourth-quarter fiscal 2020 results, wherein both the bottom and top lines surpassed estimates.

Logitech’s president and CEO, Bracken Darrell, said: “Video conferencing, working remotely, creating and streaming content, and gaming is long-term secular trends driving our business. The pandemic hasn’t changed these trends: it has accelerated them.”

It has been a fantastic opportunity for businesses in this sector to grow their customer base but this could only be achieved and maintained by responding efficiently to enquiries and delivering great customer service.

Focus on CRM experts

In Logitech’s case, this is a matter of talking to customers in their own language, often in their own jargon and level of technicality. Their customers are often hobbyists or professionals inquiring into highly customized equipment and might approach the support team with questions about bespoke lighting or custom mouse settings down to a thousandth of a DPI, for instance. And they are located all over the world, speaking a plethora of languages.

In an extremely busy period such as this, Logitech would need to recruit and train customer service agents to deal with the traffic – not a simple process when specific language skills are a requirement. By using our translation Software as a Service (SaaS) however, Logitech can focus on subject matter expertise and people skills when recruiting and also provide the general team with the tools to respond to customers in authentic native languages. The SaaS solution enables Logitech to provide always-on support with a leaner team of augmented product experts, avoiding support bottlenecks, reducing response time and being able to scale up in peak periods, such as the current situation.

Be ready for future surges

Speed, accuracy and authenticity are key factors for success in customer service. Delivering these under pressure with the added complication of translation requirements can be a stumbling block for organisations. Those deploying AI translation SaaS with human authentication will have had an advantage in managing the volumes and maintaining customer relationships and will benefit from flexibility, scalability and operational resilience for future surges in enquiries – whether it’s troubleshooting or capitalising on a wave of new customers.

About the Author

Edmund OvingtonEdmund Ovington is VP of Global Alliances at Unbabel, the AI-human translation platform for multilingual customer service. He drives value from Unbabel’s customer base through close relationships with key partners and investors such as Salesforce, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, Zendesk, and Convergys. Edmund also has 10 years of experience scaling SaaS companies such as Yammer.

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