By Amy Goodwin, Senior Speech Technologist
Expanding on a global scale is great for business, but it also creates its own host of challenges. While you need to know all about cultural norms, the first step is adapting current practices to international needs. Most likely, that includes creating a multilingual interactive voice response (IVR) system.
But even domestically, a multilingual IVR is more important than ever. According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly 40 million Americans speak Spanish at home. In addition, more than 25 million speak English “less than very well,” research shows. Without a multilingual IVR, you’re cutting those people off from a critical interaction point.
So when adding a new language to your self-service solution, here are five tips to ensure success on a global level:
1. Make the IVR Accessible for Everyone
When targeting customers in another country, you’ll do well to start by adding support for the nation’s official language. But take the time to consider other languages, even locally. English is by far the most common language used in the United States, but in some areas of Texas, for example, more than two-thirds of residents speak Spanish.
If you’re still in your first steps of crafting a multilingual IVR, then stick with the languages with the widest reach. But don’t forget to come back and keep optimizing to ensure you’re not missing out on any important interactions.
2. Use a Native Speaker
No, someone who learned the language through a mobile app is not the same. Languages are incredibly complex, and translation is not as easy as making word-for-word replacements. If you’re targeting customers in both Portugal and Brazil, both of which speak primarily Portuguese, you’ll need two different native speakers to do the translations. The language evolves as the culture develops around it, so colloquial terms and phrases can vary dramatically.
For the voice talent, try to find someone without a distracting accent. Many countries have an accent or dialect that is considered neutral and easy to understand. You can usually hear it on national television shows. In Great Britain, it’s called the Queen’s English or BBC English.
New York plays home to many national news stations. Yet in the U.S., you rarely hear a news anchor with a New York accent. Instead, many actors and national personalities mimic accents from Midwestern states like Indiana or Nebraska. Unlike language, these accents can often be appropriately mimicked.
3. Consolidate Multiple IVR Platforms
Supporting multiple languages doesn’t mean you have to set up more than one IVR. We recently worked with a major financial institution, which handles 250 million financial transactions around the world each year, to simply expand their existing solution.
The multilingual IVR now supports 29 languages, and the list is growing. But more than that, the number of international calls and calls contained in the IVR also grew, as customers responded overwhelmingly positively to conducting transactions in their native tongue. Read more about this upgrade in our case study, Moving Money Around the World in One IVR.
Maintenance of multiple, regionalized IVR platforms is overwhelming, time-consuming and expensive. Stick to a single, expansive system to create a consistent experience and make your staff’s jobs less stressful.
4. Keep it Running Smoothly
Remember, a key of any good IVR is a short menu that lets customers resolve issues quickly. No one wants to listen to nine different language options at the start of their call. In fact, many callers even get frustrated when asked to press “1” for English.
An easy way to get around this is to set English as the default language. When your multilingual IVR picks up, the caller hears an English introduction, followed by instructions in another language to press “1” for Spanish, French, etc. If no button is pressed, the call goes on in the default language.
This strategy lengthens the IVR intro by only a couple seconds and doesn’t require any additional effort from the caller. The lingual majority is happy with the quick service, and the lingual minority can still get the service they expect.
5. ID Callers to Predict the Best Language
Even a multilingual IVR can only use one language when it first answers the call. Making it easy to choose another language is great, but the experience will be far more impressive if your IVR can guess the caller’s native tongue right off the bat.
Consider making language predictions based on caller ID. In Belgium, for instance, the northern half of the country speaks Dutch, while the southern half speaks French, and some areas in the east primarily speak German. When you know which part of the country the call is coming from, you can improve your odds of answering a call with the caller’s preferred language.
To get even more precise, add each caller’s name and phone number into their 360-degree customer profile. If the caller makes a selection other than the language default, start the interaction with their preferred language the next time they call. Still, always give them the option to choose another language, regardless of past interactions.
Make the Most of Your Multilingual IVR
Ultimately, your customers will benefit most from an IVR that’s been optimized for their needs. Having a well-designed and performing application will make moving to a multilingual IVR a much easier transition. So be sure to check out this blog post, 5 Common IVR Complaints Killing Your CX, to see if there are other problems you need to address before considering which languages to add.
And if you’d like even more tips and personalized advice on building a multilingual IVR of your own, call or text a West Interactive Services IVR expert at 800.841.9000.
Whether you’re looking to branch out on the international stage or connect with more customers domestically, a multilingual IVR is an important customer experience step in the modern era. Follow these five steps to start seeing more containment, greater ROI and customer loyalty from speakers of all dialects.
Amy Goodwin has more than 20 years of speech recognition experience, which covers speech grammar development, including natural language, speech user interface design and speech tuning analytics. During her tenure at West, Amy has written thousands of directed dialogue grammars and provided analysis, design and deployment of natural language IVR solutions to numerous clients. Prior to joining West Interactive, Amy held positions as a dialog designer, a speech application analyst, an audio engineer and an acoustic model engineer.