Bringing multilingual support to service desks

By Alan Conduct|6 February 2020

What does your technical support team do when faced with a non-native English speaker? Some service desks will turn to Google Translate or other online tools to translate a ticket and offer support. Others will try to find a bilingual colleague to act as an intermediary, while some organisations simply apologise for their lack of language capability and push on in English.

None of these solutions are really satisfactory. Service desk teams need to understand users, and vice versa, if they are to deliver the right resolution in a timely way. And because of the technical nature of service desk tickets, there are numerous opportunities for misunderstandings and misinformation when a language barrier exists.

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While machine translation tools have become increasingly accurate in recent years, they are not infallible especially when dealing with highly technical terminology. Terms used to describe a technology issue in one language don’t always translate word for word in another. If the user also finds it difficult to articulate what the problem is, because they don’t have the technical knowledge, the resulting translation could be very confusing.

The same can be true of using bilingual colleagues, especially if they come from another department and don’t have the technical knowledge to interpret correctly or ask the right questions.

English is the world’s universal language

So is it safer just to apologise and only offer service desk support in English? Not if you want to reduce response and resolution times, keep productivity levels high, minimise downtime and boost or maintain user satisfaction levels. In my opinion it’s also not the right approach for multinational enterprises that want to engage and retain their global staff and break down language barriers between different teams, employees and other stakeholders.

A multilingual service desk goes a long way to ensuring that employees in other markets feel valued, as well as getting the support they need. Don’t forget that your service desk is enabler, without technical support employees (and customers) can’t perform at their best. From a customer’s perspective this means they might not get the value for money they expect out of your product or solution, and for employees it could result in low productivity, missed targets and poor morale.

Do you need a multilingual service desk?

Employing bilingual technicians and service desk analysts is not always easy. According to the British Council 62% of UK citizens cannot speak another language. Out of those that can speak another language fluently, how many will also have the necessary IT skills to deliver the support you need and in the languages you need?

But don’t be put off! The benefits of offering multilingual IT support could outweigh the challenges, and you don’t have to recruit bilingual staff – you could outsource global support to a service desk provider.

The following questions can help you weigh up whether you have sufficient demand for multilingual support:

  • What languages do your global users speak, and what volume of tickets do they generate? This will help you identify languages that will benefit from multilingual support and make the case for a multilingual service desk.
  • How easy is it for them to report a problem and what type of problems do they need support with? Do your users in other markets know how to get support, and is this information localised to ensure clear communications? Localised knowledge banks may be sufficient if users generally report problems they can fix themselves.
  • Are their preferred communication channels available? Raising an online ticket may be preferable to picking up the phone to an English speaking service desk. However, find out what users expect from technical support, different cultures sometimes expect different communication channels.
  • Do tickets get passed around the team before someone can respond to them? This will naturally have an impact on response and resolution times, and takes up your service desk team’s time as they try to find a way of communicating with the user.
  • How do response and resolution times compare to the UK operations? Benchmark performance against response and resolution times for UK users. Measure KPIs for each language so you can understand how quality metrics vary and identify which languages to prioritise.
  • What do global users say? Review user satisfaction levels, complaints and feedback to better understand how your English-speaking service desk performs in overseas markets.
  • What’s your organisation’s global strategy? If your organisation is expanding into new markets or growing in existing ones, you’ll need to plan technical support accordingly. Make sure languages are part of this strategy.

How to get the right multilingual support

With the answers to the questions above and data to make informed decisions, you can now explore which language solutions will give you the support your organisation needs. Here are some ideas:

Low volumes of 1st line tickets

Self-serve solutions such as localised knowledge banks could reduce ticket volumes further as users find the answers to their problems without needing to contact your service desk directly. Invest in professional translation services to ensure all content is accurate, using the correct terminology and is culturally appropriate. Handle tickets raised with your service desk using real-time translation technology. Real-time translation solutions can also support ChatBots and messaging apps.

Low volumes of 2nd & 3rd line tickets

For 1st line tickets where language is a barrier, and for more complex tickets like 2nd and 3rd line where good communication is essential, use a translation service provider. They can offer a variety of services including phone interpreting or translation of emails and messages. Of course, as with any service provider, you’ll need to ensure that they have capacity to translate or interpret requests within your response times. Make sure that they select interpreters and translators with a background in IT or good technical knowledge.

Medium to high volumes of tickets

At this point, investing in multilingual service desk analysts becomes more advantageous. A combination of other options, especially localised self-serve, can support your multilingual team. But, should you keep this in-house or outsource to a service desk provider? Skills shortages in IT combined with a lack of language skills makes outsourcing a better option for many organisations. If you have multiple languages to support, a multilingual service desk provider will offer a variety of languages in a much more cost effective way than if you had to recruit a team yourself.

Our multilingual service desk team is made up of analysts who speak English and at least one other language fluently. They handle tickets in English and their specialist languages and if one of them is unavailable (on leave or handling another call) we have enough language skills on the desk for another member of the team to step in.

What about different time-zones?

Another important consideration is time-zones. If you need multilingual support it’s likely that, even in Europe, users will be in a different time-zone for some of the year. While an hours difference might not be significant, if your service desk only operates during UK business hours that’s one hour when a user might not be able to work, close a sale, or use your product. The larger the time difference, the fewer support hours your service desk can offer.

Staffing your UK-based service desk out-of-hours will be expensive. As an alternative you might explore local support with technician or more in each market. But a better option is to simply outsource out-of-hours to a global service desk provider. This is a much more cost effective solution than employing additional staff, out-of-hours and with the right language skills.

For example, we provide service desk support in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German for one of our clients, who operates across Europe and Canada. They have approximately 2000 users and require 1st and 2nd line IT support 24/7. We’re able to align our service desk with each time zone and the languages needed at different times of day. We have full French / English support available 24/7 as those languages are needed in both France and Canada. Whereas Spain, Germany and Italy are currently only an hour ahead of the UK and so we can scale down support overnight.

Wouldn’t local service desks provide a better service?

Local outsourcing partners are another route you could explore. The advantage of this is that users and the service desk will be in the same time zone and will all be native speakers. However if you need to provide support in multiple languages you’ll need multiple service desk providers too. This can be challenging as each provider will need to be on boarded and deliver a consistent service, ensuring your organisation’s technical support is aligned with culture, values and your brand.

That’s why using one multilingual service desk based in the UK and offering 24/7/365 cover, is often the best solution. Having a provider based in the UK means you can also meet face-to-face easily and ensure that they understand your organisation. Remember too that you need to be able to communicate with the service desk, not just your users. Therefore, you might find it easier to discuss your requirements, Service Level Agreements, costs and strategy with a UK provider.

Whichever option is best for your organisation, don’t compromise on the quality of your service desk. Slow response times and poor resolutions reflect badly on your organisation whatever language they are delivered in.

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