(Ping! Zine Issue 16) – Hosting companies based outside of the United States have their fair share of barriers to jump over before entering the US market. The largest barrier for many companies is the language barrier. For a lot of companies based in Asia and Europe, there may very well be a language (and cultural barrier) that must be overcome in order to provide top of the line service and support to customers speaking English as their first language.
There’s plenty of things you can do to ensure that the support you provide to English speaking customers is just as good (if not better) as the support you provide to your other non-English speaking customers.
Hire Outside of the Country
If you’re a company based in Asia and the main language spoken by your clients is Mandarin, consider hiring people who live in the US, UK, or Canada who speak English as their first language.
These employees can be hired for about the same (or less) than what you would pay someone in your country of operation that speaks English as fluently as someone who lives in the US, UK, or Canada.
When hiring employees in other countries, it’s probably best to stay away from the small outsourcing firms and hire these people directly. For small operations (under 5 or so employees), it’s easiest and cheapest to have employees work at their home and not in a new office. If you pay these employees as independent contractors (1099), you’ll avoid lots of hassles and paperwork that would be involved if you decided to setup a new office.
Your customers will certainly appreciate you taking the time, spending the money, and making the effort to hire people who speak English just as well as they do. Quality will improve and customers will be happier if you decide to hire people who speak English as their first language.
If you have a limited supply of employees who speak English, be sure to cross-train them so that they are able to do a variety of tasks. This will save you money and your customers frustration. Cross-train employees so they have the ability to do basic tasks of other departments:
• Technical support representatives should be able to answer a majority of sales questions.
• Technical support and sales representatives should be able to answer basic billing questions like “When is my bill due?”, “Do I have any outstanding invoices?”, and “Did you receive my payment?”
• Sales and billing representatives should be able to answer or at least address basic technical support questions like “How do I login to my control panel?”, “My web site is down, help.”, and “How do I add an email address?
• And so on.
Cross-trained employees make it so customers don’t have to hear the annoying response of “We’re transferring your ticket to our billing department.” to their simple question.
Set Pre-defined Responses
Employees providing support in a second language generally find pre-defined responses helpful and effective and if used properly, they are. There’s a very fine line between using pre-defined responses effectively and annoying clients with them. Using pre-defined responses allows the employees in your country of operation to help with some of the English support questions and allow the English speaking employees to deal with other things that are a bit harder to understand if you don’t speak English very well.
Pre-defined should only be used when a client asks the question point blank such as “How do I add an email address?” or “How do I pay my bill?”.
Spend some time writing pre-defined responses. A good one for how do I add an email address would be:
Thanks for contacting Host XYZ.
To add an email address, please login to your control panel at http://domain.com:2082/ and click Mail. Then, click Add/Remove an account and scroll down to “Add an Email Address”, fill out the form, and click Submit. You should get a message confirming the email has been added and you’re done.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you any other questions.
Pre-defined responses should be 100% free of spelling and grammatical errors, should have a place to put in a customer’s name or other related personal information, and should meet any other service standards you have in place at your company such as thanking the customer for contacting your company or telling them not to hesitate to contact your company if they have any other questions. Pre-defined responses should be the model responses for your company.
A common problem with having employees outside of the company main’s country of operation or physical office is that the “outside” employees don’t feel involved with the company and subsequently don’t care as much.
All remote employees (outsourced and non) should feel just as involved with the company as employees who work right next to the CEO. You’ll notice that when everyone feels involved and important, they’ll take greater interest in their work and work harder to ensure client satisfaction.
Be sure to:
Copy ‘em. Sending out a company-wide announcement? Include “outside” employees.
Log ‘em in. Make sure “outside” employees of all types have access to internal project management systems, CRMs, idea sharing utilities, and more. If they have more ways to learn and share ideas, chances are they’ll utilize them.
Ask ‘em. Regularly ask outsourced employees and employees working elsewhere for ideas, feedback, and suggestions. Even if language barriers exist, chances are the person still has some ideas for improvement.
Compensate ‘em. Even if you are hiring the employees through an outsourcing firm, be sure to compensate employees additionally for great ideas and suggestions, going above and beyond the call of duty, and more. Financial compensations (as well as career advancement) can really motivate an entire team (not just one person) try harder and go further.
Another excellent way to make employees who don’t work at your company’s physical location or don’t live in the company’s primary country of operation is to setup some sort of mentor training program.
Make an effort to pair new “outside’” employees with existing employees who work in the office and have experience with the company. It’s a great way for the new hire to make a friend within the company and learn first hand about how to do things (correctly) and the existing hire to learn some different ways to do things, possibly make a new friend, and learn about other places and cultures.
Mentoring is an excellent way to ensure success among employees and it works perfectly with new employees, especially ones who may not familiar with company policies, the local culture, or even the language as existing employees.
Employees not 100% comfortable with the language or company policies appreciate having (helpful) manuals. It’s a great way to learn about what to do, how to do it, when to and not to do something, and much more.
Invest some time and effort into employee manuals. Make sure employee manuals only contain inner-company information. All your other information (FAQs, client how-tos, knowledge bases, etc.) should be published on your site for everyone to view.
Between the content in your employee manuals and other documentation and public knowledge bases and FAQ, new employees should have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Pair this with the mentoring program and other ways discussed in this article and your new employees should feel right at home and your customers should be happy.
Douglas Hanna is a freelance writer who specializes in writing about customer service, branding, and technology. Mr. Hanna is also a writer at Service Untitled (http://www.serviceuntitled.com), a blog about customer service and the customer service experience. He may be contacted via email at doug[at]9spot[dot]net.