Assisting Limited English Proficient Customers in a Contact Center

Technology has changed how customers access information and interact with businesses. For contact centers, chatbots and customer self-service portals have all but replaced the need for a live call to answer simple inquiries such as “How do I get reimbursed from my flexible spending account (FSA)?” While customers want their questions answered quickly, accurately, and upon first contact, and are generally satisfied with using technology over speaking with a live agent, digital fixes only work for those who can use them.

No matter their issue, customers with limited English proficiency (LEP) will typically need to speak with a live agent for the fastest assistance. This underscores the importance for contact centers not only to be using interpreting services, but to also train their agents on how best to communicate with a customer who does not speak English as their primary language.

Following are a few tips to help contact center agents navigate a language barrier successfully, because, as we know, by supporting your LEP customers in their own language, they’re more likely to make a purchase — and to purchase again.


Remember, there’s no need to shout

When you identify that you and your customer do not speak the same language, resist the urge to raise your voice. Some people naturally speak louder when communicating with people who speak a different language. However, raising your voice does nothing to facilitate understanding, and can quickly alienate the person on the other end of the line. Instead, speak a little slower with a consistent tone. Make sure to enunciate your words, and use simple, short phrases and sentences.

Related: These Are the Questions Your Staff has About Language Access


When possible, cut the jargon

Every industry has its own language that even native English speakers can sometimes struggle to understand. For LEP customers, using jargon, acronyms, industry-related terminology, slang, or even 10-cent words might add even more confusion or misunderstanding to what could already be a tough interaction. Be aware of the words you use, and make sure you’re speaking in plain language.


Identify the language your customer speaks

To use interpreting services, you will need to know what language your LEP customer would like to communicate in. You will begin to recognize words and phrases in the top languages your customers speak, making it easier for you to identify the language needed. But for rare languages, or languages that aren’t requested as often, you might need to do a little detective work so you can request an interpreter in the correct language the first time.

  • Ask your customer what language they speak. This may seem too obvious, but there’s a good chance your LEP will know enough English to understand what you are asking.
  • Read off your top 15 languages. Individuals can usually spot their language when read aloud. Since contact centers are a haven for data, it’s likely that you already have a report showing the top 15 languages your customer’s speak. If you don’t have this data, start with the top 15 languages spoken in the state you serve or in the country, which can be easily found with a quick internet search.
  • Ask what country they are from. It’s a good idea to have a list of the most commonly spoken languages handy. If your customer can tell you what country they are from, you can read off the list of the languages spoken in that country. This list can be daunting to compile, so use one that is already created.
  • Contact your language services provider. If the tips above do not work, contact your language service provider. This is what they do, and they would be happy to assist.


Lastly, be patient and respectful

Communication barriers are frustrating, but it’s important not to let the frustration get the best of you. When assisting an LEP customer, always remember that English is not an easy language to learn, and your customer might have to navigate the world with communication challenges regularly, whereas you do not. Be patient. Respect where they are coming from, and take care to ensure they are getting the best service possible.

CLI has over 20 years of experience providing over-the-phone interpreting services to call centers, healthcare entities, government institutions, business of all kinds — you name it! — which means we know how to help our clients identify languages for their LEP customers. Have questions? We have answers. Contact us today!