Providing great customer service in your native tongue to someone who speaks your language is difficult enough. How do you aim for great customer service when there’s a language barrier in the way?
Accents, vocabulary limitations, and usage differences can make it difficult to communicate clearly and effectively with people who speak other languages.
Short of learning another language entirely, what can you do to improve communication and deal with language barriers in customer service?
Dealing with language barriers in customer service
Before anything else, adopt a positive attitude about overcoming the language barrier. Try not to become annoyed or frustrated if you’re having trouble understanding or communicating what seem to be simple messages. Your attitude sets the tone for the interaction in most cases.
Following the tips below will make it easier to both clearly communicate your words and better understand the customer.
Simplify your message
Whatever you need to communicate to the customer can be stripped down to the bare essentials. If you can sense that there’s a language barrier, make it your priority to use simple, short statements to communicate best with the customer. If a phrase can be shortened – or even trimmed entirely from the conversation – then do it.
If the language barrier is extremely challenging to overcome, it may be wise to skip upselling tactics or anything that would make the interaction more difficult.
Gather the information you can
Sometimes, even the most sensitive ears and patient minds can’t understand what the customer is saying. In this case, just gather the information you’re able to, let the customer know you’re having trouble understanding, and ask for a method to follow-up with communication afterward to get the rest of the information.
In addition, you can recommend a non-verbal method of customer service communication to get remaining details (most helpful if accent is an issue).
Speak slowly and clearly
Speaking with purpose is another component of dealing with language barriers in customer service. Don’t mumble or channel your inner auctioneer. Speak as though you’re trying to train a voice recognition system to your voice – slowly and clearly, but not condescendingly so. You’re trying to communicate clearly, not teach a class of Kindergartners.
Avoid jargon or culture-specific terms
This is a difficult one because many culture-specific terms that we know so well become habitual to use. But if your customer doesn’t understand what you mean when you promise to “touch base on Wednesday,” you’re only deepening the level of miscommunication. Try to avoid using industry or technical jargon when there’s a language barrier and skip cultural terms that may not make sense to others.
Language barriers in customer service can be overcome with a little extra attention on your end. As long as you simplify your message, gather the information you can, speak slowly and clearly, and avoid jargon and culture-specific terms, you can communicate effectively with someone who doesn’t speak your language and give them a great customer service experience.
How do you work to overcome language barriers in customer service? We’d love to hear from you!