Working With Customers Who Speak Other Languages


Posted on:

With our increasingly diverse society, the sheer number of different languages spoken can be daunting. In some parts of the country, languages and customs may change in each neighborhood. The challenge an seem overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Here are some tried and true strategies for bridging the language gap.

Offer a smile with your greeting
A polite smile and a pleasant demeanor help break the tension of a potentially frustrating situation. Be aware that in certain cultures, the standards for eye contact and personal space are very different. If your business serves a large population from a specific cultural background, learn a few words in that language. Even if it’s only hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes, and no, it shows your customer respect.

Slow down and speak clearly
If you’ve ever been to a foreign country, you’ll understand what it feels like to have someone speaking to you rapid fire in a language you don’t fully understand. Enunciate your words clearly and don’t run them together. Also, sidestep filler and slang such as, “Because, ya know, it’s like, loose,” might give the impression that “ya know” and “like” should mean something to the listener. Do not make the common mistake of speaking louder. It’s no easier to understand English at a higher volume.

Say, “Yes,” and, “No.” “Uh-huh,” is not a word that anyone is going to learn in an English class. You also can’t depend on nodding your head. In some cultures, the physical expression for yes is a gesture most Americans would interpret as no. Basic words have a greater chance of being comprehended by a non-native speaker.

Use visual aids
Show or draw the customer a picture. A chart or graph may help in certain situations. A very effective way to communicate is using a part to give a demonstration. You can also point to the specific piece of the currently installed equipment that is causing the problem. Miming what you intend to do may communicate the idea better than words.

Ask for help
There may be friends or family in the home who have a better grasp of English. A neighbor may be willing to help translate. There may be bilingual associates in your office who can speak to your customer over the phone.
There are many translation apps available to download onto a smartphone. With a little research, you can find one that has the potential to help you out in a tight spot. Some companies even choose to contract translation services, which are available to their employees via telephone.

Confirm your customer’s comprehension
If you are uncertain whether your customer has understood what you’re trying to communicate, have her repeat the information back to you. Ask questions about the subject at hand. Pay att0ntion to the customer’s body language. Does she look uncertain? You don’t want a misunderstanding to result in a second call out.

Don’t assume that a customer knows what to do. You may have grown up with heating and air conditioning, but someone who hasn’t may not even know what a thermostat is, let alone how to use it.

Have pertinent materials printed in multiple languages
It may be beneficial to have materials that are frequently used translated and printed out in multiple languages. Sales brochures, marketing materials, usage guides, and instructions are all good examples. If you receive a lot of customer traffic from your company website, you may want to consider adding a tab that would allow the user to view your information in multiple languages. Make sure you use a professional translation service. Nothing screams professional incompetence than poorly written text. Don’t leave your customer with a bad impression, or make them take their business elsewhere.

Have bilingual associates on staff
If your customer base is solid in one or two specific languages, it can be extremely beneficial to have bilingual staff. If your main phone number is answered by a recording, consider providing prompts for the customer to select his native language. If you use a live receptionist, it can be very advantageous to have that first point of contact speak multiple languages.

Randy Gibbs of Brody-Pennell Heating and Cooling in Los Angeles, CA, offers this advice, “We’re located in Southern California, and a large portion of our customer base speaks Spanish, so we’ve found it very helpful to have the majority of our employees speak Spanish. All of our office staff and installation crews are fluent, and at least half of all our field technicians speak the language. If a customer needs to speak directly to me, I’m fortunate to have many interpreters in the office to choose from.”

With only a few modifications on how you do business with your customers who speak other languages, you have the opportunity to provide an even higher level of customer service and customer satisfaction. You may also find that making accommodations for non-native speakers results in an influx of these customers, as the word about your considerate service spreads through the community.

Melinda Wamsley
Latest posts by Melinda Wamsley (see all)

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

Looking for an ACCA QA Accredited Contractor?

Are you a homeowner or building manager?

BECOME AN ACCA MEMBER

join now

PLUS It's Risk Free!

JOIN OUR MAILING LIST and Get the Latest HVACR Industry Updates.