Working With Customers Who Speak A Different Language


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Anyone who has read a food label or has listened to the pronunciation of the scientific names of medications knows what it is like to not understand. Since we live in a society with a diverse range of cultures, HVAC contractors are bound to encounter circumstances where they work with customers who speak different languages. Without a plan to deal with these types of situations, there is a great potential for negative outcomes. Although customers with varying needs may pose a challenge, meeting customers’ expectations doesn’t have to be challenging.

Initial Contact

The majority of service calls start with customers getting in touch with a contractor via phone. This is where the inability to communicate can end the contractor-customer relationship before it begins. Charles Warner, owner of Warner Air Conditioning & Heating of Mesquite, TX, lives in a community where many residents speak Spanish. He speaks English and is unable to comprehend Spanish, “We try to understand each other, but it’s hard to cross that barrier.” Oft en, those conversations fail to develop into customer relationships, which could ultimately affect bottom lines.

Ask For A Translator

Sometimes, a family member or another bilingual person will help bridge the communication gap. “We live in a melting pot here in Chicago,” says Larry Carney of Illinois-based American Home Heating. “If someone doesn’t speak the language, there is usually someone in the home or neighborhood that does.”

Judy Prescott, co-owner of Prescott Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. in Arlington, TX, serves as the initial contact for many of her company’s service calls. She says that asking someone to translate is beneficial when trying to understand the nature of the call. “Children can translate messages back and forth between us and their parents,” Prescott notes. “Some communities have neighbors or sponsors that help out by making necessary calls, which is helpful.” To provide the best service possible, Prescott schedules service appointments during times she knows children or other bilingual family members are at the residence. It enables the company’s workers to communicate effectively, leading to a positive experience.

Once the appointment is set, the contractor going on the service call may still face issues, particularly if a bilingual speaker is not available. In those cases, speaking different languages means finding other ways to communicate.

Start With A Greeting

Invariably, people understand greetings and welcoming gestures. Something as simple as a smile can ease a customer’s apprehension. Despite language barriers, the majority of people comprehend some form of “hello.” As a part of the greeting process, you may choose to create welcome cards with simple phrases in the languages spoken in your community. Those phrases may include: (1) Hello, my name is from ; (2) I am here to work on your heating/air conditioning system; and (3) Is there someone available that can translate? Online translation companies can provide cost-effective services for welcome cards. Print the phrases in the other languages, so people will be able to read in their own language. With the advent of digital translation devices, contractors who work with customers who speak a different language on a regular basis may consider investing in one.

Be Mindful of Tone and Gestures

A customer who does not understand your words will still be able to hear what you say. Although there are people who naturally speak louder when someone doesn’t understand what they are saying, customers may think speaking loudly is rude or threatening. Instead of speaking loudly, you should speak slowly. Quick gestures can also seem untoward, but cautiously pointing out what you need to do or where you need to go may help your customer better understand.

Consider Using Pictures or Diagrams

It’s been said “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This notion may be the difference between an uncomfortable customer experience and a satisfying one. Images and diagrams are easy to print and can feature basic designs of air conditioners or heaters. Arrows can point out specific areas and indicate what work the contractor intends to perform. Customers who don’t understand your words will likely understand pictures.

Double-Check Understanding

When working with customers who speak different languages, it’s important to be patient. As you communicate, your customer’s nodding and smiling can indicate understanding. At a minimum, those actions represent a level of comfort. Once you finish the service call, an appropriate farewell is just as important as a greeting. Make your final impression a positive one.


Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service

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