Strategies for Overcoming Language Barriers in Customer Service

When dealing with clients who either cannot speak English or know very little of the language, there are a variety of ways businesses can overcome the communication barrier.  The following list includes suggestions companies can use when they have a high volume of customers who consider English as a second or other language.

How To Deal With Language Barriers

Show some emotion: It is important to show emotion when dealing with language barriers in customer service. Emotions, including joy, fear, excitement, anger, and frustration are universal.  Remember other cultures will either hide or display emotions differently than here in the US, so follow your customer’s lead.

Utilize a bilingual answering service: Bilingual answering services hire bilingual associates who can speak, write, and read fluently in both English and Spanish.  Choose a bilingual answering service dedicated to high-quality customer service to ensure your clients will never feel the need to take their business elsewhere.

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Slow down your speaking space; shouting accomplishes nothing:  Even your clients who understand English will do so with different levels of comprehension.  You could describe a new concept but do it so quickly that the customers are unable to understand anything about the description.  Slowing down the pace of your speech, while avoiding raising your voice can improve the chances of you overcoming language barriers in communication. Even if your clients cannot understand English, they are unlikely to be hearing impaired.

Use pictures to communicate your ideas:  Many individuals would rather see what you are trying to describe instead of hearing you talk about them.  Therefore, even simple drawings are more helpful and more efficient way of overcoming the language barrier rather than repeating what you say numerous times.  Even better, try to find a photo, chart, or graph from a magazine, as these images often convey the message more clearly when language barriers are an issue.

Show, not tell:  Many people prefer experiencing a product or service firsthand.  When possible, let your clients try out your product or service.

Request assistance:  If your peers are fluent in your client’s language, do not be afraid to ask for assistance in communicating with the customers.  Bilingual people often willingly translate for those unable to do so.  This is true, whether you happen to be at an office, store, hotel, airport, or another location.  Hiring bilingual employees who can break through that language barrier is a smart business decision.

Confirm your customer understands what you are saying:  Should you be unsure about whether or not your customer understood what you said, try confirming the meanings by either asking him or her to explain what was said back to you or asking the question in a different manner.

Show patience:  One key to overcoming language barriers is through exercising patience.  Neither you nor the customer are to blame for not understanding the other’s language.

Stay positive:  While overcoming the language barrier is often frustrating for all of the parties involved, keeping a smile on your face lowers the level of tension and helps make the communication process run more smoothly.