When offering a global service desk solution to clients with a geographically dispersed workforce, opportunities to support languages beyond the usual English and Spanish are bound to arise. Though many European and APAC clients require their end users speak English as the predominant common language of business, others may prefer the added convenience of support in their native language. Due to a recent uptick in requests from Canadian based clients with offices in French-speaking Quebec, the service desk is expanding its linguistic repertoire accordingly.
Most service desk vendors take this client-driven supply and demand approach, meaning if the demand for the services is high enough, the Managed Service Provider will supply a solution. If the monthly ticket volume is significant enough to justify the investment in staff with unique language skills, service desk vendors will bring that talent on board especially if it’s a dedicated role. That is not to say that service desk clients with unique language requirements and minimal demand are completely out of luck. Translation services such as LanguageLine are another option for clients with a handful of contacts, but they can increase costs and extend handle times as all conversations are relayed back and forth. This solution also introduces an added dimension of data security risk as sensitive information may be disclosed through a third party.
Ideally, in a shared staffing solution, agents would be versatile enough to speak multiple languages fluently and support multiple clients. That way their utilization is maximized which in turn makes possible more competitive per incident pricing. Still, agents who speak fluently and accent-free French and English are a rare breed usually requiring a perfect storm of being raised in a bilingual home by first-generation emigres, but schooled locally. Another option would be IT professionals prodigious in the language either from higher education studies or significant time living abroad.
According to the 2012 census, Chicago alone has an estimated 2,300+ French language speakers but that’s not even including the recent emigres in the surrounding communities or fluent speakers who’ve adopted it as a second language. Since the service desk can employ remote teleworkers from anywhere in the USA, the talent pool is expanded to roughly 1.3 million US residents who speak French at home.
“While the raw numbers may be impressive, we still need to narrow down the field of available applicants using the same rigorous hiring and training process that we apply to any service desk agent role,” says ABS President and CFO Bob Koch. “It’s more involved than recruiting for agents with impeccable verbal and written French language support skills and swapping out a keyboard with a qwerty layout for an azerty one. Qualified candidates must have subject matter expertise in the configuration items supported and, above all, be fully committed to customer service as a vocation.”
Whether recruiting new agents or drawing from the varied language skills of its diverse employee base, the service desk must take into account that dialects and accents can vary drastically between francophone countries. So agents must refrain from region-specific slang even if confronted with a few choice words of the “pardon my French” variety from a frustrated end user. As with any language, French-speaking agents must communicate in formal, intelligible, and professional terms at all times. At the same time, they should also be well versed in all variations of common IT support industry terms such as the word email which, depending on the region and demographics of the end user, can range from “courriel” to “mél” (a portmanteau of the blended words “messages électronique”) and the good old fashioned “email.” The agents should also know their way around common abbreviations such as “ordi” for “ordinateur” which simply means “computer,” a term coined by IBM France’s local head of public relations, François Girard. Beyond the basics, a thorough knowledge of the glossary of IT terms and conversational skills are the minimum requirement in the screening process.
As far as the linguistics go, people are only part of the solution. The ITSM platform including end-user portal and all data fields need to be in the operative language as well. To make that work, the service desk development team configures the multi-language feature whose geolocation features can adapt to the local language based on the user’s location. So any time the end user receives a ticket either acknowledging their support request, a status update, or resolution summary from the agent, their end-user portal view will display in the language specific to their country or region.
The goal is for the end user to experience a seamless support experience no matter what the language. So when our French clients ask if communication is key, one day very soon may we say “mais oui.”