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CS 101: The Importance of ‘Language’

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As a general rule, different companies have different customers. Different customers at times require very different approaches to Customer Support. A basic, but often overlooked, rule in this context is that most customers prefer to receive support from “one of their own.” In many scenarios, this begins with language.

Especially when catering to a multi-lingual customer base, companies who ignore this desire ─ whether they employ in-house CS teams or outsource to a third-party provider ─ quickly and frequently find themselves faced with complaints. Basic intelligibility or stereotypical heavy-accented phone support aside, customers are very quick to pick up on whether or not the person on the other end of the support line truly speaks their language in the strictest sense of the word. If, for instance, entire conversations are or at least appear to be mediated by a translation software, customers are often left with a sense of detachment, with the impression that the company they have trusted with their business does not care enough about them to offer them support in their mother tongue. This is why here at Metaverse we have always made a special point of ensuring that we work exclusively with native-level speakers based on the clients’ and their customers’ demands.

But the importance of ‘language’ does not end there. Finding appropriate ways of speaking to customers, ways that make them feel respected and well cared for, also entails a significant degree of cultural sensitivity or, in some cases, subcultural sensitivity. A recent, public example of customer support gone wrong impressively illustrates that point:

In September 2012, Gizmodo ran a story that had Trekkies and Trekkers across the world ─ but likely especially those in areas serviced by a cable company ─ simultaneously chuckling, cringing, and reenacting the meme-worthy Picard facepalm. When a frustrated Sir Patrick Stewart publicly called out the cable company via Twitter as a last resort due to ongoing service issues, a well-meaning Customer Support representative replied (just as publicly): “Our Care & Help teams are fully engaged to make sure @SirPatStew is well tended to. We’re Trekkers and will make it so.” This, of course, much to the chagrin of the already enraged Patrick Stewart. The affair caused such an immediate stir on Twitter that the cable company ultimately even found themselves publicly berated by two former captains of the USS Enterprise.

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Situational common sense aside ─ it would probably have been a fair assumption that any less-prominent customer in Stewart’s situation would have also no longer been in the mood for light-hearted wisecrackery at that point ─ what essentially happened here was a problem of ‘language’. The cable company’s representatives may have had all the right vocabulary, emphasizing their claim that they are Trekkers with a couple of Picard’s most identifiable catch phrases thrown in for good measure, but they applied it in all the wrong ways. Instead of establishing the desired bond between the customer and themselves, their hapless attempt at fraternization came across as patronizing, creating an even greater divide and leaving the customer even more upset than before. Instead of believably conveying to the customer the impression that he was dealing with “one of his own”, in the sense of someone who genuinely understands and cares about his problem, he came away feeling misunderstood and even ridiculed.

While of course not every possible Customer Support scenario can always be entirely anticipated or planned for, the importance of trying to understand and speak the customers’ ‘language’ on a variety of levels is an indispensible prerequisite for achieving customer satisfaction. Spanish-speaking customers commonly prefer receiving support from Spanish-speaking CS representatives, just as gamers feel more comfortable being helped by fellow gamers. And while it might be too much to ask of any company to keep a handful of knighted Thespians on staff who also happen to be retired Star Fleet captains, being able to draw on people who, when the need arises, possess sufficient geek-etiquette to know that you don’t just quote Picard at Picard, is clearly an asset. Whatever your ‘language’, at Metaverse we take pride in finding those who speak it, and speak it well.

Guido Schenkel
Senior EU Project Manager

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