I am now in my third multilingual IT support role and it has now become more clear to me than ever why language skills are vital in IT. Although my customers are and have been from entirely different work sectors such as retail, engineering, finance and construction it is evident how speaking a foreign language can play a huge role in helping to provide the best customer service possible when it comes to IT. Here are numerous reasons why hiring linguists is not only in the best interest of the customer but the employer too.
I can assure you that 'Everyone speaks English' is a complete myth and even more so in IT. Some customers will speak their own language straight away, some will say a few words in English, some will speak perfect English, but are underconfident and will ask you to speak their language and a minor percentage are confident enough to speak in English. This applies to all nationalities, all ages and all industries and this is exactly why one must never assume that everyone speaks English.
I have come across many customers who speak perfect English who are unaware of technical terms in their own language yet alone in English. This is why in IT it is often better speaking in the language of the customer in order to understand the exact issue they are experiencing.
IT can be complicated at the best of times. However, imagine how much more complicated IT can become if you don't speak the language of the customer. To be able to resolve an issue one must ask several questions in order to rule out causes of the issue and must also find out whether the customer has done any checks themselves. There is no room for misunderstanding in IT and to fix an issue as quickly and efficiently as possible we must gather as much information as possible and that information needs to be correct.
The system of the customer will be in a foreign language meaning that if you were to explain words in English they may mean nothing to the customer. A non-linguist may know exactly what to do when the system is in English but what about in a foreign language? I have attempted to fix issues on computers in languages I don't speak and I had to ask the customer what each word meant. I resolved the issues but it took longer than it would have done if the system had been in a language I understood.
In many cases you will notice that the customer feels a lot more at ease when you speak to them in their own language. The customer is quite likely to be rather agitated before they phone up as the issue they are facing may be preventing them from doing their work or may not be able to trade due to a broken till. The customer can tell you exactly what is wrong more quickly in their own language. You can make them feel more at ease as they won't need to worry about questioning themselves whether they are able to explain their issue in English or not.
Imagine if you didn't speak the language and the customer didn't speak yours. Rather than resolving it on the phone there and then you would probably end up writing a long email with step by step instructions with a lot of help from Google translate. You may not have even succeeded in obtaining the contact details for the customer due to the language barrier. This can be time consuming and can cause severe disruption depending on the issue.
Some customers will only call if there is somebody who speaks their language. When I first started at Retail Assist my colleague and myself were the first language speakers. Once our customers from Karen Millen and Coast stores in France and Spain discovered that they could now speak to somebody in their own language word quickly spread and we received an influx of tickets. The tickets which had been raised were for issues that had been going on for months and had never been reported due to the language barrier.
There have been many occasions where I had to phone HP France, HP Italy and HP Spain who offer support targeted at those specific countries. As I was phoning on behalf of my customers abroad I had to speak in different languages. At Retail Assist I often found myself speaking to Spanish engineers who had gone on site to fix hardware issues and more often than not they didn't speak any English at all. I had to be fully aware of technical terms explaining all the checks I had done and explaining to the engineer what he had to do. If there were no language speakers engineers would have gone on site not knowing what to do which may have ended up in a very costly wasted visit.
If you speak to somebody in person and can't speak their language you may get by just by pointing at things or doing actions. Unfortunately on the phone or online chat there is no getting around that. If there is no language in common the language barrier will worryingly become more apparent. You don't just have to be speak the foreign language of the customer but it needs to be spoken as clearly and concisely as possible.
This can vary from understanding the exact issue, noting down email addresses, phone numbers, adresses to send hardware parts, serial numbers etc. Good language skills will prevent mistakes and will assure that we have the correct details when needed. Gathering the correct information prevents us from going back and forth and will prevent any time wasting allowing the issue to be resolved as quickly as possible.
In all three IT roles I have seen customers extend contracts by deciding to use the same IT support provider for other regions in the world where there are more branches. Littlefish started supporting NSK Europe and then took on a contract with NSK Americas where more linguists were also taken on. Being able to give customers the option to speak in their own language within NSK Europe as well as providing a high level of support will have encouraged NSK to take on a contract for the Americas too. This just goes to show how providing quality support combined with foreign languages can be beneficial for both the customer and the employer.
You can't speak every language and you will sometimes speak to customers who aren't able to speak your language or have a basic level and you are unable to speak theirs. In a situation like this I will speak a very simplified version of English so that I can be understood. I find that linguists are able to speak a simplified version of their own language easier than non-linguists. We are used to speaking to people from all over the world and when learning a foreign language we understand the difficulties faced by non-native speakers allowing us to use synonyms, avoid using certain phrases etc so will chop and change our own language as and when required.
One function of the system I support is BIM which stands for Building Information Modeling (BIM) and in the French version this is written as 'maquettes'. However, Google Translate suggests ''modélisation des informations du bâtiment'' which is also correct but is not the term used in the French version of the system and some customers may be unaware of this term. Knowing the exact word means that the customer can carefully follow your instructions rather than guessing and clicking on things you don't want them to click on which may cause more harm than good.
Two years ago I was asked to go on-site to NSK Guyancourt in France. Speaking French helped significantly as all of the computers were in French, knowing where the different characters on the keyboard proved to be useful and being able to speak French made it easier to communicate with my customers. Some spoke very good English and others didn't speak any at all. Speaking French allowed for those who didn't speak English to inform me of any technical issues too.
Linguists are used to picking up new words as language learning consists of lots of vocabulary learning whether that's about historical events, politics, literature etc. So picking up technical terms in our own language and then in a foreign language should come naturally to us and will help us learn about different systems more quickly.
Nowadays many companies have branches abroad and would prefer to have one service desk taking care of technical issues rather than several here, there and everywhere. Companies who hire multilingual staff are at a distinct advantage when it comes to offering support to companies who are based worldwide. Not hiring linguists will limit an IT support provider's prospects when it comes to selling their services abroad.
Linguists in IT are a win-win situation for both the client and the employer. Without linguists mistakes would be more common, resolution times would be significantly lengthened, some customers may leave issues unreported as they are unable to explain their issue in a foreign language and when IT service providers want to sell their services abroad it may prove to be difficult. The benefits are endless for the client, those offering the support and the employer meaning that hiring linguists is a no brainer when it comes to IT.