Bite-size tips on getting the best out of challenging telephone calls

With most translation companies having a diverse international client base, many of the individuals with whom staff interact have English as a second language.

Although the majority of these individuals speak English on a native speaker level, there are also those who don’t. Add into the mix, accents, industry speak/terminology and potential client impatience and conversations can sometimes become rather a challenge – if not overwhelming for those new to the industry and interfacing at client level.

Within the translation industry, building the communication skills relevant to such a diverse client base isn’t something that can merely be gained in formal communication skills training.

On the job experience, is critical to understanding how best to communicate with individuals who may be difficult to understand.

Most industry professionals develop these skills over a period of time and eventually become adept at managing productive dialogues with individuals who may struggle with the English language, or indeed pose other communication challenges. This is a skills that should never be underestimated.

In the interim, what tips can you use to support new staff who will undoubtedly find themselves in such situations? How do you help them to get the best out of situations where language may pose a barrier without becoming flustered or anxious?

In this bite-sized overview, Accensus have pulled together some tips and strategies to assist new staff members:

  • Do not become awkwardly silent on the phone and certainly don’t gesticulate wildly to other staff members that you are having trouble understanding your caller. These behaviours will make you unsettled and probably cause you to misunderstand key information.
  • Do not cause offense by responding with words such as ‘huh?’ or an immediate ‘I don’t understand’. Take control of the call and use language that is more likely to be understood and create a connection with the caller, such as, ‘thank you for calling’, ‘my name is xxxx’, ‘please can you tell me your name’. By knowing their name, you are better able to make an assumption as to the caller’s native language. If you can’t determine their native language by name and accent then ask which country they are calling from.
  • At this point, remember to smile! This may feel to be strange advice but interestingly, it is commonly accepted through research that individuals can perceive smiles indirectly over mediums such as the telephone
  • Do not SHOUT or speak louder! The fact the caller has a strong accent or poor language skills does not mean they are deaf. Ensuring your language is clear and simple will be sufficient.

How To Deal with Non-English Speakers on the Phone

  • It is very likely that the speaker is aware that they have a strong accent or that they may not have sufficient language understanding to make themselves fully understood. Although it’s easy to do and a trap that many new people to the industry fall into, never pretend you have understood to avoid offence. This is not helpful, it’s guaranteed to make the situation more difficult and it may also result in lost business, damage to the relationship or both.
  • Tell the caller, politely and clearly that you didn’t understand using language such as ‘I am very sorry but I didn’t understand’ ‘Please can you repeat that more slowly?’ It’s very important at this stage that the caller recognises that you value their call and that you are keen to understand their needs.
  • When the individual repeats themselves, listen for key words and terms. As a natural point of dialogue, it is likely that they will emphasise the phrases they would like you to understand.
  • Repeat your understanding back to the individual, using simple language and check your understanding by using open ended questions as opposed to a simple yes or no.
  • If you are still having problems, then establish whether there is anyone within the company who shares the same native language as the caller and put the individual on hold while you ask that person to take over the call. This should always be a last resort as, language skills or no language skills, there’s nothing more frustrating for a caller than being diverted to someone else and having to restate the original request.
  • If there are no speakers in the office who share the same native language, then ask the individual to write their requirement in an email. Quite often the written form is easier to understand than the spoken form.
  • In most cases, the need is resolved by this point and the individual’s requirements can be dealt with. However, if this isn’t the case then consider asking a trusted translator / interpreter to manage the call for you or to email them on your behalf.
  • Avoid jargon and keep the message simple! When responding to potential emails from this individual, ensure that your emails are written simply and in such a way that they will be understood.