Insights|Why Your CX Is Never Lost in Translation

Why Your CX Is Never Lost in Translation

To mark the United Nations International Mother Language Day, we’re taking a trip around our global network of offices to celebrate our people’s cultural and linguistic diversity

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United Nations International Mother Language Day
by Martin Wilkinson-Brown February 20, 2020 - 5 MIN READ

To mark the United Nations International Mother Language Day, we’re taking a trip around our global network of offices to celebrate our people’s cultural and linguistic diversity

Even the world’s greatest linguists are at a loss for words when it comes to explaining why we speak so many languages. The dominant theory is language is a by-product of the tools and resources we needed and the environment in which we lived. We developed words and vocabulary to ensure everyone in the group understood their role and understood their immediate world.

Therefore, the theory goes, different groups in different environments – hot, cold, flat, mountainous – would have very different ways of communicating verbally. As groups expanded or moved to pastures new they would take their language with them or adopt to that spoken by the new groups they encountered. Some dialects were ironed out and some standardisation arrived as groups began to trade with each other.

We still speak 6,500 languages

Fast-forward 200,000 years and thanks to globalisation the world has never been smaller. Nevertheless, according to the United Nations, there are still over 6500 distinct languages in everyday use around the world. Unfortunately for continued diversity, some of these languages have fewer than 1,000 native speakers.

There‘s every possibility that if man had invented the internet before he invented the wheel that we would all be speaking English now, But much of the richness and romanticism that the English language provides is thanks to its ability to absorb or appropriate words and phrases from other languages.

English is a sponge

The average American is unable to get through an average day without recourse to Hindi for shampoo, Dutch for coffee, Chinese for ketchup, Spanish for tomato, Portuguese for banana, Norwegian for troll, Greek for telephone, German for angst, Italian for alarm, apartment and cash and Native American for chocolate. And of course there would be no way to explain how our economy has grown as entrepreneurship is a French word.

Indeed, as they say at Sitel Colombia, if there were no other languages to borrow from, English speakers would be Más aburrido que mico en un bonsai – more bored than a monkey in a bonsai tree.

Nevertheless, an estimated 2,400 languages are under threat of disappearing altogether and, as the UN points out, when they go, so do unique forms of thinking, expression and understanding.

As speakers of the world’s most popular language – English is currently spoken as a first or second language by 1.13 billion people – it can be easy to forget that as well as a means of communication, each different language from Arabic to Zulu represents part of that speaker’s cultural and historical identity.

Language as identity

Our mother tongue is how we receive knowledge and education and how we understand our world and our place within it. Language and associated culture are just as important to maintaining and celebrating diversity as recognising and respecting gender and sexual orientation.

Therefore, as Sitel Group, is in the very fortunate position of experiencing the benefits first hand of a truly global and diverse workforce that encompasses 28 countries and 49 languages, we decided to take a tour of our sites and countries and ask our people to nominate phrases and idioms in their native language that describe what they do and how they live, yet defy literal English translation.

Have you washed your piglet?

This is why when asked what they do, in Iceland they replied: Rúsínan í pylsuendanum. it means the raisin at the end of the hotdog, another excellent surprise at the end of what was already a good experience.

Our Italian associates would put this ability to surprise down to the fact they’re empowered to Non Avere Peli Sulla Lingua  – not have hairs on their tongue. In other words, they can speak clearly and plainly.

It’s also why our Dutch associates always wash a piglet – We zullen dat varkentje wel even wassen – they’re ready to get the job done and take care of the problem.

A question of eggs and baskets

This willingness to get things done is, according to our German associates because, Kleinvieh macht auch Mist. That translates as even small cattle make poo and it means that all achievements and successes are recognised and celebrated equally.

When you offer people support and encouragement they literally have all the rope they need  – Estou com a corda – which, according to Sitel Brazil really means that they’re pumped up and ready to go.

As well as encouragement and training, our people need the right tools and the processes to get the job done. We’re currently doing this in Athens, the location of our first ever Greek site. Our goal is to make sure that none of our associates say “I’ve lost my eggs and baskets” (ἐχω χἀσει τα αυγἀ και τα καλἀθια) because they will know exactly what’s going on.

Instead it should be like giving a haircut to a bald guy which, we’re reliably told by our associates in Colombia is the literal translation of Más rápido que peluquear un calvo – something that’s quick, easy and not going to take all day.

Can you see tomatoes?

In Sweden they say that something fell between two chairs – Det föll mellan stolarna – if something that should have been done was missed and forgotten. And while we use the latest technologies and software, including our own omnichannel engagement platform to make sure this doesn’t happen; unless it is designed to be easy for the agent as well as the customer to use, we’re going to leave our German associates with tomatoes in front of their eyes – Tomaten auf den Augen haben – they can’t see what’s happening in front of them. And if that happens then our Bulgarian associates will find themselves hitting a bear with a stick Взел клечка да бие мечка in other words, unprepared for what’s happening.

Thankfully that’s not the case. In France, none of our frontline CX staff find themselves jumping from the rooster to the donkey (Sauter du coq à l’âne) because every interaction they have with customers is clear, on track and makes perfect sense.

Likewise, if any of our Dutch associates are asked to solve a challenging problem they’ve got it behind their knee – Iets onder de knie hebben – the ability and understanding to resolve an issue with intelligence and inside knowledge.

Traveling without moving

Having read this far, our Latvian associates will be accusing us of blowing little ducks – Pūst pīlītes – talking nonsense or lying, and they’d be right. We haven’t traveled all around the world, to do so in the current environmental climate would be massively irresponsible. In fact, all we need to do to get a flavour of our company’s linguistic and cultural diversity is to drop in on any one of our 13 strategically located multilingual hubs. Spread across Europe, Africa, the Americas and the Asia pacific region, depending on the location and the time of day, you can walk on to the floor (having cleared security, of course) and hear dozens of different languages being spoken simultaneously.

As well as creating an experience akin to visiting the United Nations during a debate, our multilingual hubs offer an intelligent and cost effective solution for any fast growth company looking to enter new markets without over-expanding their footprint or for any enterprise that wants to maintain a single list of vendors and partners or ensure a very specific working practice that is difficult to replicate from distance.

But fun with idioms aside, what makes what our associates so impressive is the fact that no matter where in the world they’re based and no matter in which languages they work, the levels of CX they deliver are always the same. As they say in China 鹤立鸡群 – our people are like a crane among a flock of chickens. They’re in a class of their own.

written by Martin Wilkinson-Brown Chief Marketing Officer
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