Language Training

Do you speak your customer’s language?

Speaking with a customer

Conversation. Where contact begins and deals close. This truth was brought home to me in a big way at an annual sales meeting.

Attending were distributors and partners of a global industrial supply company. The agency I was with at the time provided marketing services to support this worldwide sales team.

It was a great chance to talk with the experienced pros who made this leading international organization tick, and the first time I would meet most of them face to face.

The dawn of a new reality

When my turn at the podium came, with clicker in hand I began to walk through the new year’s programs. I was an experienced presenter and relaxation on stage was usually a given.

But within a few minutes I became distracted. Soon my rhythm was off.

Audience heads were dropping. Not everywhere or everyone. But enough. Fidgeting with programs began. Flipping through handouts was noticeable. Note passing even reared its ugly head. I had lost part of my audience within the first few slides, an audience we had served successfully, albeit from a distance, for years.

Sure, attendees tune out PowerPoint screens all the time. This felt different. This was different. A significant number of attendees were from primarily non-English speaking markets. After all, we were at an international conference.

I carried on, finished my deck, and thanked the audience.

It’s often said that conferences bear the most fruit in one-on-one or small group conversations. Over meals and in casual settings. How could I approach customers hoping to hear their ideas if a language barrier stopped me from understanding what they said?

Talking with a customer after language training.

At dinner I joined a table with distributors from Chile. I had observed during the day that partner groups had at least one English speaker, sometimes a few, but others within their respective groups were not. Their English was limited and I had left my own thin Spanish skills behind in my high school locker years earlier.

Once settled, we connected with smiles and small talk during introductions and through the first course. But when the real table talk began (the good business stuff), conversations were joined based on the language one spoke.

The die was cast, even if I hadn’t fully realized it at the time.

Lesson learned

Eventually, the international work went to firms with employees who could speak the customers’ languages. Our client had looked at their marketing needs in a new light and responded accordingly. We had missed out on a growing global business opportunity because English was not the only language that was needed.

How can your company avoid the same fate, especially in larger organizations where the stakes are even greater? Does one or more of the ten best languages for business apply to your company?

Language either divides or connects the customers and co-workers your business cares about. What happens when one of your employees meets a customer or prospect who speaks a different language than theirs?

An unsuccessful interaction with a customer could end a relationship. A failed conversation with a supplier or key partner could have serious financial or strategic implications (see example above).

Language proficiency conveys respect for customers. Awareness of a market’s culture, local customs, and business traditions builds trust. In the end, proficiency and awareness improve business results.

“The focus now is really on being able to get the message and the context as early as possible, to lower customer effort and to have a meaningful conversation.”
— George Ramos, AVP for Learning and Development, TeleDevelopment

When employees need language training, what’s the best way to start? Rosetta Stone partnered in a survey of 200+ executives globally to understand the impact of language training on companies and their employees. We found that best-in-class companies:

  • Align training with their corporate mission
  • Measure training’s impact on both employees and the company
  • Update training programs when technology changes the landscape

What success looks like
Energy provider E.ON sought an online learning solution to provide all employees with standardized and high-quality language training. Learn about their successes and challenges, and how they were able to reduce cost through a new learning approach.

5 steps for getting started

1. Uncover the essentials.
Identify your business goal and align language training to the strategy. Look for performance gaps that point to new capabilities your employees need, now and in the future. It’s also helpful to know how your employees prefer to learn: following a timed sequence of lessons or at their own pace; instructor-led or with flexible, personalized online training.

2. Conduct a language audit.
Only a small number of companies expect all employees to have second language skills as a core competency. An initial audit using technology-based assessments not only establishes a sensible starting point for learning, but allows later progress to be measured against that benchmark, during and at the end of training.

3. Set realistic goals.
Your program is more likely to succeed when you quantify success, making both company goals and employee learning goals clear from the start. Is the goal complete proficiency and passing exams? Or perhaps the ability to understand basic conversations or written communication? Is it to build trust with suppliers and partners? Will employees have time to learn at work or also on their own time?

“Make sure employees understand what you want them to learn. Learning a language, going from beginner to fluency, requires a lot of work. Fundamentally, there is one thing that is essential—motivation to learn.”
— Dr. Ben Voyer, L’Oréal Professor of Creativity Marketing, ESCP Europe Business School, London

4. Execute successfully.
Here’s your chance to work your plan. Develop clear language learning objectives and choose a scalable solution to meet changing business needs. Build training into employee development plans and use a language solution that helps you track key performance indicators. And to meet the needs of today’s culture of bite-sized learning, give your employees the ability to learn anywhere, on any device.

5. Measure success, evaluate effectiveness.
Naturally, this comes with the L&D territory. But how companies measure success varies. Some effective approaches include:

  • Asking employees about their language training pros and cons
  • Monitoring and measuring actual learning with real-time reporting tools
  • Having managers observe employees using new languages on the job
  • Taking into account quantifiable business results:
    • Increase in revenue
    • Higher productivity
    • Better results in a target market
    • Decrease in workplace incidents

Companies are finding that expanding their operations and influence globally requires a workforce than can communicate effectively in multiple languages. Language training has the added benefit of improving career prospects for current employees while attracting future talent.

According to John Hass, CEO of Rosetta Stone, “We’re seeing more and more global businesses recognize how imperative a multilingual workforce is and the clear need to provide employees with training that not only benefits the company, but improves employees as well.”

In the end, speaking your customer’s language simply makes good business sense.

Discover how greater language proficiency improves workforce communication, productivity, collaboration, and customer service.

Jack Flynn
Sr. Content Strategist
Jack creates customer-focused content for use on established and emerging marketing platforms. Away from work, he savors the perks of mountain living with his wife, Pam.