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When companies are setting up shop in Canada and Quebec particularly, they are subject to the rules and regulations set forth by the OQLF regarding the use of English and French language. One particular challenge is dealing with Customer Support in French. Typically what we see, is that operations starting in Quebec are not ready to provide support services that are fully bilingual. Instead, they rely on translation services that help them extend their support to include French. Here are some aspects to think about when dealing with customer and internal service support in Canada.

Support Calls – Phone Interpreting

Calls coming in from Canada to the US headquarters require some infrastructure to handle inbound calls in the French language. Typically for operations that handle these calls centrally in the US, we recommend quality phone interpreting services that are equipped to handle calls efficiently and expediently. The benefit of a phone interpreting solution is that your support systems do not necessarily need to be localized as the conversation can be held in English as the message gets relayed in French. However, phone interpreting is more of an ad-hoc solution for support calls and some deviations in terminology should be expected. Especially when calls happen from within the corporation, it’s typically not possible to coordinate corporate lingo on an ad-hoc basis. Phone interpreting services do not guarantee the same person from call-to-call. If your customer services requires in-depth knowledge, it’s best to set up a dedicated support line with trained bilingual staff.

In dealing with support calls through phone interpreting, it’s important to plan for the provision of a welcome message in French and English that gives the user the option to choose their language of choice. Once that choice is made, phone interpreting services typically can connect within 20 seconds to get a qualified interpreter on the call. Plan ahead and walk through several scenarios of inbound calls to deal with issues like delayed connections and the delayed responses that are inherent to interpreting. Inform your French speaking customers or staff that there will be an interpreter on board to help with the conversation.

Email Support

Email support typically can be dealt with by translating customer or internal support email templates. When translating these templates, keep in mind that variable data needs to be localized to meet date, location and other local information specific to Canada. Take into account your response time and provide for a workflow that can easily deal with responses within those time frames. Depending on what is possible, you may want to extend your response time guarantee for Canada to deal with the need for translation. Inbound emails can easily be translated using Automated Translation Services like Machine Translation for general understanding, but responses should always be translated professionally. Work together with your Language Service Provider to explore different options to optimize your response workflow.

Support Systems

Support Systems typically are internal to the organizations. Examples are store support systems and inventory management systems. SAP is one of the largest support systems with excellent multilingual support, but even these systems are not fully localized as each organization deals with internal processes that are unique to them. The main challenge with customer and enterprise support systems is to ensure consistency in terminology. Coordination of terminology across different platforms and even between marketing, sales and support requires a centralized approach.the opportunity there is to work on corporate terminology from scratch. When we deal with platforms like SAP that already has a lot of established terminology in French, we have to be consistent with those terms to avoid confusion. Whatever the challenge, it’s important to be aware of terminology and that management of consistent terminology is crucial to enhance understanding in support situations.

With Instagram and Pinterest being mostly visual media, it makes managing global accounts easier than a text driven platform like Twitter.

Social Media and Instant Support

Social Media accounts are typically a stumbling block for organizations starting in Canada. Social media displayed in stores and on advertising typically must be in French and that means that it requires management of a dedicated French language account. This includes Social Media accounts, but also management of hashtags. It’s not uncommon for companies to use Facebook or Twitter as their main platform for Customer Support as this tends to be the preferred way customers interact with brands. While technology is available to translate large volumes of information instantly, there should be no doubt that using automated services in responding to customers is a bad idea.

On brands that are particularly visual in nature, Pinterest and Instagram may be a good start as they support a Canadian French interface and the visual marketing requires little text. Other Social Media platforms require a more carefully thought out workflow and perhaps dedicated French staff. We feel that many organizations are not ready yet to invest as much into Social Media as they do domestically because of the organization.

Make or Buy, Centralize or Decentralize?

We’ve seen many organizations set foot in Canada and starting out to organize around the need of providing support in French. As with any translation or localization project we know that organizations are on a path of maturity, with each stage presenting different challenges and opportunities. Customer Support typically falls behind of tasks like Marketing and HR. However, customer support and internal staff support has to be a part of the plan as organizations are pressured by the OQLF to provide French language support services. There are suitable ad-hoc solutions for a solid customer support to get organizations started as they mature and perhaps decide to invest in people, technology and processes to handle larger volumes. The one opportunity organizations should never fail to capitalize on is the need to consistently manage and maintain quality translation and terminology from the start.

Need help getting started in Canada? Contact Language Solutions.