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A person holds up a sign that says "Parlez-vous français?"One challenge US-based companies deal with when setting up shop in Canada, and Québec particularly, is providing customer support in French. We often see that operations starting in Québec are not ready to provide fully bilingual support services. Instead, they rely on translation services to 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

A flyer with information on Language Solutions' phone interpreting customer support servicesIf all your over-the-phone customer support is located in the US and you do not have bilingual customer service representatives on staff, we recommend quality phone interpreting services. The benefit of a phone interpreting solution is that it can be set up relatively quickly. We also consider it, however, more of an ad-hoc solution for support calls, and some deviations in terminology should be expected. The advantage of being able to get an interpreter on the phone within 20 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week makes it impossible to guarantee the same person from one call to the next. If your customer services require in-depth knowledge of your organization, it’s best to set up a dedicated support line with trained bilingual staff.

If you’ll be handling support calls from Canada 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 preferred language. We also recommend role playing through several inbound call scenarios to practice gracefully managing issues like delayed connections and the pauses that are inherent to interpreting. Inform your French-speaking customers (or staff) that there will be an interpreter on board to help facilitate the conversation.

Email Support

Email support can typically be dealt with by translating customer or internal support email templates. When translating these templates, keep in mind that variable data such as dates, prices, and other local information specific to Canada needs to be localized. 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 how to optimize your response workflow.

Support Systems

A screengrab of an SAP tutorial video in French for CanadaSupport systems are generally internal to the organization. Examples are store support systems and inventory management systems. SAP is one of the largest of these 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 have 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.

Social Media and Instant Support

The French-language Instagram account for Radio-CanadaSocial media can be a stumbling block for organizations expanding into Canada. Social media displayed in stores and on advertising in Québec must be in French, which requires the management of a dedicated French language account. Then there’s the question of hashtags. It’s not uncommon for companies to use Facebook or X (formerly known as Twitter) as their main platform for customer support, since many customers prefer to interact with brands this way. 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.

Instagram may be a good place to start. It is widely used, supports a French-language interface, and the emphasis on visuals requires little text. Other social media platforms require a more carefully thought out workflow and perhaps dedicated French-speaking staff to manage them. We feel that many organizations, at the outset of their launch in Canada, are not ready to invest as much into social media as they do domestically.

Make or Buy, Centralize or Decentralize?

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. Marketing and HR tend to take precedence over customer support. Customer support and internal staff support, however, must be a part of the plan in order to be compliant with OQLF mandates. There are suitable ad-hoc solutions to get organizations started. As they mature, perhaps they will 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.