Overcoming Language Barriers in Customer Service

May 8, 2012 — 2,838 views  
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As the international workforce branches out to locations far and wide, there is an increasing probability that you will encounter some form of language barrier with your customers and clients. Even if you manufacture products or contract services domestically, local residents may not be from around the region. Efficient and accurate customer communication is a critical component of any business, so how do you overcome a language barrier in the workplace? Consider some of the following tips to help you achieve your goal.

Body language

It is no secret that customers seek to interact with friendly, affable company representatives. However, not all languages sound the same - for example, the phonetic sounds of German can come across as harsher than the flowing phrases of French. Cultural differences might cause a customer to react negatively to certain language, so you must remember to maintain the proper body language.

Always use a relaxed, non-aggressive posture when speaking to customers. Keep your hands open and down by your sides, and do not put your head in your hands or make any negative gestures. Don't forget to smile, either - this is the universal signal for "I am happy to help."


Many customer service representatives think that the slower they speak, the better a client will understand them. This is not necessarily the case - pronunciation is more important than speed of speech.

Homonyms can have very slight differences in pronunciation and mean completely different things. For example, a bow can be a decorative ribbon or the front end of a ship, among many other things. The only difference is how the "o" sound is pronounced - be sure to listen carefully to your customer to determine what he or she is saying. When responding, speak slowly and clearly and make sure to put the right emphasis on the right syllable and vowel/consonant sound.

Come up with a list of common phrases

This list can be used individually or distributed to an entire department, and should include any relevant phases that are commonly misunderstood. Also, you should create a list of "safe" words that most people can understand. "Do you speak English?" is an example of such a phrase in the English language.

By having an outline on hand, you'll immediately know how to proceed if you do not understand a listed phrase, and can then seek help to improve the customer's experience.