Narrowing the Call Center Language Gap

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Thanks to advances in technology, support for international caller management in contact centers and call centers is becoming easier. This year, three new kinds of innovative software and services will help businesses handle calls no matter what language the caller is speaking.

Simultaneous Interpretation Software

Released in March, the newest simultaneous interpretation software for call centers is a management tool by Procom Audio in Canada. Procom builds hardware and software solutions for the interpretation industry, and its latest software, SIMS (Simultaneous Interpretation Management System), enables a simultaneous interpreter to join a call center dialogue and provide quality interpretation in real time.

Simultaneous interpretation is spoken translation that occurs at full speed. It flows naturally and quickly, reflecting the persona of the host company as the interpreter mirrors the emotion and respect displayed by the agent.

With simultaneous interpretation, a three-minute call lasts three minutes, whereas with traditional consecutive interpretation (sentence-by-sentence), the same call can easily last nine minutes. Considering that interpreters are often paid by the minute and caller attention spans become shorter every year, the simultaneous approach emerges as the most desirable solution.

In the past, there have been numerous impediments to high-quality simultaneous interpretation for call centers, including delay before the interpreter connects to the event, telephone technology issues, and lack of audio volume control. These issues are resolved with SIMS. From the caller perspective, aside from a quick introduction by the interpreter at the beginning of a conversation, the caller's experience is speaking to an agent in the caller's native language, improving the international caller's experience. The SIMS software can also handle consecutive interpretation (sentence-by-sentence) that may be required when it is the only option for a particular language or location.

Finding Interpreters

Once SIMS solves the major technological issues, the next impediment becomes finding appropriate simultaneous interpreters who are "on demand." Call centers are not a typical outlet for simultaneous interpreters; their normal venues have been conferences, booths, microphones, and headsets with channel settings. Call centers require a different business model that not all companies are prepared to provide. However, one company that is well equipped to fulfill the needs of call centers is Interpreters Unlimited, which generally provides an interpreter within 60 seconds, depending on language and subject matter.

Voice Conversion to Text and Database Logging

In major languages, the interpreter's voice can also be recognized through speech recognition and turned into subtitle text in any language. Once the voice has been converted to subtitle text, it can also be logged into a database along with a timestamp. After the event, the host uses an interface to view and improve the automated transcriptions and translations, as well as create reports. Procom's SIMS is compatible with this type of voice translation and speech-to-text, which in combination, gives a host company the ability to monitor conversations in languages the host does not speak.

Audio Transcription Software

The ability to create subtitles from voice extends now to post-event audio transcription, using the latest Procom Audio hardware combined with Nuance dictation packages or Microsoft Speech Recognition. Released in 2014, Procom Audio's audio-to-microphone adapter converts the sound of a recorded call to become compatible as microphone input, permitting it to be recognized by speech software. The microphone input may be passed through any dictation software in the desired language, with the dictation software creating a transcription to the best of its ability. The quality of transcription may be excellent, especially if the voice has a profile, such as a call center agent, and if the voice speaks clearly. The transcription will be less effective when transcribing audio from a stranger with no profile (e.g., the caller), particularly if the caller mumbles, uses a poor microphone, or other variables. An alternative is to use simultaneous interpreters who are prepared for speech transcription and translation to "interpret" after the fact from an audio file; the interpreter listens to the recorded call and the interpreter's voice becomes text saved in a database.

Such services and software are a boon for businesses that deal with international callers, and more are sure to come.

Sue Ellen Reager is CEO of @International Services, a language and software solutions company that also performs translation, voice recording, and global system testing for speech and DTMF applications as well as media and video localization.

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