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5 Tips for Choosing an Over-the-Phone Interpreter

How to select the right service—and connect with all your customers.

All across the country, linguistic diversity is growing. 35 million adult US citizens speak a language other than English at home. You'll hear close to 200 languages in the New York metro area alone. And the proportion of non-English speakers in Houston, Texas—where the population speaks at least 145 languages—tops 37 percent.

For English-speaking companies, multilingual interpreting services are essential to overcoming language barriers and establishing meaningful communication with all their customers. But in-person interpretation services can be unwieldy, incomplete, and expensive.

Enter over-the-phone interpreter services (often referred to as telephonic interpreting or OPI). Using OPI technology, businesses can easily and instantly communicate with prospects and clients, no matter the language or channel. Chat? Sure. Video? Of course. Email? No problem.

Over-the-phone interpreters are:

  • Experts in the languages your clients speak

  • Connected 24/7

  • Cost-effective

  • Certified for special requirements, such as HIPAA compliant medical interpretation

  • Trusted translation partners that keep pace with the diversity of growing businesses

What's more, they're available anywhere around the globe. If it sounds like OPI services are right for your business, consider the following to find your best fit.

5 tips for choosing an over-the-phone interpreter.

1. Localized expertise

Over-the-phone, remote interpreting solutions offer more language options than on-site agents because they draw from larger networks of specialized, qualified linguists. Located all over the world—often in their native countries—these telephonic interpreters also provide localized expertise about your market's unique cultures and dialects.

Compare this to on-site interpreters, who generally fulfill only the most common spoken language needs in the US, like Spanish and Vietnamese. For rarer languages, specialized interpreting services are few and far between.

TIP: When selecting your OPI provider, avoid those that fulfill fewer than all 350 languages spoken in the US. That might be more comprehensive than you need right now, but you'll want the ability to scale your phone interpreting services in the future. More on that later.

2. Instant, on-demand service

A quality telephone interpreting service is available on demand. You or your customer picks up the phone, dials your provider, and connects within seconds. That's it. Today's technology delivers simultaneous interpretation and eliminates the need to wait for translation services.

TIP: When researching over the phone interpretation services, look for words like "real-time," "click-to-call," and "hosted language IVR": each is a clue that they offer ad hoc, lightning-fast support. (Then challenge the provider to interpret any terminology you don't understand. Pun intended.)

3. Reliability and trust

As a brand, you want your customers to trust that you will delight them. That means you need phone interpreter services that are reliable. It's difficult to guarantee reliability with on-site linguists, who encounter travel delays, inability to fulfill languages, and canceled appointments.

TIP: When selecting an OPI provider, look for translation services with high fulfillment rates—a good indication that you won't be explaining unexpected cancellations to expectant customers.

4. Cost-effective pricing

Many on-site translators charge by the hour, most set two-hour minimums, and some even require travel compensation.

To be fair, standardized minimum fees protect interpretation services from unforeseen costs, and you may not need to reimburse travel expenses if your interpreter is local. But the closer your network of interpreters, the smaller your portfolio of languages. The higher the minimum fees, the greater your costs. And what if you only need a professional translator for 30 minutes? You can't maximize your investment.

TIP: Pay for exactly what you need with an OPI service offered on a per-minute basis with no minimum fees whatsoever.

5. Scalability for future needs

At Lionbridge, we've noticed a typical pattern. When most sales, marketing, and customer service teams realize they need interpreting help, they first try to find multilingual staff (usually from other departments). But 42 percent of them cite finding and retaining in-house multilingual staff as their biggest language services challenge. Not only are these resources harder and costlier to hire, but unexpected absences disrupt support.

TIP: Minimize your dependence on in-house employees by relying on remote technology. Real-time, AI-based OPI—typically centralized across all business functions—can both streamline communications and cut costs of hiring bilingual staff. The most advanced phone interpretation solutions are ready to support each individual new language as you onboard new clients and accounts. In short, they grow with your business.

Are you ready?

If your business is anything like ours, you are constantly striving for ways to better serve the people who depend on you. To connect with all your customers quickly and reliably, you might want to partner with an experienced OPI service provider. Your next step is finding one that offers every language you're targeting now. As long as your interpreting services provider has expertise in other markets, too, you'll have the flexibility to scale later.

Still unsure whether to make the switch? You can always put it to the test; some remote phone interpretation providers will take a small sample of your call volume before you commit to anything.

Contact Lionbridge today to learn more about telephonic interpretation, and to see OPI technology in action.


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