Contact Centre

Best practices in using telephone interpreter services

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With so many Australians not speaking English at home, interpreter services play a key role in facilitating communication with Government and business. We sat down with Chris Ngo, Chief Operating Officer, ONCALL Interpreters & Translators, to find out more about this industry and how it has evolved.

In which contexts are telephone interpreter services most used in Australia?

Usage is highest in health care, legal and education settings, as well as in remote areas where it’s difficult to source an interpreter onsite. Telephone interpreters can also be deployed faster than in-person interpreters and are therefore often used in emergency situations. 

For those doing business internationally, interpreter services can resolve critical communication issues and cultural misunderstandings.

Our top languages, in order of highest demand nationally, are:

  1. Mandarin
  2. Arabic
  3. Vietnamese
  4. Dari
  5. Farsi
  6. Greek
  7. Cantonese
  8. Karen
  9. Italian
  10. Korean

What are some of the best practices contact centres can adopt when conferencing in a telephone interpreter?

Interpreters’ work is time-based, and they adhere to a strict Code of Conduct and ethical standard to ensure they are providing an unbiased, professional and confidential service to those in need. Understanding their role helps set expectations for all stakeholders.

From the perspective of a contact centre agent conferencing in an interpreter service, best practices include:

  • speaking clearly and at a normal pace
  • depending on context, it may be better to speak in full or shortened sentences. For example, if describing a service, a full sentence can be used, whereas if discussing rates for utilities/telecommunications, where numbers are spoken, shorter sentences are better.
  • pause to allow the interpreter to proceed, and be patient
  • speak directly with the customer, so avoid saying to the interpreter, ‘tell/ask them…’.

How did Covid impact your operations?

During the pandemic, the industry shifted sharply from onsite to remote service delivery, not just at our customers’ end, but also in our operation – much like other businesses. We were able to quickly transition to a 100% remote infrastructure and minimise impact to our customers.

From 2020 to 2021, we experienced a 138% increase in remote (telephone) interpreter service delivery.

Which KPIs do you keep your eye on when it comes to customer experience?

Grade of Service, First Call Resolution, Service rates, AHT, client/interpreter satisfaction & feedback are top of the list. Certain clients and industries have specific KPIs which we are happy to adopt.

What is the pricing model when using telephone interpreter services?

Depending on the service arrangement, telephone services can be priced on a per call, minimum duration, or daily rate scenario. We have varying options to tailor for specific client interpreter engagements to maintain a cost effective, quality and value-based solution.

In the current labour market, is it challenging to find qualified interpreters?

For onsite services, the difficulty lies within the relationship between the location and language demand. We may not have challenges sourcing, let’s say, Arabic interpreters in metro Victoria, but we would have in rural areas of Victoria and NSW. This is where telephone-based delivery becomes critical to serve all our communities and clients in need.

NAATI-qualified interpreters are required for the majority of interpreting work in Australia, however, there is currently a shortage of qualified interpreters, which is a challenge for the industry.

How do you ensure the quality of your language services, and what processes do you have in place to measure that quality?

As part of our ongoing investment in quality standards, we offer a Professional Development program to all our 4,500+ interpreters in Australia free of charge – in collaboration with RMIT. This comprehensive program is spread over 12 months, comprising over 15 modules delivered through webinars and pre-recorded videos.

Measuring interpreter quality is a complex process, which involves:

  • recruiting only qualified interpreters with demonstrated work experience in particular fields (for example, health or legal)
  • feedback from clients, users and peers
  • interpreter testing based on online professional development modules
  • the NAATI recertification program.

Finally, our CaptionConnect tool – which stores both transcription and translation of calls which use an interpreter service – is an important element of a contact centre’s QA framework.