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This paper will address language barriers in customer service

This paper will address language barriers in customer service. This has demanded business to acknowledge their existence by having to set up bilingual websites, employing bilingual representatives as well as hiring third party language lines.

Identifying language barriers

With the development of global communication, language issues have entered the area of seller/ customer relations, causing serious barriers on the way towards effective servicing customers with different language backgrounds.

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‘The diversity of today’s customers offers many challenges to the human resources professional in a multi-ethnic company or institution.’ (Morris, 2002, p. 32) Language barriers in the workplace relate to the two different spheres of company’s performance: one sphere is represented by communication between employees, while another sphere is represented by customer service employees and the need to communicate with foreign-speaking customers.

Allison (1999) wrote, that oral communication with customers for whom English is not the native language, frequently becomes a serious barrier towards effective customer service provision. (p. 26) As long as language problems within the company are underestimated, it is difficult to predict stable progressive development of the company’s performance. This challenge becomes even more serious when native languages and origins of the customer and the customer service employee differ dramatically (e.g. English-Chinese). In this situation creation of the bilingual websites to deliver the necessary information to the customers has become one of the best resolutions of the discussed issue.

In order to perform efficiently, companies have to attract language specialists for the proper organizing the customer servicing of foreign-language customers. Similar issues can be identified within the framework of manager/ supervisor cooperation. The inability to deliver company’s mission and customer service requirements to the worker, who speaks a different language, will make it difficult to incorporate this worker (her) into the company’s organizational structure. As a consequence, the quality of service provided may decrease. (Weinstock, 2003, p. 99)

Simultaneously, the proper utilization of foreign-language workers for communication with foreign customers will lead to higher quality of company’s customer service. Language issues in customer service are even more serious for the company’s corporate image and company’s performance on the market. The quality level of customer service is frequently included into the list of factors, on the basis of which customers make their choice towards a specific product or company. Thus, inability to overcome language barriers with customers may serve against the company’s striving to occupy stable market position. (Jacobs, 2004, p. 150)

The causes of language barriers

Many highly-skilled and valuable employees have difficulty with the pronunciation challenges that American English puts before them. Many sounds in our language do not exist in their native languages, resulting in pronunciations that are unintelligible to the average listener’. (Ferris & Frink, 2003, p. 228)

Physical articulation of English sounds by foreign language speakers is not the only cause of language barriers in customer service. This list can be supplemented by the cultural problems closely connected with language, as well as the inability of the company’s management to supply employees with effective solutions of language issues. (Ferris & Frink, 2003, p. 229)


Among the basic recommendations for the language problems’ solution the following guidelines can be applied:

–    providing the customer service staff with opportunities to educate and broaden language skills;

–    utilizing foreign employees in the striving towards better customer service functioning, as well as including professional interpreters into the company’s staff. (Varner & Beamer, 2005, p. 84)

It is also essential, that company and product information is provided in several different languages to attract and retain customers with various origins and language backgrounds. Including multilingual approaches into numerous aspects of the company’s activity will only work for the benefit of the company’s customers, and as a result, for the benefit of the company’s performance.


Language barriers in the customer service may seem irrelevant in the light of other global problems, which companies have to solve daily. However, such language problems are much broader than it is traditionally assumed – improper customer servicing is a direct way towards worsening company’s image and decreasing company’s revenues. This is why in order to avoid far-reaching negative consequences language barriers should be timely and properly addressed.


Allison, M. (1999). Organizational barriers to diversity in the workplace. Journal of Leisure

Research, 31, 26-32.

Ferris, G. & Frink, D. (2003). Diversity in the workplace: The human resources management

challenges. Human Resource Planning, 16, 214-242.

Jacobs, E. (2004). Overcoming language barriers: Costs and benefits of interpreter services.

Human Resource Planning, 17 (5), 149-151.

Morris, C. (2002). Cultural and language barriers in the workplace. Charlotte-Mecklenburg

Workforce Development.

Varner, I. & Beamer, L. (2005). Intercultural communication in global workplace. Boston:

Irwin/ McGraw-Hill.

Weinstock, B. (2003). Bringing language and culture gaps in the workplace. Washington:

Washington Business Group on Health.