Multilingual IVR: 5 Big Ways to Get It Exactly WRONG

For companies that serve customers globally,  the challenge of communicating in broad range of languages presents unique challenges, Many times, a multilingual IVR (Interactive Voice Response) system is needed to route callers to the right department.  Deploying such a system with professionally recorded voice prompts can propel your business forward in a brand-affirming, culturally-nuance away – or repel it in the wrong direction.

If you want to learn how to create your multilingual IVR script and recording exactly the WRONG way so that you can get it exactly RIGHT, read on.

1. Not knowing if your organization and / or product names should be spoken in the native language

Many organizations have branding standards that dictate company names, and all, or selected product names, should be spoken in English. Others may prefer to have these some of these phrases spoken in the caller’s native languages.   Some want it spoken in English, but with a native accent.  Some names have different pronunciations in different countries.   The consequences of getting it wrong can be embarrassingly huge and will compromise the caller’s perception of your brand.  

You’re not just building brand awareness – you are building a relationship of trust and respect.  Do your homework.  Even in the United States, there are nuances regarding regional and local pronunciations.  For example, one of our customers, who moved to our area from the western part of the country, pronounced the town name of Peabody just like it is spelled: Pea-Body.  But that isn’t the way it is pronounced by locals.  We say “Pea-bu-dee.”  This scenario applies across the world.  That’s why it’s vital to know both the business end AND the specific  language translation rules that apply.

2. Not choosing a voice talent with a country-neutral accent in your Multilingual IVR

The United States isn’t the only place with regional accents.  You don’t have to have ever traveled to England, for example, to know that there are dialects specific to different regions of the country. A native Londoner sounds much different than someone from South Wales. One common complaint we hear is that the client wanted – but didn’t specify –  a more formal, “sophisticated” accent, and ended up with “someone from the country”.  Make sure to ask if a given voice talent speaks in a neutral manner.  Find out where they’re from.  Some languages span countries. For example, a voice talent from the Ukraine might speak fluent Russian, but their Ukrainian accent is problematic. The same applies to German speakers in Austria, and Mandarin speakers in Taiwan.  Latin American Spanish may sound differently when spoken by a voice talent from Chile versus a voice talent from Columbia.  

We will say it again.  Do your homework.  Don’t assume you know what is going to work in any one country until you ask someone who really does know.  During the creation process of your multilingual IVR system, ask about being able to listen to voice recordings of the profession talent.  This eliminates the need to cross your fingers and hope it’s right.

3. Not using native speakers

It may seem obvious. In theory, you should use native speakers when recording your IVR prompts. But it practice, it may be easier to use someone who can simply speak the language.  This is NOT the same thing.  Be sure that your chosen voice talent was born in, or at least lived in the designated country for a significant amount of time. But don’t stop there.  It is imperative that you collaborate with the country stakeholders.  Have them  listen to a voice prompt demo of the voice talent to confirm authenticity.  Some companies doing business in the United States may be okay with an American-accented version of certain languages. It depends on who is calling and from where. For example, a Greek-speaking American voice talent may be completely acceptable to a Greek-speaking US caller, but not to a native-speaking customer from Greece.  Our Voice Artists are native speakers who are intimately familiar with the subtle variations in word meaning and intent. Ask for a custom demo to be created using our native voice talent, thus ensuring success before you get too far into the creation process.

4. Not verifying time zones and other country-specific data

As it is in North America, larger countries span multiple time zones.  Whether it’s across countries or within a specific geography, time zones and other country-specific information plays a part in your translation process. Hours of operation vary from location to location.  Also, keep in mind that you should never blindly translate an English-written script into other languages, as there may be other company-specific differences across countries.  It is vital to use certified professional translators when writing your multilingual IVR voice recording script. While they may be really good at their respective jobs, Jose in the IT department, who speaks fluent Spanish, or Katrina in tech support, who is a native German speaker, do not have the experience to understand that inflection, tone and tempo all matter in how the voice recording will sound to the caller on the other end.  

And NEVER…EVER… use Google Translate or any other automated translator.   The results are usually disastrous – cultural faux pas, mispronunciation of key product or technical terms, poor grammar, miscommunication of critical content, and legal misrepresentation – all conspiring to sink your reputation with global customers.

At Marketing Messages, we’ve created a free guide to help you avoid that problem.  Its valuable information will lead you down the path of successfully creating solid multilingual IVR scripts and recordings.

5. Not having the base English script verified by all key stakeholders – especially the multinational ones – first

We can’t tell you how many times on-hold messaging recordings used internationally have to be changed AFTER the creation process has been completed. Re-records are costly, time-consuming and needless.  It is far better to have all stakeholders on board and in agreement first, rather than having your multilingual IVR translated, recorded, distributed and deployed, only to discover it wasn’t right to begin with.

The fact that your organization is in need of a multilingual IVR system indicates you have the ability to make a name for yourselves on an international scale.  Creating this system in the right way, using the right professional voice talent who understand your needs is critical to continued success.  We are here to help you. We are available to answer your questions, including how and where to begin.  Contact us today!