Running contact centers is not easy. Add to the existing challenges the mission to support your clients in multiple languages, and in sometimes complex subject matter. Some companies have figured out the keys to success though. The insurance giant Aetna is one such example, having won this year’s 2015 “Best Multi-Lingual Support Center” award at the International Customer Management Institute’s Contact Center Expo and Conference.
Customer Experience Report’s Loren Moss recently spoke with Tito Colón, the senior director and head of multicultural marketing at Aetna to learn about what best practices are leading to their award winning service.
Customer Experience Report: Aetna won the award for best multi-lingual support center. How many languages does Aetna support in-house?
Tito Colon: In-house, we primarily support Spanish, with some limited support for Chinese Mandarin, but I would say primarily Spanish. When we say ‘in-house’ this is a function that we have established with two fully functional service centers. Overall we cover 200 languages.
Customer Experience Report: Aside from languages, what are the other challenges you are facing while serving your diverse customers?
Tito Colon: We also provide every employee with cultural competency training. We want agents to learn the culture of the customers they deal with. People need a different kind of rhythm and a different kind of tone and familiarity. Our training program focuses on both language and culture. We have dedicated pros that answer our calls so that there will be no disruption. This way we will protect consumer experience that we are looking to establish across foreign languages and all cultures.
Customer Experience Report: How did Aetna manage to recruit agents capable of serving this diverse client base?
Tito Colon: We have some Spanish-speaking individuals who help with recruiting agents familiar with Spanish language and culture. We had one pool from which we could pull candidates.
Some years ago, we launched a recruitment drive in San Antonio, and in Fresno, as part of hiring nurse practitioners with experience in engaging with Spanish speaking consumers. It proved to be successful, so, we went back to the same market and started looking for bilingual talent. We had an internal group of Spanish speaking employees who would strike up conversation with the potential candidates in Spanish while we verified if they were skilled enough to interact with our customers. We formally put their language skills to test before taking them on board.
Customer Experience Report: How large are your contact centers? How many contact centers you have? How many employees are working there?
Tito Colon: Yeah, I’d have to look back at what the exact numbers are, but I feel comfortable to say that there are probably thousands of customer service representatives working in our centers. Let us say that those thousands aren´t bilingual agents, but there are thousands servicing enterprise clients. In the two centers that we have are up and running we have our Medicare segments, and that’s a segment that we have found requires people with good language skills. That’s why we’ve decided to focus on our efforts there. It is not to say that because they’re Medicare they don’t get access to this language capability. That’s when our vendor comes into play and if they call in through a service center and just say “I need Vietnamese,” or “I need Spanish,” they are connected with the resource to allow for an over the phone interpretation process to take place. We make sure that every one of our members, whether they float through Medicare or not, has access to a capability that provides them with the opportunity to interact with us in 200 different languages. And we also make it available if they’re sitting in the office with our provider. They can literally take their phone, dial up the number and have it up on speakerphone right there, and we can provide that service while they’re at the doctor’s office as well.
Customer Experience Report: What does Aetna do differently qualitatively? What do you think sets you apart and what makes you so special? What do you think won that award for you?
Tito Colon: Well I think there are a few things at play and we really have to look back at why we’re doing what we’re doing. In order to be successful, you have to have the right culture and right technology. Employees need to understand what their customers are looking for. It’s an extension of the consumer experience that they’re trying to provide, and this places the customer at the center. I think that’s the place to start and that’s what really differentiates us. It’s not necessarily just taking another tool out of the box; it’s something that our employees really embrace.
Then it’s the manner in which we have integrated this capability into the service center operation. We have worked very hard to make it very easy for our service center population to access this, and once they access this, we make sure that it is very easy for that process to take place in terms of getting the right language capability on the phone to help them service the needs of the customers. We want to be sensitive to that and provide a process that’s very easy for them to execute, so they can still meet their performance goals and be able to meet the metrics.
Customer Experience Report: Are English, Spanish and Mandarin top three languages you service?
Tito Colon: Spanish and Mandarin. I guess there’s a tight competition for the third. We also provide service in Russian, Creole, Arabic and Vietnamese. I am probably missing a couple of languages. We had an interesting case wherein we had a member who wanted to speak with us in Navajo. We were able to connect him with the agent who spoke Navajo.