Factors to consider when choosing a language services provider.

Language access is more than an amenity; it’s become a necessity for any organization that works closely with the public. Nowadays they need to meet people where they are, and in the language they speak.

Consider these facts:

  • More than 25 million people living in the United States have limited English proficiency, meaning they identify as speaking English "less than well," according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
  • At least 350 languages are spoken in U.S. homes, according to census data.
  • An estimated 37 million American adults report some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The right language services provider can mean the difference between closing the language gap for your customers and clients, or adding to their confusion and frustration. There are thousands of providers, so how can you be sure your organization selects the right one?

Albert Einstein once famously remarked that if he had an hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he would spend the first 55 minutes determining the right question to ask. Selecting the best language services provider is no different. Once you know what to ask, it’s much easier to evaluate your options.

Here are four critical factors to consider.

1. Reliability and Stability

Many language services providers are small teams that come and go. Almost every company will say they are stable and reliable. Don’t just take them at their word. Ask them to provide evidence, such as:

  • How long have they been in business? (For context, LanguageLine Solutions was founded in 1982 and has been providing language-access services for nearly 35 years.)
  • What is the variety of services they offer, and what is the availability of those services? (We offer phone interpreting, video-remote interpreting, and on-site interpreting, as well as translation, localization, testing, and training. Almost all of these services can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.)
  • What number of clients do they serve? A well-established provider should have a substantial number of clients, but enough staff to handle the load. (LanguageLine serves more than 25,000 clients with approximately 8,000 on-demand linguists.)
  • What is their client retention rate? (Ours is 95 percent.)
  • What is their average daily and annual call volume, and how do those numbers compare to other providers? (We serve more than 32 million phone, video, and onsite interactions each year.)

2. Quality

Interpreters frequently provide the first impression of your organization. Interpreters should be professionally qualified by relevant language proficiency tests that are validated by third-party experts. They should be trained to manage calls effectively and efficiently, using exceptional customer service skills. In addition to asking your language services provider about the criteria used to qualify interpreters, it’s important to consider:

  • What type of training do new interpreters receive to ensure the highest standards of customer service and quality?
  • How are calls monitored for quality assurance, and how do clients provide feedback?
  • What remediation processes are in place to ensure quality?
  • What policies and procedures exist to ensure safety and information security?

3. Support

Given the important role language service providers play, you must be able to reach yours at a moment’s notice. The best language services providers will assist your organization every step of the way, from installing the necessary equipment and training your staff to use it properly, to addressing technical needs or billing questions as they arise. Support needs to be available 24 hours a day. 

Before deciding on a provider, ask the company to detail the type of support that is included in the service agreement, as well as any additional charges that may apply.

4. Technical Capabilities

Nothing ruins customer service faster than a bad connection. Your company’s reputation is on the line each time an interpreter picks up the phone, so you’ll want to ensure your provider is using the most reliable and advanced technology.

Indications of competency in this area include:

  • Is the provider constantly evaluating new technologies and deploying them when it makes sense, while ensuring the technology remains easy for you to use?
  • Does the provider have a low percentage of dropped calls?
  • Does the provider have a quick service-issue resolution time?
  • Does the provider have a high-bandwidth capability for video interpreting services?

For more detailed criteria to help you assess potential providers (including specific questions to ask), please check out this comprehensive Guide to Selecting a Language Services Provider.