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5 Tips for Choosing an Over-the-Phone Interpreter

All across the country, linguistic diversity is growing. 35 million adult US citizens speak a language other than English at home. You’ll hear close to 200 languages in the New York metro area alone. And the proportion of non-English speakers in Houston, Texas—where the population speaks at least 145 languages—tops 37 percent.

For English-speaking companies, multilingual support and interpretation services are essential to forging a meaningful connection with all their customers.  But in-person interpretation services can be unwieldy, incomplete, and expensive.


Enter over-the-phone interpretation (often referred to as telephonic interpretation or OPI). Using OPI technology, businesses can easily and instantly communicate with prospects and customers, no matter the language or channel.  Chat?  Sure.  Video?  Of course.  Email?  No problem.

Over-the-phone interpreters are:

  • Experts in the languages you care about.
  • Connected 24/7.
  • Cost-effective.
  • Trusted communication partners that keep pace with the diversity of growing businesses.

What’s more, they’re available anywhere.

Considering OPI services for your business?  Here are five tips to help you make the right choice for you.

  • Expertise
  • Over-the-phone solutions can fulfill more languages than on-site agents, because they draw from larger networks of trained, qualified linguists. Located all over the world—often in their native countries—these linguists also have localized expertise about your market’s unique cultures and dialects.

    Compare this solution to on-site interpreters, who generally only fulfill need for the most commonly spoken languages in the US, like Spanish and Vietnamese. For rarer languages, interpreters are few and far between.

    TIP: When selecting your OPI provider, avoid those that fulfill fewer than all 350 languages spoken in the US. That may be more comprehensive service than you need right now, but you’ll want the ability to scale in the future. More on that later.

  • Scheduling
  • A good OPI provider interprets on demand. You or your customer picks up the phone, dials your provider, and connects within seconds. That’s it. Today’s technology precludes the need to wait for translation services.

    TIP: When researching providers, look for words like “real-time,” “click-to-call,” and “hosted language IVR”: each is a clue that the provider offers lightning-fast support. (Then challenge your provider to interpret any terminology you don’t understand. Pun intended.)

  • Reliability
  • As a brand, you want your customers to trust that you will delight them. That means you need interpretation services that are reliable.  It’s difficult to guarantee reliability with on-site linguists, who encounter travel delays, inability to fulfill languages, and canceled appointments.

    TIP: When selecting an OPI, shoot for providers with high fulfillment rates and avoid explaining unexpected cancellations to expectant customers.

  • Cost-Effectiveness
  • Many on-site interpreters charge by the hour, most set two-hour minimums, and some even require travel compensation.

    To be fair, standardized minimum fees protect providers from unforeseen costs, and you may not need to reimburse travel expenses if your interpreter is local. But the closer your network of interpreters, the smaller your portfolio of languages. The higher the minimum fees, the greater your costs. And what if you only need an interpreter for 30 minutes? You can’t maximize your investment.

    TIP: Pay for exactly what you need with an OPI service offered on a per-minute basis with no minimum fees whatsoever.

  • Scalability
  • At Lionbridge, we’ve noticed a typical pattern. When most sales, marketing, and customer service teams realize they need to support more languages, they first try to find multilingual staff (from other departments) to help. But 42 percent of them cite finding and retaining in-house multilingual staff as their biggest challenge. Not only are these resources harder and costlier to hire, but unexpected absences disrupt support.

    TIP: Minimize your dependence on in-house multilingual staff by relying on technology. Real-time, AI-based OPI—typically centralized across all business functions—can both streamline communications and cut costs of hiring bilingual staff. The most advanced solutions are ready to support each new language as you onboard new accounts. In short, they grow with your business.


    Are you ready?

    If your business is anything like ours, you are constantly striving for ways to better serve the people who depend on you. To connect with all your customers quickly and reliably, you might want to partner with an experienced OPI provider. Your next step is finding one that offers the languages you’re targeting now. As long as your provider has expertise in other markets, too, you’ll have the flexibility to scale later.

    Still unsure whether to make the switch? You can always put it to the test; some providers will take a small sample of your call volume before you commit to anything.

    Contact Lionbridge today for more on how OPI works and to see the technology in action.

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