April 7, 2010, 12:00 AM

New live chat tool translates on the fly for non-English-speaking customers

Live chat is great for answering customer questions instantly. But what if a consumer doesn’t speak, (or type) in English? Velaro says it has a solution—live chat translation.

Live chat is great for answering customer questions instantly. But what if a consumer doesn’t speak, (or type) in English? Velaro Inc. says it has a solution-live chat translation. Online brokerage firm Lightspeed Financial Inc. is using the program and says it is helping it communicate with the international customers that make up 20% of its business.

Janice Barrilleaux, chief operating officer for Lightspeed Financial, says her company has used Velaro’s live chat service for about two years and the new translation option for several weeks. She says the system has helped her customer service reps better answer questions from international customers about pricing and products. “It allows us to have fairly sophisticated conversations,” she says.

Clients frequently ask important questions such as what type of futures trading Lightspeed offers, she says. Before, reps had to guess what a customer meant by interpreting his shaky English, or to try to manually translate queries in a foreign language using an online translation service such as Babelfish, which took several minutes. “We no longer have to interpret what they mean,” Barrilleaux says. “Clients can get necessary information quickly.”

The new feature, which Velaro provides at no extra cost, uses Google to translate queries and responses sent through online chats. The translation is nearly instant, allowing online conversations between people using different languages to go forward without uncomfortable pauses. Velaro embedded the program, which can translate over 50 languages, into its live chat Microsoft .NET software-as-a-service offering. The company uses Google’s REST application programming interface and one of Google’s open source libraries written in the C-sharp programming language to access and utilize the service.

Agents, such as those employed by Lightspeed, set their native language, such as English, ahead of time. The visitor then selects his native tongue from a drop down menu-for example, Arabic. With the program in place, the visitor will only see Arabic and the agent only English.

“There are a lot of companies out there that have multilingual call centers,” says Alex Bloom, president of Velaro. “But many of their agents only speak two or three languages, and a company may need to operate in five or six.”

Bloom expects most customers will put a disclaimer on the conversations, informing clients that they are reading a Google translation, not the exact words of a company employee. The word-for-word translation from Google can on occasion leave words in the wrong place, or miss certain subtleties, he says. “There are definitely concerns with that,” Bloom says. “It’s easier for Google to translate the more commonly used Latin-based languages.” For example, he says, Google handles French and Spanish better than Chinese or Turkish.

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