How diverse is America really?
The USA in the 21st century is a cultural hodgepodge that comes with numerous languages thrown into the mix. Contrary to common belief, English, the national language, is not always the first preference. How often have you passed people on the streets or bumped them in elevators chattering away in what might as well be Greek? It happens enough to tell us that multilingualism isn’t a passing thing – it’s a fact of life in America today.
Did you know?
- Of the 327 million citizens and residents in the USA, all but nine percent get by on English.
- Another thirty-six million that fall into the English proficient category prefer to speak another language. Put that together with the non-English speakers, and you have sixty-six million conversing in other tongues most of the time. That’s one in every five people around you.
- Spanish, spoken by the growing Hispanic communities, is streaks ahead of the pack. Chinese dialects, Tagalog, and French, are a distant second, third, and fourth place, respectively.
- In 2018 the USA’s trade with European countries was $810 billion. It probably required discussing deals in German, Spanish, Russian, Polish, French, and another twenty-six languages. A tall order but one we seem to have met with flying colors.
- There are thousands of businesses in 39 counties where Hispanics are the dominant group, and also Spanish speaking suburbs in big cities like Chicago.
In short, companies unable to cross back and forth at least between Spanish and English when required may not be doing themselves a favor. The point is this – businesses exist to grow and satisfy customers. It’s the lifeblood of thriving in a competitive economy. The customer experience (CX) is front and center of our attention for this to happen. If that’s the case, we need to gear up our workforce to deliver the best CX possible. Our employees are the key to the kingdom. In that sense, the employee experience (EX) and CX are indivisible considerations, although we come at them from different angles.
Creating an excellent EX without fear of language differences.
EX, of course, goes much further than only language considerations. It involves all the touchpoints with the company, its management, one’s peers, and customers in the employees’ working life from the time they rise until the time they go to bed. Imagine a situation in which small issues repeat every day until it becomes unbearable. For example:
- Others in the office making inappropriate remarks, or a manager using offensive terms are common complaints.
- In a predominantly Hispanic office, it may be conversations going on most of the time in Spanish, passing over the heads of the few English-speaking employees that also reside there.
Sometimes it becomes too much, and the employee hands in his or her resignation. Replacing staff positions is around $15,000 a time, making retention a top HR priority. These are a few issues, endemic in many industries, getting in the way of productive, profitable staff hiring.
At the same time, employees with multilingual capabilities have often lived in other countries and connected to diverse cultures. They bring a maturity and language flexibility to the company that can resonate throughout the divisions and enhances performance. Organizations and their HR departments recognize cultural diversity in the ranks is an asset, not a liability. If you don’t see it that way, a 2017 study by the New American Economy (NAE) may convince you. It signals in no uncertain terms that the trend of hiring multiple language employees is on a tear (more than doubling since the 1980s). It’s particularly notable in companies where human interaction is a driving force.
Company positioning is a crucial consideration
Businesses don’t operate in a vacuum. Like everything else in life, they adapt to live comfortably in the selected environment. Shaping and reshaping strategies to meet change is the new norm, especially with digital innovations coming at us from all directions. People are at the root of any successful program, and recruiting the right talent is a science in itself. So here are a few pointers on bringing language to the forefront:
- Hire the employees that you think can naturally communicate with your client base without hesitation or looking forced. If mainstream customers are Hispanic, bilingual proficiency in the ranks is a must. Your customer will be happy, your employee will feel at home with his or her responsibilities, and so EX and CX run smoothly on the right track.
- Situations may arise where an employee language selection is great for CX but internally for the team, not easy. Disjointed communication and cultural rifts create challenges for management and HR.
- It’s likely that the staff structure will automatically adjust to meet a language spectrum as it moves away from English. For example, a liquor company that begins marketing Tequila in Miami will probably end up with a fully Spanish speaking department and a distinctly Latin American cultural flavor.
- Also, when targeting markets abroad, bi-and tri-lingual employees are essential. You’ll find that Spanish speakers are pretty conversant in Portuguese and can get by in Italian as well. They are also valuable resources when it comes to breaking down CX cultural barriers English speakers simply cannot do.
- In most cases, bilingual employees in the USA know the American ways and nuances as well. You get a double-whammy benefit that enables the company to credibly connect across all languages with one employee and no lapse in communication quality. Remember, it’s not always what’s said, but how one says it. Hispanic employees understand inflections that are almost impossible for others to pick up on.
Language and communication are inseparable when it comes to teamwork and connecting to customers. If management can create the training and integration that melds cultures into a team with specialized talents that all participants can share in, the internal benefits can be spectacular. The customer benefits from doing this speak for themselves. However, it takes intricate knowledge of EX, it’s undeniable connection to CX, and much thinking to get everything working together.