Developing Interpretation Services at Scale
How can you rapidly scale phone and video language interpretation services using a work at home model?
Background: A growing need for interpretation services in medical and business settings
DATAMARK’s client is an industry leader in over-the-phone interpreting. They wanted to continue to pave the way by expanding into face-to-face, video, mobile and telehealth services over recent years. Assessing continued changes in U.S. demographics, they determine that one-in-five U.S. residents speaks a language other than English at home. They saw a growing need for in-person, phone and video interpretation services in medical and business settings, and they decided to expand their interpretation services.
Challenge: Recruit, train and expand interpretation services with qualified applicants
The client recognized that in order to remain competitive in a growing industry, they would need more qualified interpreters to meet the needs of a rapidly diversifying population. However, finding adept interpreters who could both speak fluently and understand and communicate language nuances was a difficult challenge. The decision was then made to expand the pool of qualified medical interpreters. This would allow the company to increase its market share in this area.
Yet, finding qualified applicants was only the first step. Ushering bilingual speakers through a rigorous four-week training program was the next hurdle. In the past, the company conducted its own training, but this had absorbed valuable resources. Focusing on training applicants caused them to stray from their core competencies. They decided they would need to search for a Contact Center and BPO provider to recruit and teach interpreters the skills to communicate sensitive information easily, fluently, and in a manner that generated customer trust. Meanwhile they also faced with the fact that complex medical terminology proved difficult for prospective interpreters.
Finally, the company also grappled with a dilemma that many other language and interpretation companies face—the ability to retain employees. It became apparent that the sensitive nature of live medical interpretation and the intellectual and psychological strain would cause early burnout. Most interpreters only would remain in the job for one to three years. The brain drain caused proved to elicit a very high Human Resources retention cost. A solution was necessary to prevent these highly trained employees from quitting.
Solution: Utilize an outsourced BPO provider for recruiting, training and retention of employees
As the company began its quest to expand its pool of interpreters, it evaluated end-to-end BPO providers to find the right fit to outsource the recruiting, training, and retention of interpretation employees.
As a result, they found DATAMARK and recognized that it excelled in many areas that would serve their growth needs.
For starters, DATAMARK’s reliance on analytics and data to improve structure and processes consistently would allow them to grow their pool of interpreters thoughtfully, yet aggressively. Furthermore, DATAMARK owned a proven track record in the trifecta of hiring, training and retention of agents.
The Interpretation Services Pilot Program
DATAMARK got to work developing a pilot program to source, hire and train new interpretation employees. They started by gathering senior business leaders, operations directors and training managers to implement a pilot program to collect data and intelligence to find areas of improvement.
Immediately, DATAMARK proposed a novel idea. Instead of looking for experienced interpreters, the company would find fluent bilingual speakers and train them to be interpreters. With that goal in mind, DATAMARK launched a pilot program in Mexico to find and train interpreters to the high standards of the phone interpretation industry.
DATAMARK identified that the company’s interview, evaluation, and training process was difficult for many prospects. They needed to find a way to graduate a higher number of excellent interpreters. Consequently, they developed a successful pipeline program that ushered bilingual candidates through their rigorous training and testing program. The program successfully trained candidates to provide a customer-centric experience focused on high communication and cultural understanding. It also provided customers with a comfortable, stress-free translation experience.
Once the four-week training was completed, DATAMARK made another change. They developed an onsite location to gauge how standardization impacted performance metrics and retention of the company’s interpretation employees. To that end, DATAMARK built specially designed cubicles that provided more oversight, privacy and standardized backgrounds. They also required all interpreters to wear company-branded shirts for a more professional presentation.
In addition, DATAMARK implemented its expertise in retaining employees over the long term. The company was seeing the most growth in medical interpretation and burnout among interpreters was exceptionally high. This may be due to the sensitive and emotional nature of medical video and call interactions. DATAMARK drew upon its proven retention and incentive programs to keep these highly trained employees happy over the long term.
The pilot program put into place by DATAMARK quickly grew to 200 interpreter hires in Mexico before expanding into India. Bringing operations into India came with the advantage of increasing the number of languages offered, and the transition to a work-from-home model for interpretation staff began in 2019.
The Results: Successful Scaling of Interpretation Services
DATAMARK’s dedication to honing the right BPO service for the company’s very specialized needs has had resounding success. After a few years of proving training and incentive models produced positive results in hiring, training and retaining of qualified employees, DATAMARK’s methodologies were put to the ultimate test in 2020 when the COVID pandemic struck the planet. With plans already underway to pivot to a work-from-home model, DATAMARK expedited the transition and mobilized the company’s workforce.
As working at home became a worldwide imperative and the number of video medical consultations skyrocketed, the medical patients and doctors served by interpreters were met with a unified, professional front that helped to put patients at ease. DATAMARK immediately put standardization protocols into place by replicating the privacy of the cubicle environment for all interpreters working at home. Each employee received a standardized backdrop for their home location and company-branded shirts for a professional appearance.
Thanks to the preparatory work done by DATAMARK’s modeling, analytics and pilot program, DATAMARK doubled the company’s interpretation capacity quickly. The results are astounding. The company saw record-setting volumes of interactions with video and phone interpretations reaching 40 million interactions by the end of 2021.
Meeting the Demand
The number of qualified interpreters grew to meet this demand. Starting with 20 qualified interpretation agents in 2016, they grew to more than 1,000 interpreters by the end of 2021. They experienced almost a 5,000 percent increase in five years. Agents in Mexico and India now provide interpretation services in more than 20 of the most commonly spoken languages to people across 1,700 cities in the United States. All interpretation services are available through laptops, smartphones and tablets.
DATAMARK and their client intend to keep this work-at-home model to attract qualified employees and to maintain the customer-centric focus. To ensure retention of these highly-vetted and highly-skilled employees, DATAMARK recruits and ushers employees through the training program to guarantee a high graduation rate.
Retention: Taking Care of the Employee
Programs and efforts to ensure employee retention remain a top priority. In addition to the work-at-home model, DATAMARK spent a significant amount of time developing an attractive employee engagement and career development program. They wanted to ensure employees see the value in remaining with the company.
In addition, DATAMARK has also implemented an extensive incentive program to keep employees motivated and retention high. Incentives included reimbursements to cover some costs accrued from working at home, so it doesn’t cost employees any extra money.
Performance bonus incentives for medical interpreters are also in place to encourage the highest level of customer service. With video call interpretation services, where interpreters are often required to communicate sensitive and emotional news, metrics like accuracy in interpretation and matching the tone of the situation are used to determine these bonuses.
Finally, a savings plan is one incentive DATAMARK provides, where employer matching savings programs are not commonly seen. While U.S. employees have a 401K plan, in Mexico and India, where less than half the population has a savings account, an employer matching savings program helps encourage long-term saving efforts. It’s just another way that DATAMARK stands above others in the marketplace to retain employees.
The relationship nurtured by DATAMARK is a clear example of the benefits and value of working with a trusted Contact Center and BPO company to achieve growth in market share. As DATAMARK continues improving its recruitment, training, and retention program, the company is poised to continue its dominance in language interpretation services well into the 21st century.
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