Bilingual staff can take business to the next level

Updated Oct 5, 2023
A diverse group of technicians in a truck shop.

Taking care of customers is critical to any business.

“It really comes down to the people … if you don’t have incredible folks on the team that delivery five-star service, you’re going to be average,” says Brian O’Neil, president and CEO of Industrial Power Truck & Equipment, a dealership with locations throughout north Texas. “It is our goal to provide a five-star, wow experience at every single touch point.”

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That five-star experience is why O’Neil makes sure every department has a Spanish-speaking person on staff, especially the customer-facing ones.

Almost one in five people in the United States speak a language other than English at home, the U.S. Census Bureau says. In Texas, 35% of people speak a language other than English at home. Spanish is the most common non-English language spoken in U.S. homes (62%, as of 2019), 12 times greater than the next four most common languages (Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Arabic).

“If you’re not able to speak Spanish, you’re leaving a tremendous amount of business on the table, and you’re not able to take care of the customers at a high level,” O’Neil says.

Industrial Power operates 107 service bays and offers comprehensive service and sales.

“The sale of the truck is the starting line,” O’Neil says. “It’s the service after the sale where Industrial Power brings value to the transaction.”

In Florida, Marc Karon says having Spanish-speaking team members is a must.

“Many of the customers emigrated from Cuba and South America and some do not speak English,” says Karon, president of Total Truck Parts. “In some cases, if you do not have someone available to speak Spanish, they will just walk out.”

Total Truck Parts has locations around Florida, including in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Fort Pierce, Miami, Orlando and West Palm Beach. Nearly a third of Floridians speak a language other than English at home, the Census Bureau says.

Karon himself doesn’t speak Spanish, but he knows enough to say hello and, oddly enough, “I have a cold.” When customers asked how he was en Español, he would reply “tengo catarro.” One day, a customer showed up with a bowl of soup his wife made because he thought he was sick too often.

Having at least one person in each department, even the ones that aren’t customer-facing, can make Spanish-speaking customers feel more comfortable. Just overhearing employees’ conversations in Spanish about getting coffee or their to-do lists can put customers at ease — and more likely to keep their business with you.

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“You have a diverse team, a bilingual team, you have a stronger team that’s able to serve the customers,” O’Neil says.

Karon agrees.

“A lot of things go into a business relationship with a customer,” he says. “Surprisingly, price is not tops on the list. People like to shop where they feel welcome and accommodated. Speaking the language of the customer is part of that service.”

O’Neil and Karon also agree it’s not always necessary for a business to have bilingual staff. It’s important for the owner and managers to know their customer base and demographics.

“It probably is not necessary in North Dakota,” Karon says. “In the Northeast, having someone that speaks French may be important.”

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