This blog will focus on automated customer service in French, the second most widely studied language after English. It is also spoken widely among many countries. While French may be a language difficult to master for native English speakers, your businesses can make use of multilingual chatbots to communicate with customers speaking French.
Facts about French
French is a Romance language originating in France and spoken by approximately 220 million people globally, making it the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world. Most French speakers reside in France, but the language is also widely spoken in other countries, including Belgium, Canada, Haiti, Switzerland, and several African nations.
French has played a significant role in international communication, serving as a second language and lingua franca in many international organizations. It is one of the official languages of the United Nations and the European Union, which has helped to increase its global usage.
The history of French can be traced back to Late Latin, the language of the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Gauls, a Celtic people, inhabited what is now modern-day France, and their language, Gaulish, became dominant.
French has influenced the English language, particularly in terms of vocabulary, due to the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. During this time, Norman French was used in England and many Norman French words were introduced into the English language.
There are noticeable differences between French and English, including vocabulary, grammar, and cultural significance. French has a more standardized vocabulary with strong cultural and historical significance, while English has a larger vocabulary with many borrowed words from other languages. French grammar is considered complex compared to English, with gender affecting the form of adjectives and articles used with nouns. French also has a more flexible word order, allowing the subject, verb, and object to be placed in different positions for emphasis.
Customer service in French (in France)
English proficiency in France
According to the EF English Proficiency Index, France was ranked 34 out of 111 countries, indicating a moderate level of proficiency. However, this represents a continuous fall in proficiency over the past two years, with 31 out of 112 countries in 2021 and 28 out of 100 countries in 2020. In addition, French was ranked the lowest among all EU nations.
There are several reasons why the proficiency of English in France will continue to be low relative to other European countries. First, the French government has a strong emphasis on preserving the French language and puts a high value on maintaining linguistic unity through policies such as the requirement of at least an A2 level of French for resident permits.
Secondly, these policies also demonstrate the strong pride the French have attached to their culture and their own languages. English is often seen as a symbol of American cultural influence and a threat to its unique assimilation regime.
Thirdly, these have resulted in limited exposure to English in French people’s daily lives, as they live in a primarily French-speaking environment, watch French TV and movies, and read French books and newspapers.
Hence, being able to communicate with customers in French is an essential element for excellent customer service in France. It matters not only for the ease of communication but also for the brand name as French people expect others in the country to speak their language as well.
Key customer service trends in France
- Personalised customer services
In France, customers have higher expectations from brands. They want personalized, engaging content that is relevant to them. A customer experience survey by KPMG showed that companies that provide tailored experiences to their audience perform well. As a result, personalisation has become a top priority for companies in France in their customer acquisition and loyalty strategy, with companies like ASOS, Airbnb, and Amazon leading the way.
Despite the economic impact of COVID-19, French customers still value personalized experiences from brands, as online shopping has become more accessible and popular. This highlights the need for companies to continue investing in customer service quality to remain competitive post-recession.
The high demand for personalization in customer service highlights the importance of customer knowledge. Companies must be able to collect and analyze customer data to better understand their wants and needs.
Technology plays a crucial role in achieving this, with products like Algomo providing businesses with instant access to valuable customer information and insights from chatbot conversations.
- Room for improvements
According to the 9,000 French respondents to Forrester’s latest Customer Experience Index (CX Index™) survey, the quality of experiences delivered by major brands that are present in France is not just disappointing on average — it’s significantly more so than in many other developed countries like the US and the UK.
There are a few standout exceptions that French consumers put at the upper echelons of the rankings, such as Crédit Mutuel, The Body Shop, MAIF, and Yves Rocher. But overall, customer services in France are behind.
One of the areas for improvement is the available hours of customer service. In general, customer service hours in France are quite limited when compared to the USA. Many times customer service hours are 10 am-5 pm. Sometimes customers are even required to go in person to resolve an issue, such as at your bank.
Technologies are obvious solutions with chatbots such as Algomo or voice assistants being capable of offering 24/7 services, digital platforms for banking queries and so on.
Overview of automated customer service in France
French is well-supported by various chatbot-building platforms, such as Waston by IBM and Dialogflow by Google. Features in Dialogflow that support French include Text (text-only chat), STT (speech-to-text, audio input, speech recognition), TTS (text-to-speech, audio output, speech synthesis), Sentiment (Sentiment Analysis) as well as SmTalk (Built-in Small Talk). These technology supports allow automated customer service in French to be more human-like and more accurate in language interpretations.
According to myFrenchStartup, the data-driven platform of the French startup ecosystem, 35 Chatbot startups have been identified: 22 startups are aiming at the professional services market and 13 startups are targeting the consumer services market.
Despite the absence of specific data on the growth of the chatbot market in France, indications of demand from businesses and consumers provide valuable insights. A survey by Statista showed that over 60% of the companies surveyed had established a chatbot, and nearly one-third reported implementing a voice bot, only 8% have implemented call bots.
France, however, lagged behind in terms of demand and usage of chatbots by consumers. Out of all respondents, only 11 per cent said they had used chatbots to contact brands in 2018 and would do so again. Additionally, 22% of respondents have yet to use chatbots but are willing to do so. Meanwhile, 56% of respondents claimed they did not use chatbots in 2018 because they did not want to. (Source: Statista)
Main application sectors
Digital banking is rapidly advancing in France with the use of bank chatbots. According to Statista, the number of retail banks in France offering a chat feature increased by 10% from 2018 to 2019, and the number of contact channels through chatbots grew significantly by 31% from 11% to 42%.
BNP Paribas, the largest French bank, has partnered with a chatbot company to enhance conversational experiences on its website. BNP Paribas now offers a virtual assistant for account inquiries, transactions, and offers and is accessible through Messenger, Twitter, and Facebook. The bank also provides a dynamic FAQ for clients to reach the bank or access information through various channels.
Air France is catering to its tech-savvy customers by offering customer service through its chatbot, Louis, on Facebook Messenger. Louis informs customers about their trip in real-time, 24/7, and the company can respond to up to 10,000 messages per day in 9 languages with the help of both service agents and chatbots. Additionally, Messenger customers now have access to a new payment system that allows them to book tickets without leaving the app.
Mindsay, a leading chatbot and voice bot enterprise in France, was acquired by the Chinese technology company Laiye. Since the acquisition, chatbots and voice bots have become one of Laiye's core offerings, and Mindsay's reputation and competitive advantage in French-speaking chatbots have been maintained. The company mainly collaborates with French firms in the transportation and healthcare industries and, as part of an intelligent automation platform, Mindsay's conversational AI can be integrated into other intelligent systems such as Slack and Salesforce.
Zaion is a French technology company focused solely on conversational AI technologies, including call bots, chatbots, and messaging bots. Compared to Mindsay, it supports a wider range of industries, from real estate to insurance, with a stronger focus on the French market. Zaion has made significant efforts to improve the emotional detection capabilities of its products, as it believes this to be a critical aspect for creating a more human connection.
French companies, both local and international, are prioritizing the use of automated customer service solutions to enhance the customer experience. These solutions help to overcome challenges in the French customer service sector such as limited access to personalized content. The use of automated services allows companies to offer a better customer experience, regardless of their industry.