By now we all know the statistics: California is home to over 11 million Hispanics and 600,000 Hispanic-owned businesses. So, if you're doing business in California, you're doing business with Hispanics � many of whom feel more comfortable with Spanish rather than English.

Unfortunately, many companies' phone care and other customer facing systems have not kept up with the needs of the expanding Latino community. The result has been lost business and negative experiences between firms and the people they are trying to serve.

Below are some tips to help get your own company's systems up to speed:

Interactive Voice Response (IVR): IVR or "Auto Attendant": is the system that automatically greets your callers. These systems can be very simple, providing a list of forwarding extensions or very involved, allowing callers to review accounts, listen to product information or place orders.

In your initial greeting, quickly give the caller the option to change to a Spanish menu. So, for example, your greeting might say, "Welcome to Pac-West Telecomm, para espa�ol marque dos...". This gets the caller off and running in the language in which she or she is most comfortable.

If at all possible, give callers the choice of opting out of your IVR system to speak with a live person. Giving callers this option within the first 20 seconds of your greeting puts a warmer face on your company � something valued by most Hispanic and other customers.

People: Of course, after the user has chosen Spanish in your initial greeting, make sure any extension they choose routes them to a Spanish-speaking staff member. If this staff member is not available then their voice mail message should be in both English and Spanish � again reinforcing your firm's cultural sophistication and commitment to Spanish-dominant customers.

Even if your Spanish-speaking staff isn't familiar with every area of your business, they can serve as the liaison to the rest of your firm. Often times, Spanish-speakers will be fine with English, but just knowing that they can get in touch with a Spanish-speaker in a pinch will put them at ease and make them feel more comfortable with your firm � engendering loyalty, referrals and repeat business.

Website: Translating your entire website can be a daunting task. Start with a "recursos en espa�ol" section which then links to content that is most useful to your Spanish-speaking customers. Company overview, product information, customer support, and contact information are good places to start. There's usually no need to translate press releases, investor information, or employment opportunities. Make sure all contact info links to a bilingual staff member within your firm.

Integrating Spanish-language customer care into your firm generates positive feelings in the customers your firm is trying to serve. It is a cost-effective strategy for engendering loyalty with Hispanic-owned businesses and consumers.

With offices in the United States and Mexico, Elias Terman and the Terman Consulting Group help companies gain market share in the U.S. Hispanic and Latin American markets.

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