Erika Linstaedt solves problems for a living. As a customer service representative, she’s there to help. And she’s offering something new; an innovative and much-needed type of customer service. Erika and her co-workers are providing customer support exclusively in American Sign Language.
Erika works with CSD’s Connect Direct, which was started in 2017 to provide a way for companies to better serve the deaf community. Connect Direct eliminates the need for third-party translation, and creates a business environment where all spoken and signed languages are equal. “I’m thrilled that our customers have the opportunity to communicate with us directly in their native language, ASL,” said Erika.
It has become standard for American customers to have the option to choose whether to speak to a representative in English or Spanish. However, there is not an equivalent option for the 2-3 million Americans whose primary language is American Sign Language (ASL), despite it being the nation’s third-most popular language.
That’s where Connect Direct comes in.
Robert Giuntoli is a Center Manager for Connect Direct, and last month he oversaw the opening of the United States’ first-ever call center that provides customer support directly in ASL over video, all without the need for an interpreter. He calls it “a revolution in the making.” That’s because existing options for ASL speakers rely heavily on third-party interpreters. When an ASL user wants to communicate with a company, they will often use a video relay service (VRS) where an interpreter fluent in both ASL and English attempts to negotiate a conversation between the ASL-speaking customer and the English-speaking representative.
The existing method, while helpful, still comes with its own problems. For one, the interpreter may not be an expert in the industry language, and therefore unable to accurately relay the information about the problem at hand.
Connect Direct solves these problems by partnering directly with companies to hire and train customer support representatives who are fluent in ASL. Deaf and hard of hearing customers can use video to call a customer service representative, who will help address general customer inquiries, billing questions, tech support, appointment reservations and more, all in their primary language. By using Connect Direct, companies can show they are becoming more sensitive the diversity of their customers.
“I have seen how appreciative the customers are when using Connect Direct to communicate directly with various service providers,” said Robert. “They feel more valued and respected as they were able to communicate directly with a bona fide representative of a service provider that can communicate with them directly in their first language, ASL.”
Connect Direct is helping companies decrease call times, save money, and reduce customer frustration.
Connect Direct is also making an impact on deaf employment. “Connect Direct and CSD are at the forefront of a new industry that will create many new job opportunities for deaf people,” said Robert Giuntoli. “In fact, we’re hiring right now!”