government call centerMy car was recently towed late one night in San Francisco, and jumping through the various hoops to get it back made me realize just how needed emerging translation call centers for the government sector have become.

While attempting to get my car back, I was standing in line behind a Vietnamese family who, between them, knew only a smattering of English. They were desperately trying to communicate with a tired police officer to determine what they could do and how much it would cost to get their car back. I was already on my third window and fourth form, reeling from the cost involved, so I could just imagine how difficult it was for someone who didn’t understand what was going on.

What if the officer could simply provide access to a service officer by video who spoke the right language to explain the situation and resolve the matter quickly – and with less pain for everyone involved? The officer would have the ability to quickly connect in someone who could translate real-time in Vietnamese for the family at the front of the line, then to someone else who spoke Tagalog for the guy behind them, and then to Mandarin for the people behind them. As it was, half the people in line had been forced to drag a teenager out of bed to do the translating, and it wasn’t going well for any of them. And my heart went out to the police officer, so incredibly weary, repeating the same instructions over and over again to people who had no idea what he was saying, but were frantically trying to take re-possession of their vehicle.

Imagine this scenario multiplied in all multi-lingual cities, in every governmental department that is citizen-facing, like the justice department and the courts, the public assistance offices, the building inspectors, the DMV, and the tax collectors. Let’s face it, when it comes to citizen engagement, you have to be ready to serve the world, and that means talking to people in multiple languages. You can’t do everything solely on the web and forms don’t always cut it. Even the most extensive instructions and FAQs can’t possibly answer all questions, in all languages.

Thankfully, progress is being made: The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the growth of the interpretation and translation market will be faster than the average of all occupations through 2016[ (though that’s a figure for the whole market, not just the real-time translation component.) The translation industry globally is projected to grow to $39 billion by 2018 and the industry made Inc.’s 2014 list of the best industries for starting a business.

If you’d like to learn more on how to transform government service, read our white paper titled, Four Considerations in Building a Citizen-Centric GovernmentYou can get it here!