Translation application could enable the city to offer multilingual customer service

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2021-04-26 16:15

The City of Espoo experimented with a translation application to find out if the solution could improve customer service and add to the cost effectiveness of city’s service situations that are frequently repeated. The results of the experiment were promising and provide a good basis for the future expansion of the range of language offered by the City of Espoo in customer service situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic complicated the translation application’s customer testing. A few customer tests were carried out in cooperation with the City of Espoo employment services, but the customer tests could not be carried out at all with the other city services.

The experiences of using the application were positive. The application was able to translate text and interpret speech from Finnish to English, Russian and Arabic at a sufficient level. As the number of customer tests carried out was smaller than had been expected, the application was also tested from Finnish to Turkish and Spanish, unlike originally planned.

Sound quality plays a major role in interpreting situations

Teaching Arabic to the application turned out to be more difficult than teaching Russian due to the right-to-left writing system and some other special features of the Arabic language.

While interpreting speech, sound quality proved to be a key factor in the functioning of the application. The closer the speakers were to the microphone and the more clearly they articulated, the better the application was able to interpret. As the application was tested during the COVID-19 pandemic, the masks and face shields worn by the speakers impaired the quality of the interpretation.

The application was taught to interpret and translate typical questions arising in customer service situations related to HSL travel cards, transport services and early childhood education services. In employment services, the teaching emphasised special vocabulary related to occupational guidance and simulation of customer service situations.

“The staff’s commitment to teaching the application played an important role in the experiment as did having native speakers review the quality of the translations,” says Project Manager Marke Kaukonen.

Aiming for a single application to support the multilingual use of daily services

“Our dream is to have a single translation and interpretation application to support the services, counselling and daily encounters in our day-care centres, schools, maternity and child health clinics, libraries, employment services and other customer services,” says Development Manager Valia Wistuba, who coordinated the experiment.

Following the launch of the local government pilot on employment in March 2021, the City of Espoo assumed overall responsibility for organising employment services to all foreign language Espoo residents and residents with immigrant backgrounds, among others.

“It is vital that our services aimed at supporting employment are equally accessible to all city residents. The experiment now carried out showed that in the future, translation and interpretation applications can provide good support for daily multilingual customer services situations,” says Tuula Antola, Director of Economic Development.

In customer service situations, it is essential that the customer is understood and is also able to understand the answers and instructions given. A real-time translation and interpretation application that works on several smart devices facilitates the service situation from the viewpoint of both the client and the staff.

“Based on the experiment, this kind of an application is particularly suitable for providing general advice and digital support either face-to-face or remotely. In the future, this could be one way of encouraging foreign language speakers to seek the city’s services by offering them more accessible and cost-effective services,” says Kirsi Remes, Customer Service Director.

The experiment was carried out between June 2020 and March 2021 in cooperation with the City of Espoo employment services and customer services, Gofore Oy and Microsoft Oy. During the experiment, the application was tested on City of Espoo staff’s work computers and smartphones.

The experiment was part of Espoo’s digital agenda experiments aimed at developing the city’s services and digital solutions with the help of new technology. 

User experiences and lessons learned from the experiment will be utilised in the City of Espoo’s future translation and interpretation solutions.

Further information

  • Development Manager Valia Wistuba, 043 825 2905,  
  • Project Manager Marke Kaukonen, 050 553 2495