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Lanier Tech classes aim to bridge cultural gap in business
Customer service certificate program focuses on language skills, understanding
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Lanier Technical College student Danielle Mundy attends Intro to Business recently taught by Michael Winterhalter. The class is required for students planning to get their bilingual customer service certificate that the school offers.

When selling an automobile in the United States, it’s common for the salesperson to adopt a friendly attitude, as if he knows the customer. They’ll chitchat about life, hobbies and so on.

In many Spanish-speaking cultures, this approach is seen as too familiar, and the salesman is likely to lose the customers’ trust instantly.

These types of cultural misunderstandings are avoidable, said Dana Nichols, assistant vice president of academic affairs at Lanier Technical College.

The brand-new bilingual customer service certificate program — developed by Lanier Technical College in response to feedback from businesses in the institution’s seven-county service area — aims to bridge those cultural differences and gaps in understanding as well as improving language skills.

By the end of the course, Nichols said, graduates will know what excellent customer service looks and sounds like — in both Spanish and English.

“We’re still recruiting students, getting the word out (about the program),” Nichols said.

Business management instructor Michael Winterhalter said there is a big need for “more bilingually-capable people, because we have so many Spanish-speaking people here ... if you speak two languages, you’re more valuable to any company, and particularly in Georgia.”

Winterhalter cited statistics that there are 700,000 Spanish-speaking people in Georgia.

Added Winterhalter: “The better we communicate with the people we work with, the more effective we are.”

In the area of customer service, bilingual employees are a growing need, he said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of customer service representatives is projected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, and the current median hourly wage for customer service representatives is about $15 per hour.

The bilingual customer service program at Lanier Technical College requires students to take courses with titles like “Managing Customer Relationships,” “Intro to Business” and “Spanish Culture & Community.”

The program can be completed in two semesters and incorporates training in basic business, the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures and customer service.

Nichols said obtaining the certificate is a way of showing prospective employees that “you have a full understanding of how business works in Spanish and English cultures.”

Such comprehension, she added, can help those in customer service avoid making a cultural faux pas.

“There are lots of those little nuances you need to know how to approach,” she said. “Graduates will be trained to work in a variety of environments where this is applicable.”

For more information about the course, email mwinterhalter@laniertech.edu or dnichols@laniertech.edu.

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