How to Diversify Your Staff With Spanish-Speaking Employees

March 6, 2018
Accommodating customers who speak English as a second language can be made easier if you hire versatile job candidates.

It was a scene that seemingly played on repeat at Todd Sudduth’s workplace.

Certain customers would enter Lute Riley Honda’s collision repair center in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex hoping to speak to an employee in Spanish. Then, either Sudduth—currently the facility’s director—or another staffer would typically struggle to communicate with the client, occasionally resorting to using a translator app on their cell phone.

Usually, those interactions brought the action to a prolonged pause at the collision repair center.

“It’s very frustrating,” Sudduth recalls. “I mean, Google Translate can only get you so far; it doesn’t always translate everything accurately. … It’s difficult to ask questions. You can tell their frustrations—they’ll sigh, or get frustrated.

“It’s a difficult hurdle to get over. It takes a lot of patience, on both sides.”

Imagine a customer’s frustration; perhaps they speak English as a second language, and, as a member of the Hispanic community, they’re part of the second-largest racial group in America (making up nearly 20 percent of the national population). Yet, they can’t be accommodated at a collision repair center following an already nerve-wracking incident on the road.

It didn’t take Sudduth long before he realized he needed to remedy the situation, and fortify his staff with a few hires that spoke both Spanish and English fluently. He wasn’t immediately sure, however, of where to turn to find ideal bilingual employees—he just knew he needed to find a few quickly.

“You have to have a multilingual associate to cater to your customer base,” he says. “It’s imperative.”

The Problem

Lute Riley Honda sits “smack dab in the melting pot” of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, notes Jason Greathouse, who serves as the dealership’s service manager and also directs the fixed operations department. When Greathouse goes to his favorite grocery store down the street from the dealership, Spanish is heard frequently. And, his dealership has long catered to Asian customers, by employing salespeople who speak Korean, Chinese or Vietnamese.

Yet, earlier this decade, not enough of Lute Riley’s employees could speak Spanish fluently. And Greathouse knew that was a problem that needed to be addressed, considering that roughly 10 percent of the dealership’s customer base primarily speaks Spanish.

“If you think about it, if 10 percent of your business only speaks that language, and you can’t accommodate them, are they going to keep coming back to you?,” Greathouse says. “They don’t want the headache. They don’t want the hassle.

“It has become more of the norm to have people come in and ask that you have someone that speaks Español.”

The Solution

A couple years ago, the leaders at Lute Riley turned over every stone possible in their effort to find bilingual job candidates. Eventually, they found what they were looking for.

They used word-of-mouth. They tapped into training facilities sponsored by their manufacturer. They turned to job fairs.

But the resource with the most success may have required the smallest amount of work for the dealership’s leaders: the Internet.

Talent management platforms like ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder, and helped fortify Sudduth’s collision repair staff. The body shop director combed through several resumes, looking for wording like “fluent in Spanish.” Eventually, by late 2016, he had a new estimator and two new technicians that listed “bilingual” among several skills.

Sudduth considers the new members of his body shop to be valuable assets, though being bilingual isn’t technically a requirement of job candidates at Lute Riley.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, having a multilingual, especially Spanish speaking, person,” Sudduth says, “it’s definitely going to make a difference, and help them … be a benefit to the company.”

“It allows customers to better explain what they need, which better equips us to serve them.”

The Results

These days, you can find Spanish speakers in seemingly every corner of Riley Honda. Two of Greathouse’s three business development center agents are fluent in Spanish, for example. And, in Sudduth’s collision repair department, over 70 percent of the staff now speaks Spanish fluently.

All those bilingual employees help ensure that communication flows freely between the staff and clients at the Honda dealership. Thus, it should come as no surprise that as many as 3,800 cars roll through the service department in a single month in Dallas, or that Sudduth’s body shop, which produces an annual revenue of $4.5 million, boasts a CSI score of approximately 97.

The communication struggles at Lute Riley are a thing of the past. Sudduth no longer has a language barrier standing between him and any clients. And, as a result, the present is promising in Dallas.

“It makes things a lot more comfortable, and a lot easier on both sides if there’s a  Spanish-speaking person that can help lay the groundwork for what we need to do for these” customers, he notes. “It’s almost a must, I would say, to have multi-lingual associates, especially who speak Spanish.”

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