The bilingual agent vs live chat translation

You want to provide your customers with multilingual support – great. But how can you go about doing that efficiently and cost-effectively?

Traditionally, you’d hire a bilingual agent or two. That’s a time-tested solution to an age-old communication problem, and has many advantages. (If somewhat costly.)

New technology, however, is displacing the status quo. With digital translation services on the rise, many businesses are turning to real-time live chat translation to achieve their multilingual support goals. So, which is best for you? Here’s a handy comparison of bilingual agents versus live chat translation.

In the blue corner: the bilingual agent


A bilingual agent is a customer service representative fluent in more than one language. They’re typically found on the phones in call centres, although they might also act as an interpreter elsewhere in the business. So, why should – or shouldn’t – you hire one?




  • • Opting for a bilingual agent approach allows you to target the areas that matter most for your business. Only do business in the UK and France? Then you can focus (and spend) on those languages only.


  • • A bilingual agent is likely to have a deep specialism in their main languages. They probably spent years studying to reach their language expertise, or were raised in a bilingual home. This means you’re likely to get the most accurate translations possible.


  • • With a bilingual agent, you’re not limited to any one customer service channel. The agent can hop easily from web chat, to telephone, to email, to social media, or even face to face. So, you’re more flexible with regards to your communication outlets.




  • • Hiring a bilingual agent is tricky. They’re not always ten-a-penny to find, particularly in countries where one language is hugely predominant. Recruitment at volume, then, might present a problem.


  • • It’s pretty expensive to hire a bilingual agent. Initial recruitment cost aside, you must also factor in the cost of ongoing renumeration. And don’t forget to budget for training or new hardware. This expense means that many businesses simply can’t afford a bilingual team.


  • • As we know, a bilingual agent is a specialist. But this also means that they are limited in their language scope. If you trade in several countries, you’ll need to build a much bigger bilingual team to cover all the areas served.


  • • You might only have one bilingual agent covering one key language. But what if they’re on holiday, or sick, or unable to make it into the office? In depending on a bilingual agent, you can leave yourself with a language outage during their off times.


In the red corner: live chat translation

Real-time live chat translation is a technological solution to language barriers. With this option, you deploy a live chat channel with an inbuilt translation service on your website. This then allows you to chat to customers in almost any language, with instant translations running back and forth.




  • • Let’s kick this off with price. Compared to the cost of hiring additional bilingual employees, live chat software is a drastically cheaper option. You get all the benefits of a chat channel, along with all the benefits of multilingual support, without an enormous price tag.


  • • A live chat deployment is extremely low-effort. You don’t have to go through a recruitment process, and you don’t have to make any infrastructure changes. You just download and go.


  • • A live chat translation service helps upskill your existing employees. They all become multilingual communicators, with a handy new translation tool that extends their range. So, you get a whole team of multilinguals, rather than one bilingual agent.


  • • Unlike any bilingual agent, live chat software can translate in over 100 languages. It’s a flexible and comprehensive translation option that puts all the world’s major languages at your fingertips.


  • • Importantly, a live chat translation option also allows you to drive profits. That’s because you can suddenly speak – and sell to – a huge global audience. Multilingual conversations create more conversion opportunities.


  • • A live chat translation service uses technology, not real human interpreters. So, it’s only as accurate as the latest technology allows. While that’s still pretty accurate, it’s not yet as reliable as an expert bilingual agent would be.


  • • This links to the next point: live chat translations may fail to pick up on context. If the customer is using humour, sarcasm, or a local colloquialism, machine translation is less likely to detect that than a human. So, conversations might be that shade less fluent.


  • • Live chat translation (obviously) is channel specific. Your agents can’t hop on the phone and have those same multilingual conversations verbally. Only a bilingual agent can do that. Your multilingual support, then, is limited to online conversations only.
Bilingual agent vs live chat translation: who wins?

A bilingual agent is great if you want to focus on one or two key languages for a smaller, specific customer base. Live chat translation is an ideal generalist solution that spans multiple languages in a low-cost, low-effort, (but still high-quality) deployment.

Even better, live chat translation comes with a handy free trial option. You can see if it works for your business with a quick pilot setup, at no cost or inconvenience. So, to give it a go for yourself, start your free trial of WhosOn today.


Useful links

Real-time live chat translation 

The internal benefits of chat translation

The babel fish and your live chat solution