LAKELAND, Fla. -- Lakeland Electric is spending thousands of dollars a year on Spanish-language interpreters when it already has Spanish-speaking employees in its call center.

  • Company paid $30,317.90 for translation services between March 2017-March 2018
  • Majority of that amount paid for Spanish interpreters
  • Call center system limitations require interpreters, company says

From March of 2017 to March of 2018, the municipal utility paid Lionbridge, a company that offers translation services, $30,317.90 for its interpreters. The company charges by the minute.

The majority of the money paid for Spanish interpreters.

Lakeland Electric spokeswoman Kelly Kautz said the company has four employees in its call center who speak Spanish. However, the call system in the center does not have the option of directing Spanish-speaking callers to those employees.

"It's not set up that way. It's based on availability,” said Kautz. "The translation allows our customers to receive on-demand, real-time calls with a CSR (customer service representative) without having to be put on hold."

Customer service representatives randomly answer calls as they come in. Kautz believes the wait would be longer if the customer had to wait for a Spanish-speaking customer service representative.

"The cost effective side of changing the technology and changing our phone systems, it's just not there yet and we just, we're not sure it's worth it,” Kautz explained.

According to Kautz, Lakeland Electric’s call center ranks as one of the top call centers in the nation, with a 97 percent availability rate.

She said the $30,317.90 spent on interpreters accounts for less than 1 percent of the utility's operating budget.

While the majority of the calls were conducted in Spanish, a handful were also conducted in French, Portuguese, Mandarin, and Vietnamese.

In comparison, larger utilities like Duke Energy and Tampa Electric have their Spanish-speaking customer service representatives handle calls in Spanish, according to their spokesperson. Duke Energy does use interpreters for calls received in other languages.

Tampa Electric, meanwhile, has representatives who speak Spanish and Creole. For all other languages it contracts with a translation service.