Customer Service

EXPERT ADVICE

How to Tear Down the Language Wall

Less than 15 years ago, establishing a global presence was a conscious decision that a company made. It usually involved long and complex discussions about offices, physical presence and physical travel.

With the advent of the Web, all of that changed in an instant. With the establishment of a website, every company, no matter how big or small, was instantly a global entity — whether it was prepared to be or not.

Companies have since become good at managing the content on their sites. They know how to have a consistent brand show up across their site and are able to inform visitors whether or not all of the functions and capabilities of their site are relevant or enabled the visitor’s country.

Personalization and Localization

In the process of managing global sites, businesses have also learned the importance of personalizing and localizing sites. Personalization means having a site that has content relevant to the specific visitor and to the country of the visitor in general.

Localization includes delivering the website in a way that is relevant to the culture and language of the country or region. Unfortunately, as site visitors have discovered, localized content rarely goes beyond a couple of pages — it is just a veneer.

This is not for lack of want or desire on the part of most site owners and businesses. Rather, it is because the ongoing expense and time investment required for continuous translation makes this unrealistic for many companies.

However, when content is presented in the language of the site visitor, time on the page increases, along with willingness to conduct commerce and overall involvement with the site.

The depth of commitment to a market is proven when a company not only makes an attempt to sell its products in the local language with all of the appropriate localization, but also is willing to support its customers in the manner that is most convenient to them. This means not just speaking their language, but communicating with them across all of the various channels that they find comfortable to use.

All of this implies that translation is a highly strategic function that is a core consideration to global business strategy, not a superficial activity with no return on investment.

Establishing Priorities

For businesses that are designing a global business communications strategy, here are the key questions to answer to help prioritize the localization of different types of content and communication channels:

  • What forms of content does the company consider to be influence-based versus fact-based? For example, ad copy, marketing content and legal documents are examples of content that influence customer actions. Because this type of information needs to be grammatically perfect and also reflect nuance, if should be prepared by a human, rather than by an automated solution.

    Knowledge base information and FAQs are fact-based content that can be translated by automated solutions. Understanding this helps a company prepare budgets that are realistic to support each of the different types of content and support them using the appropriate tools and technologies.

  • What channels of communication are most important to customers in each of the different countries? In many developing countries, there are many times more mobile phones than broadband computer connections.
  • What channels are most important to customers during every aspect of their lifecycle of interaction with the business? Do customers prefer to use the Web when researching a product but prefer a mobile-based text approach for support? How does this vary from one country to another where the company does business?

    For example, in some countries, talking over the phone to a live person is much preferred to self service, unlike in the U.S., where self-service and the speed and flexibility that it enables, takes precedence over all else.

  • What is the customer’s expectation of perfection versus utility for different forms of content? Are customers happy to receive support materials that are automatically translated and consequently might not be grammatically perfect, but which provide them with support information in a timely manner?
  • How do customers provide feedback on their experiences, and how does a company make such feedback actionable? In many countries, sites like Yelp might be where customers post feedback. In other places, customers might expect to receive surveys that they would be happy to fill and return as long as they felt it honored them as individuals.

    If customers were to express their opinions in their own language, does the company have a mechanism to receive that feedback and make it actionable within the company?

  • What can the company do to make its customers its best advocates? In many online communities, customers act as genuine supporters of a company when they feel that “their” company is being unfairly treated by someone else on the group or forum. Having a social strategy that encourages communication between a company’s own customers is crucial to the overall global strategy.

At the end of the day, global business is all about understanding people and cultures, and how various people and cultures expect interactions and communications to occur. The best communication occurs when both parties understand one another well.

While this is sometimes a challenge — even when both parties speak the same language — getting to the same language is usually a good start. Enabling communication to achieve the right outcomes is therefore not just a matter of good business strategy — it’s good social strategy.


Swamy Viswanathan is VP of products atLanguage Weaver, a provider of automated translation solutions for digital information.

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