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Unbabel Annual Event: How are world leading companies providing the best customer experiences?

Back in 2017, we got this crazy idea scribbled in a napkin: bring our customers and partners to Lisbon and run the first edition of the Unbabel Annual Event.

But what started with a simple sketch turned, a year later, into a two-day extravaganza with panels on how the world’s leading companies have gone global, live jazz performances, sunset cocktails, surfing trips, and a mighty cruise through the Tejo River.

Impressions from the events around the Unbabel Annual Event 2018

And that’s really just a glimpse of what happened last week at the Unbabel Annual Event. So, if for some reason you missed it, here are the main highlights and key learnings.

Personalisation is an expectation

Customer experience nowadays is all about being personal. Your customers know it. You know it. Customers hate to be treated like numbers. And that is why personalisation went from being a nice to have to a must have.

So, understandably enough, it was one of the hottest topics discussed on stage at the Champalimaud Center for the Unknown last week.

Marketing panel at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018
Jessica Matthews, Adam Coccari, and Miguel Alves Ribeiro discussed how to get personal with audiences on an international scale. Moderated by Daniel Phan.

Daniel Phan, founder & executive leader at The Late Majority, considers it an expectation “wherever you’re creating a platform or opening an email”. The trick though is how to be personal and reach customers around the world, across multiple different markets, cultures and languages.

According to Adam Coccari from M12 Ventures, the role model should be Spotify. They use the data they have (e.g. what music you’re listening to) and recommend you the best bands and playlists suited to your taste.

For Miguel Ribeiro, Head of Growth at Zomato, on the other hand, the challenge of being personal gets even harder when you’re in the food business. “People are passionate about their food, so they feel the need to write in their own language”, said the Head of Growth of one of the leading restaurant searching platforms in the world. However, to Miguel Ribeiro the biggest bump in the road for Zomato when entering new markets was culture, which brings me to the next topic.

It’s not only language, it’s culture

“It’s not only language, it’s culture, it’s connecting with that person on a more personal level”
Paula Kennedy, VP Market Lead EMEA CEU at Convergys

All global companies struggle with providing multiple languages but for some reason they usually ignore an equally important factor, and that is culture. We’ve written about getting to grips with the culture before and it’s a critical issue that all global businesses need to address. If you’ve never lived in or even visited a target country, it can be tough to understand local nuances.

Customer Service panel at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018
Daniel Mooney, Paula Kennedy, and Natalie Ruhl discussed how to reach local customers in a global market. Moderated by Peter Gerson

That’s exactly what happened to Zomato when they expanded to different countries: “One of the mistakes we made was trying to buy companies and integrate them with Zomato without taking into account cultural clashes”. They faced some tough challenges along the way simply because their approach to local culture was not aligned with their customers’ expectations. The good thing is that in the end, they managed to deliver a truly global product while getting even more local. How? As Miguel Ribeiro explains: “one of the things we did that worked really well was get local influencers to channel our voice and our brand and give us feedback on what we should communicate around — in our case this meant getting local bloggers for example”.

In the end, it’s really like Pedro Martins from Farfetch said: “never assume you know a particular culture”.

Technology only gets you so far

However, one of the topics that stood out from the rest was definitely the role of technology in providing great customer experiences. Like Paula Kennedy, VP Market Lead EMEA CEU at Convergys, the world’s leading company in customer experience outsourcing, said in one of the panels: “Digital is changing everything. And now with AI, “robots will take our jobs” and all that jazz. But relationships won’t go away”.

And Paula was definitely not the only one to highlight the power of technology as well as relationships. Daniel Mooney, Head of Support at GoCardless, and one of Unbabel’s customers, shares a similar opinion: “Technology allows us to have the good conversations. People don’t want to talk to you about the straightforward, easy stuff. They want to talk about more educational and complex issues. Those are the real conversations and they’re the thing that builds loyalty.”

Product panel at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018
Carl Wong, Pedro Martins, and Ricardo Luiz discussed how to make global products for locals. Moderated by Jason Nadal.

The truth is that is actually what’s happening in customer experience. “The last thing we want is for anyone to waste our time, which is super valuable”, as Paula Kennedy explained. So the real deal is looking to self-service and technology to provide better customer support and let humans do what they do best: solve the more complex issues efficiently and improve customer satisfaction.

And that’s where global companies like SoundCloud are focusing right now. Like Natalie Ruhl, Head of Community Ops at SoundCloud, said, most of their customers use self-service anyway. But that’s not all. Soundcloud’s customer support team has managed to combine the best of both worlds. They deal with all their customer operations locally in Berlin, where only 10 agents work on customer support and still are able to provide a multilingual experience, thanks to Unbabel.

In the end, it’s what Carl Wong, founder and CEO of LivingLens, explained in the last panel of the day: “Technology only gets you so far, it’s people and great relationships that take it to the next level.” And that’s exactly what we’re doing at Unbabel by combining the power of artificial intelligence with a global community of 100,000 bilinguals who review and edit our machine translations.

The next 5 years of Unbabel

Now, speaking of Unbabel, part of the reason why we decided to do this event was to celebrate with our friends and partners what we’re building together. But not only that. It’s been 5 years since we started this. It was time to show to the world what the next 5 years will bring.

And what better place to do that than the breathtakingly beautiful Champalimaud Center for the Unknown?

Matthew Carrozo moderating the Unbabel Annual Event 2018

As our leadership team took the stage, we had the opportunity to explain what the future will look like for Unbabel and our customers.

We had João Graça, Unbabel’s CTO talk about what’s missing to solve machine translation and why we’re global leaders in Quality Estimation, which automatically detects if a machine translation is good enough.

João Graça delivering the Keynote speech at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018

We listened to Wolf Allisat, our Chief Customer Officer, tell us why he sees Unbabel as an “anti-translation company”, fundamentally because “we are removing language as a point of friction for the modern enterprise”, and explain how we’ve been helping companies like Pinterest, Skyscanner,, or Under Armour, provide multilingual customer experiences.

Wolf Allisat delivering the Keynote speech at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018

And, of course, we had Carmen Carey, our new Chief Operating Officer, talk about why Unbabel is becoming a customer centric business, how we’re continuously learning and improving, and how we’re tailoring our solution to our customers’ needs.

Carmen Carey delivering the Keynote speech at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018

In the long run, it’s really what Vasco Pedro, Unbabel’s CEO, said. Unbabel is creating an entirely new market category:

“As you’ve seen and heard here today, what Unbabel is doing is an entirely new way of delivering multilingual communication. In the old world, hundreds of thousands of agency translators manually worked their way through high-value content, one project at a time. Meanwhile, machine translation has tried to translate low-value content on the internet, but to a mediocre standard that often gives you only a basic idea of what you’re reading. We believe that businesses AND customers shouldn’t have to choose between quality, cost and speed. We believe they can — and should — be able to have it all. So we are delivering a solution that combines the best of both: professional-quality translation at the scale and speed of the World Wide Web. An entirely new market category that doesn’t compromise. We’re calling it: Translation as a Service.”

Vasco Pedro delivering the Keynote speech at the Unbabel Annual Event 2018

So, to kind of sum it all up, we couldn’t have had celebrated Unbabel’s 5th anniversary in any other way. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts to all our friends and partners who joined us in this crazy journey, particularly our sponsors, Convergys and 5CA. You’re part of the family now 🙂

See you next year!

Unbabel team and guests at the boat trip sponsored by 5CA

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