Your customer experience (CX) is the sum of all interactions a customer has with your brand — from their initial exposure to the brand via a marketing touchpoint, to their purchase experience, customer support interactions, and beyond. Because CX covers the entire customer journey, which likely spans multiple departments within your organization, it can be tough to ensure a cohesive experience.
The impression that a customer gets when clicking through your brand's website or viewing an advertising campaign may vary from the impression they get during a face-to-face interaction with a sales clerk in a local store. And all of those impressions may vary even more from the experience your customer has when contacting a member of the customer support team. These interactions all happen via different channels and are led by different individuals — so it’s easy to see why results may vary.
Now imagine throwing a language barrier into the mix. Unsurprisingly, this causes the problem to increase exponentially.
If your company is made up of a staff that primarily speaks the same language as your customer base (for example, you sell only within the country you are headquartered in), then consistent CX comes down to a solid working relationship between marketing, customer service, and sales teams. All teams need to be on the same page when it comes to brand differentiators and talking points, a baseline philosophy for how customers should be treated, and company processes and policies (like returns, online purchases, etc). Large organizations typically have a robust onboarding and training process to get employees on the same page, plus strict brand guidelines that all employees and departments must follow.
But when you start expanding to serve an international customer base, things become much more complicated. The way a US-based marketing team translates marketing copy for a campaign in Japan could be different from the way that a native Japanese speaking employee in a store would speak with a customer, or the way a customer support agent — based in Brazil — translates their Portuguese chat response into Japanese for a Japanese customer.
So how can you account for all of these variables and still create a solid, cohesive CX? You need a strategy to provide high-quality multilingual CX across every brand touchpoint. That includes unified translation resources and a localization strategy. To design a unified language strategy you first need to consider what global customers expect from multilingual CX.
What customers expect from multilingual CX
As global brands know, customers are willing to purchase from brands outside their home country. In fact, our recent 2021 Global Multilingual CX Report, where we spoke to thousands of consumers across the US, UK, Brazil, France, Germany, and Japan, revealed that 47% of products respondents purchased are from brands that are not native to their country. But not all brands are ready to capitalize. Fewer than 50% of brands offer any kind of multilingual customer experience, according to consumers surveyed, even though 69% of customers believe it's extremely important that they do so (and will switch to a different brand due to lack of native language experiences). That’s a huge number of companies that are missing the mark when it comes to global customer growth.
One reason brands might be hesitant to go all in? Customers across the globe have different preferences for where brands should spend their time and money perfecting this experience. Social media, for example, is extremely important to customers in Brazil, whereas email is the top channel for customers in the UK and Germany.
Creating multilingual experiences is difficult enough. Factoring in cultural preferences and balancing varied priorities and ROI across markets makes the task seem nearly impossible. But communicating with customers in a way that resonates with their lived experiences is much more achievable than you might think.
The localization effect
“Fluency” and the ability to create a great multilingual CX involve more than just language translations. It’s about understanding how to communicate with customers around the world, incorporating nuance and appropriate cultural norms. This could include the formality or tone in which you speak with someone, how you incorporate cultural references, or how you represent yourself and your brand visually.
You can find localization efforts at work at many global organizations. At Nestlé, for example, the company takes a localized market-by-market approach with its popular Kit Kat bar. When Kit Kats are sold to different markets, Nestlé doesn’t simply translate the list of ingredients and copy-paste a single marketing campaign message or tagline. Kit Kat bars are actually formulated in multiple flavors to accommodate local taste preferences (like soy sauce flavored Kit Kats in Japan!).
Video game companies are another great example of localization at play — specifically when it comes to visuals. Many video game makers will limit the blood and gore in game imagery for certain markets where the tolerance for that imagery is low, or remove specific characters from games in countries where certain symbols are considered offensive (like skeletons).
In both of these instances, it’s easy to see how language is just a single piece of the multilingual experience puzzle.
Introduce a unified strategy with Language Operations
Though it may sound daunting, creating a five-star multilingual customer experience that incorporates language translation, localization efforts, and accounts for global customer preferences is possible. The secret to success lies creating a unified strategy across an entire organization — something we at Unbabel refer to as Language Operations (LangOps).
LangOps is a way to create a system of governance for how businesses operate in a local market. This includes standardizing the translation tools that are used across an organization to provide a single source of truth and eliminate costly duplicated efforts. It also includes using AI and machine learning tools that integrate cultural nuance and localization needs into the translation process. Ultimately, the goal is to approach translation and localization together in a more systematic way in order to more successfully conduct business in markets around the world. In a recent survey conducted at Unbabel, more than 86% of decision makers said they believe this would be extremely or very valuable to their organization.
At Unbabel, we’re one step closer to making this dream a reality
We’ve helped global organizations rise to the challenge with multilingual customer support efforts, as a start to this transition into Language Operations. We helped Change.org, for example, expand their customer service bandwidth to support 22 languages without hiring any native speakers. How? Our AI-based technology allows any support agent to become instantly multilingual in chats, emails, and other support forums. The agents simply feed text into our system (in their own native language), which then gets translated using in-depth glossaries refined by native speakers who add a layer of cultural nuance, and then published on the other side to the customer (in their native language). As a result of our efforts, customer satisfaction scores improved and Change.org was able to communicate with millions of users who were previously out of reach because of language limitations at the company. Companies like Microsoft and TuneCore have seen similar results.
Now, with the acquisition of Lingo24, we’re able to expand this customer service use case to the world of marketing with a suite of tools forming a “translation layer” over all business operations. This translation layer allows marketing teams to incorporate the same high-quality translation glossaries and skill sets in Unbabel’s technology, with additional tools that manage localization efforts across visual and interactive formats.
A world in which businesses can successfully connect and engage with customers anywhere, in a way that is authentic and scalable, is possible. We’re getting closer every day.