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When my great-grandfather Otto emigrated from Switzerland to the United States in the late 19th century, he brought a culture for Gruyère cheese hidden in his luggage. This act would have led to his arrest had Swiss authorities known as these cultures were treated akin to state secrets. Using this smuggled culture, Otto eventually began making Swiss-style cheeses in California’s Napa Valley.
 

Why do I mention my descent from an international cheese smuggler? Lately I’ve been watching the excellent Mentour Pilot YouTube channel. The host, a Swedish airline pilot, analyzes aviation mishaps and accidents and explains how they happened by examining the root causes. He repeatedly emphasizes the “Swiss Cheese Model,” an approach to accident prevention that focuses on putting up multiple barriers that should collectively prevent major mishaps even if the individual barriers happen to have holes in them. Although the original model is about preventing negative outcomes, a similar “Reverse Swiss Cheese Model” applies to international customer experience. 

ReverseCheeseModel

 

To understand how it works, imagine an English-centric company with many points of interaction with its potential buyers. Without local-language content, each touchpoint with prospective customers is like a slice of impenetrable English cheese that actively turns them away. Only when the company punches a hole through that slice of cheese by adding a language can individuals move on to the next stage in the customer journey.
 

As a result, when companies focus on breadth – adding many languages – rather than depth – providing content at all stages of the customer journey – they run the risk of inserting slices of Gruyère – a cheese with just a few small “eyes” (holes) – in front of customers, rather than slices of Emmental – the classic “Swiss cheese” with many big eyes – that let them pass to the next gate.
 

In the illustration above, lack of localization allows only the Spanish speaker to pass through to become a loyal customer but blocks the French and German speakers after they start and turns the Finnish speaker away before the journey even begins. In addition, companies often place the toughest barriers in front of the individuals with the greatest value to the company: When they translate only a thin veneer of marketing content, they abandon motivated individuals well into the journey who are ready to put down their money.
 

CSA Research’s Global Customer Experience Calculator takes the approach seen in the Reverse Swiss Cheese Model: It calculates the likelihood that individual customers in our “Can’t Read, Won’t Buy - B2C” panels will make it through multiple stages in the customer journey based on their language preferences and how well organizations localize their content. Strategists can use this model to understand how incomplete localization affects their revenue for each country-language pair. 
 

Beyond the requirement for having the right language, our research has shown that even when companies do localize content, they frequently erect smaller barriers that deter customers and close off spaces in the web experience for international site visitors. As organizations’ globalization maturity increases and they seriously and systematically plan for international requirements they can create an experience that invites customers to reach their goal rather than blocking them along the way.
 

About the Author

Arle  Lommel

Arle Lommel

Senior Analyst

Focuses on language technology, artificial intelligence, translation quality, and overall economic factors impacting globalization

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