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09Oct

Great User and Customer Experiences Are Built on Language

Making information available at your fingertips has long been the goal of computing. In the beginning there was a “user” – that was what computer companies back in the 1970s started calling the person sitting in front of monitors with their fingers on keyboards. As technology streamed into our everyday lives, that user could be anywhere – at a PC, gaming console, kiosk, bed, car, airplane, wherever there’s human-computer interaction. Enter translation and localization to make the user experience more accessible to people speaking other languages. Our annual analysis of language support at websites now quantifies language and locale support for more than 2,800 heavily trafficked websites and finds an ever-increasing number of languages on sites.

From those innumerable interactions came the realization that some human-computer interactions are better than others, so companies began studying how people use their products. Their user experience research focused on the emotions, attitudes, preferences, and activities of people, and outcomes of those uses. User experience studies therefore broadened their scope to map the “customer journey” – the trek during which people become aware of a product to researching it to actively considering purchase. This customer experience analysis crosses an array of communication channels – web, phone, fax (still), and physical stores. At each step of their journey, people expect to find information that they can read and act on – our research shows that providing a great experience to global customers is a top priority for enterprises around the world. 

journey-map

What happens when language support is missing from a website or a product? There’s a good chance that speakers of most of the world’s languages won’t find theirs supported – of the roughly 2,800 most heavily trafficked websites in our most recent analysis, 63% support multiple languages or locales, but the average brand site supports just 4.9 target languages. Just 376 sites were available in the 14 or more languages required to reach 90% of the world’s online population. And even for those, our crawl of just how much information there is in those languages found just about 5% of the source-language content translated into other languages. 

So what happens to the customer experience in these cases? It depends on whether your language is supported, if you can speak English, and where you are in the journey: 

  • You’re early in the journey. If your language is supported, there’s a pretty good chance that you will see some top-level marketing information. If your mother tongue is not supported and you don’t read any that are, you might bail out. Or, you might use Chrome with machine translation. But even then, you’re likely to lose out on a lot because Google will translate only the textual content. Elements such as drop-down menus and performance improvements tied to responsive website design may not be rendered by the MT engine. In addition, a company’s brand suffers when Chrome and Google Translate homogenize its messaging and carefully crafted customer experience. 
     
  • You made it all the way to the buying page. Congratulations on getting this far. At this point, if language support is spotty, you might not feel comfortable buying. And there’s a high likelihood that you will find less language support in the e-commerce parts of websites: Analysis we’ve done for companies with great multilingual product support shows that their online stores are often much less complete than their marketing pages in offering a localized buying experience. 
     
  • You buy the product and become a user. You run the gauntlet of limited or non-existent support for your language, using your scant knowledge of English or Spanish to buy and navigate the product. If you’re brave, you might choose to use the product, relying only on default settings and not taking advantage of more sophisticated functions documented only in English. Or you might look for a YouTube video or forum in your language, hoping that someone in your linguistic community has solved your problem. Or you could always fire up your trusty MT engine and hope that it takes advantage of all those neural capabilities you keep reading about in the business press. 

At its core, customer experience is all about how people in your target market perceive your brand. If you don’t support their language, your total addressable market shrinks to only those people able to read a language that you do – or who might take the express MT train through the customer journey, possibly headed off in directions unknown. 
 

About the Author

Donald A. DePalma

Donald A. DePalma

Chief Research Officer

Focuses on market trends, business models, and business strategy

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