Why Translation Apps Can’t Cut It For Customer Service

The maturation of cloud computing is driving global growth, and the demand for multilingual support. Since a relatively small percentage of companies invest in formal language training programs, professionals have begun to rely upon translation apps to cope with the increasing volume of international requests. However, in the expanding global market a deep understanding of local culture is needed to provide quality support, and for that you need more than just an extensive vocabulary. While translation apps may seem like a great short term solution, failing to address the impact of language barriers can be costly to companies in the long run. Despite their usefulness, translation apps just can’t cut it when it comes to customer service.

First let me say, that I am very encouraged by the advances in translation technology, and am a huge fan of Google Translate. It relies on a statistical learning approach instead of a rule-based approach, meaning it pulls from texts already online, in theory, resulting in a more coherent translation. It’s fast, translating 2,000 words in approximately 0.8 second, multilingual and, most importantly, it’s free. With all these benefits, it can be very tempting to over utilize Google Translate and push the application beyond the limits of its functionality.

Like any emerging technology, Google Translate has its pros and cons.

The most glaring downside of translation apps is that they can produce unnatural translations, or translations that are downright wrong. While mistakes are inherent to any translation; apps don’t offer any form of quality control, but instead force you to rely what often is only a gist. The key component that’s lacking is cultural context. Nothing drives this home like Socialnomics examples of 13 Marketing Translations gone wrong. The Dairy Association learned that relying on direct translation, while tempting, can be costly, when it tried to bring the “Got Milk?” campaign to Mexico, but instead asked “Are you Lactating?” Not only was the translation off, as Anita Santiago, a Los Angeles advertising executive, pointed out, but the Got Milk campaign just doesn’t work for Latinos.

“Being deprived of milk is not a funny spot to be in. It is worrisome for a family-oriented community. Secondly, the spots were not directed at the key guardian of family nutrition, Mom. And, the ads could be seen as offensive – that Mom is no being a good housekeeper, that her skills as a housekeeper are being doubted with no milk in the house.”

As you can imagine, oversights like this can have a huge impact on business. A study conducted by Rosetta Stone on the Impact of Language Barriers found that 72.4 percent of customers are more likely to buy a product in their own language and 56.2 percent say information in their own language is more important than price. Of course, recruiting fluent speakers is always an option, but it’s not always possible; and with the expense of third-party translation services, investing in language training courses for existing employees is worth considering. With real business opportunities in emerging markets, your business can quickly measure the ROI of a language training program. Individually, investing in your own language skills can prove to be valuable for your career – you can distinguish yourself as an asset to your team or project, and even open up opportunities to work abroad. So while it may be tempting to rely on translation apps to bridge the language gap, I challenge us to invest more in the future of our global relationships.

Rackspace’s Global Language Initiative is very grass roots. In addition to our dedicated LATAM Team, we at Rackspace organically coordinate monthly Spanish and Portuguese Workshops aimed at providing both language and cultural training for interested Rackers. What does your company do to bridge the gap?

Elizabeth's passion for connecting with people knows no boundaries. In college, she seized the opportunity to intern in Sevilla, Spain with only an elementary level of Spanish. However, the initial language barrier did not stop her from developing lifelong friendships with the people she met and led to an inevitable love affair with Spanish language and culture. In November of 2011 she joined the Rack as an Enterprise Account Manager, and immediately saw the parallel between her experience abroad and immersion into Rackspace culture. Her favorite part of her job is getting to help employees build strong personal brands online and share their expertise via social media. You can find Liz (as she is referred to by friends) in Austin where she does her best to Keep Austin Weird and teaches yoga in her spare time. Connect with her on LinkedIn or @CreatingLiz on Twitter.


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