• June 29, 2021
  • By Vasco Pedro , cofounder and chief executive officer of Unbabel

How Language Translation Can Help Companies Regain Consumer Trust

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In the wake of the pandemic, as profit margins ebb and flow, many businesses find themselves forced to reconsider the way they communicate and engage with their customers. 

Take airlines. EasyJet bookings saw a 600 percent increase after Britain announced the lift of its lockdown. Yet business travel, the bread and butter of airline profits, isn’t expected to come back until 2025, according to The Global Business Travel Association. Low-paying consumers are flooding in, but profits continue to suffer. Moreover, new customers have new customer service needs. Older customers want information about updated safety protocols and services.

Other industries face similar uncertainties. Movie theaters were largely abandoned during COVID-19. It remains unclear whether consumers now prefer streaming and will continue to ignore theatres. Even handshakes might become obsolete. 

All of this raises the question about the changing role of communication in customer service. How can organizations connect with customers, new and old, in an increasingly global world and as we ride the final waves of the pandemic?

While the temptation may be to slash prices to regain market share, there is something more powerful at play: trust. 

Consumers who shy away from proximity and contact may well dictate the future of entire industries. Airlines, theaters, restaurants, retailers, and other impacted industries must think about recapturing market share with accurate language translations assisted by AI, to reflect a growing accessibility to customers around the world in their own preferred dialects.

The Rise of the Familiar

Around the world, consumers increasingly expect a localized experience. This is as true of electronics providers like Panasonic as it is with massively multiplayer online gaming platforms (MMOGs) such as Wargaming. People could be visiting your online electronics shop from Portugal, Zambia, Brazil and Canada. If they don’t understand the language, or the localized version of that language doesn’t resonate with them, they have no reason to trust your credit-card submission form. 

Likewise, players may be engaging with your MMOG from a similarly broad array of countries, but segregate their groups by language, because there is no good translation. Imagine the virtual economies to be built if anyone from anywhere could form alliances: the free players converting to paid players, the virtual goods changing hands. All of it is an exercise in trust, and trust comes with familiarity, and familiarity comes when we speak the same language. 

Cultivating Trust with Customers

The pandemic has changed assumptions. In my world of startups, for example, it used to be that fundraising had to happen in person. Nobody imagined that we’d be showcasing pitch decks via Zoom, but here we are. Zoom is widely accepted as being here to stay.  

Many companies took the opportunity to focus solely on their product during the pandemic. Now that the products are dialed in, they find themselves needing to sell. Without services that communicate that product to people around the world, in a language they can understand, in a dialect with which they're familiar, all that product development will have limited applicability. 

Companies have to make it easy for customers to trust them. Language is at the root. If you care about your brand, want to expose it to multiple markets, and provide a high level of customer service, you must translate. And that’s how language translation shines as the path to customer familiarity. 

Language Translation in 2021

Among other things, trust is a function of repetition and dependability. What we see often grows familiar. Translation, long siloed in customer service, marketing, and other organizational teams, cannot provide the constancy needed to establish trust in many languages and dialects. Localization operates at human speed, and machine translation alone is too crude to hit the nuances that customers need to really familiarize and trust. 

The entire technology stack should be harnessed for everyday communications across languages. This is evolving into an emerging discipline called Language Operations (LangOps). Data should be used to recommend the best language services for each need. A customer service app like Zendesk or Helpshift could “know” to address new customers with different services and options than older customers. Your MMOG players will receive communications in their own languages, be more likely to sign up for a paid version of the game, and build international teams of players. A Zambian visitor to your online electronics shop would receive the same levels of service as one from Canada, and be more likely to put in an order.

Such things were not possible before artificial intelligence evolved to its current level. With human refinement, organizations can create an entire translation layer for every market. As being global becomes more normal, language will be the tide that lifts all boats. It’s time to think of translation as less of a team, or group, and more as a technical operations layer that covers all things. 

Vasco Pedro is a cofounder and chief executive officer of Unbabel, an AI-powered language operations platform that helps businesses deliver multilingual support at scale. A serial entrepreneur, Vasco has led Unbabel since 2013, taking it through Y Combinator and raising a total of $90 million in funding.

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