Globalizing CRM by Speaking Your Customers' Language

Updated: July 02, 2009

Are there ways to leverage technology to get around this? There are, and one of them owes its existence to the war in Afghanistan. After the fall of the Taliban in 2002, the U.S. military brought back a lot of documents in Arabic - "a boxcar full of them," according to Mark Tapling, president and CEO of Language Weaver. A request for a proposal was issued for technology to help in translating this material; Tapling and his team built a statistical engine that could perform source-to-target translation from Arabic into English, thus creating the platform that became Language Weaver.

The product now is an on-demand translation system that had 72 different targeted combinations of languages. The software can be "trained," not just for the ideosyncracies of particular languages but also for specific industries, ensuring that even jargon can survive the translation process. Since it's on-demand, Language Weaver is responsible for the computing power needed to complete translations, not individual users.

The need for this technology, Tapling said, is borne out by the numbers. "There are about 350,000 professional translators in the world, working in all languages," he said. "They average about 2000 words translated per day, at an average cost of 21 cents per word. That means there are not enough people and too many documents for translation to be performed in every case it's needed, let alone in an economical fashion." Language Weaver can translate as many as 100,000 words in a minute, he said.

How does this have value for CRM? Tapling cited a travel site that had dozens of articles about destinations and things to do - in English. If you clicked the "French" button, you were treated to the three articles the company could afford to have translated into French. "That's a great way to cause instant offense in your customers," Tapling said.

Another application is in customer service. Intel, for example, has many pages of FAQs that help its customers integrate and employ its products, and it says it provides support in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese. But the cost of translation was such that only about 10 percent of the FAQs could be translated - leading to frustrated customers. "That was a violation of brand trust," Tapling said. With the Language Weaver applications, Intel was able to translate more of its FAQs and was able to help reduce service calls in non-English speaking territories as a result.

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