What do you do when your customers don’t speak your language?
The internet is amazing.
Beyond supplying us with a never-ending stream of cat gifs, the web has a few business implications, too.
For many of us, it means that we can do business with companies all over the world with the very same ease with which we find customers down the street.
And while that’s a wonderful thing, it does pose one particularly challenging problem: we don’t all speak the same language.
In customer service, that can be tough, as hilariously illustrated by a hapless “customer service agent” for the German coast guard in this language school ad:
(It’s only 40 seconds long, and I promise it’s worth watching.)
The Language Your Customers Speak DOES Matter
While many people assume that English is the “international business language” (a debatable claim), that doesn’t mean that you should assume that your customers prefer it.
A survey by Common Sense Advisory of more than 2,400 web users in eight countries found that 72.4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product if they had information in their own language.
In fact, 56.2%—more than half—of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than the price of the product.
In another Gallup survey of web users in 23 E.U. countries, 42% of consumers said they never purchase products and services in other languages.
So being able to help your customers in their language isn’t just a nice gesture; it could be hugely valuable to your bottom line.
The good news is, you can deliver support in any language, without the complexities of adding local staff or having to pay for expensive tools or services.
How To Know What Language Your Customers Speak
If you want to deliver international support, you should first figure out what languages you’ll need to focus on.
Whether you’re using a help desk or Gmail for customer support, here’s all you need to do:
Whenever you get an email from a customer in another language (or from a customer asking for help in another language, or simply from a customer whose English makes it appear that they might be more comfortable getting help in another language), simply add a label to that email.
Over time, it’ll become clear which languages you could benefit most from incorporating into your support.
The other approach you can use is to lean on software to tell you where your customers are. Google Analytics is free, and most of us already have it installed on our websites.
To see where your traffic is coming from, just choose Audience in the left sidebar, and then select Geo, and Location.
You’ll see a map, and even better, a list of where your visitors are.
So, once you know what languages your visitors speak, what can you do with that information?
3 Ways To Deliver Excellent Customer Service In Any Language
There are three ways that you can integrate international customer support into your existing workflow.
Many companies use a combination of all three.
1) Pay for translation services (it’s cheaper than you think)
There are certainly free tools like Google Translate that you can use, but the translations can sometimes be a bit clunky.
For languages that a significant chunk of your customers speak, you want to ensure that you get things right.
And for that, translations by native speakers are your best bet.
If you choose a service like Gengo, a crowd-sourced platform of native-speaking translators, you’ll be in the company of international customers like Etsy and Airbnb.
Gengo has per-word pricing ranging from $.05 to $.17 per word, so getting a 200-word knowledge base article translated can cost as little as $10.
For even lower pricing (and a bit more work to hire and manage), you can find thousands of translators on freelancer platforms like Upwork.
Use translation services for: important pages and text that you’ll use over and over again in languages that many of your customers speak (e.g., knowledge base articles, canned email replies, support pages on your website, etc…).
2) Use localization software
We’ve all seen websites with those drop-down menus that allow you to select the language you want to consume the site content in.
Often those translations can range from awful to good, and the pricing for localization apps can range from cheap to really expensive, but I’ve had great experiences with Bablic.
Bablic is an easy-to-use tool that lets you offer machine-translated (though generally good, as far as I’ve been able to tell through feedback) versions of your site to your visitors with a clean, attractive widget that could be valuable for sites with a lot of international traffic.
Bablic’s pricing ranges from free (for a single additional language) to just $15/month for 3 languages, all the way to $200/month for unlimited languages, and the translated sites look great on mobile, too.
Use localization software for: letting your international website visitors see your entire site in their native language, and if you want to save time and money on getting individual pages (e.g., knowledge base articles) manually translated.
3) Use Google Translate for your support emails
The first time I ever traveled to another country, I was terrified of trying to speak the native language.
My accent as I stumbled over phrases from the guidebook was horrible, I thought, and the locals would be insulted by my mangling of their language.
As I learned, nothing could be further from the truth.
Trying to help a customer in their native tongue is a kind gesture that most people will appreciate, even if your command of their language isn’t good.
So when you need to convey something in a customer’s language in an email or live chat, you can simple use Google Translate to get a rough translation of what you’re trying to say.
You can even start by making light of the situation.
Your customers will appreciate not having to try and translate your emails to their own language, and it’s a small gesture that can lead to appreciation and long-term loyalty.
Most Businesses Today Are International
If you’re selling anything online, then there’s a good chance you have customers who don’t share your native language.
Delivering great customer support to them is just as important as delivering it to the customer who lives next door. And fortunately, making that happier is easier today than ever.
Have you overcome language barriers with your customers? What kind of impact has it had on your business?
Let me know in the comments!