Customer Empathy, Translated


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Localizing your brand’s content has a myriad of benefits: It exposes you to new global audiences, streamlines operations, and — done right — drives revenue.

There’s one benefit that isn’t discussed as much, yet is vital to a successful customer journey: Empathy.

For me, as a native Portuguese speaker, I feel an immediate emotional connection with brands that deliver high-quality Portuguese translations. I’m instantly impressed with any company that bothers to, not just translate, but localize their marketing content for Portuguese culture.

Some well-known brands considered trailblazers for connecting with global audiences through localization include Airbnb, Netflix, and Slack, to name a few.

By contrast, brands that don’t invest in translating and localizing their customer support and marketing content not only won’t be able to empathize with consumers. They likely won’t connect with them at all. In fact, CSA Research found that 40% of online shoppers said they will never buy from websites that do not offer translations for their native language.

In this article, I’d like to discuss the huge impact that language has on customers’ perceptions around brand empathy and why this matters. I will share my perspective on how to better achieve empathic relationships with customers and scale and measure this complex dynamic.

There’s no customer empathy without language quality

A satisfying customer journey — from first website visit to the decision to become a customer and beyond — is driven by the quality of translation and localization. Even if a brand is translating its website and customer support content into multiple languages, it won’t have emotional connections with customers and prospects if it’s not done well. The translations must be easy to read and understand, and localization efforts must take into account cultural nuances. Otherwise, empathy can easily get lost in translation.

Take this example of a translation mishap that became an instant empathy killer:

A luxury carmaker entered the Chinese market with the brand name “Bensi.” The problem? This translates into “rush to die” in Chinese. Oops. Needless to say, a manufacturer evoking a quick death in its brand name (for cars, of all things) is not a good way to build empathy with potential customers.

While this was an honest translation faux pas, such mistakes are viewed as a lack of understanding and empathy for a culture and its people.

This example illustrates the potential damage of mistranslating just one word. But to build empathy along the entire customer journey and earn trust, brands must both translate and localize millions of words for websites, emails, paid ads, FAQs, customer support chat interactions, and more.

All of these touchpoints require the highest quality translations and localized nuances to assure that customer experience is prioritized over speed. Potentially offensive translation or localization errors, even if done accidentally, can ruin a brand-customer relationship permanently.

The need for quality and speed, especially in customer support

Yet we also can’t ignore speed. That’s the reality of today’s global market.

Moreover, content must be delivered in a timely manner across the entire customer journey, but speed has the most impact on customer support. For customer service teams trying to build authentic customer relationships, translations have to be high-quality and those customer support interactions need to happen in near real time.

In Unbabel’s 2021 Global Multilingual CX Report, when global survey participants were asked about top priorities regarding native-language customer support, 47% listed quick response time and 46% said fast resolution times. Giving international customers fast, clear answers in their native tongues shows empathy and builds trust.

So what’s the secret to delivering translated content that’s both high-quality and timely? Relying on human translators will typically provide quality translations, but it’s often costly, slow, and impossible to scale.

Conversely, a solution that relies purely on machine translations will deliver super-fast translations, but quality can be inconsistent.

Truly authentic and empathetic (and fast!) customer experiences require a healthy mix of human-generated and machine translations. This approach, known as human-in-the-loop AI, enables machine translation tools to handle the fast translations for, say, chatbots, FAQs, and emails, and then expert linguists can swoop in when needed to check for translation quality and tone of voice.

How do you measure customer empathy?

While empathy is vital to customer support – because it often involves frustration or high emotion – empathy doesn’t begin and end there. Empathy applies to every stage of the buyer’s journey, from a prospect’s first glance at a company blog post to their experiences reading your weekly newsletter as a long-time customer. Are you being helpful over time, or just trying to sell them more stuff? They can tell the difference.

The best way to start potential customers on their journey with your brand is through a localized version of your website. High-quality translations with localized nuances across all of your landing pages, blogs, eBooks, and product pages have many benefits. Beyond empathy and connection, these efforts boost SEO and overall brand visibility, helping you connect with more prospects in more countries.

Additionally, localization efforts that include imagery, color schemes, and a tone that match cultural tastes will go a long way in generating empathy for a country and its people.

Unbabel’s recent “Global Trends in Marketing Localization 2023” report revealed that localizing content is a major opportunity for marketers to connect with audiences. In fact, 79% of the 1,600 global marketers surveyed for the report say that localization has a positive impact on customer retention, and 84% said it has a positive impact on revenue growth.

Some key metrics for measuring whether localized website content is resonating, include:

  • Website: Page views, time on page, and conversion rates
  • Email: Which localized content is driving email newsletter sign-ups? Beyond this, what subject lines drive open rates? What language drives click-through rates?
  • Social Media: What are consumers saying about your localized content? Are folks who are not native speakers of the same language as your brand still sharing your content on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.? Shares, likes, and other engagement metrics are key — as are site visits and conversions that can be attributed to social media.

The metrics for measuring empathy in customer support are different from those that measure marketing success. Often CS teams focus on metrics like response times and handle times. Rarely do they measure empathy.

However, customer support empathy actually can be measured using traditional customer support metrics that weren’t originally designed for empathy, such as:

  • CSAT: If customer satisfaction scores (CSATs) improve over time, a brand can deduce that customer support teams are empathetic across multiple customer touchpoints. When customers feel like they were treated with respect, they’re more likely to give positive customer feedback in surveys. To measure this more deeply, you can conduct other brand support surveys that ask more specific and nuanced questions (again, in the correct native language). Remember these may require incentives but often provide eye-opening results.
  • First contact resolution (FCR): This is the percentage of service requests solved during the first customer interaction. Resolving issues with just one interaction implies customer service agents anticipated customer needs. In a translation scenario, it implies that translations were both fast and high-quality enough to resolve issues concisely on the first interaction.

Don’t lose customer empathy in translation

Both customer service and marketing teams depend on empathy to nurture customer loyalty all over the world. The best ones do it by prioritizing quality translations and localization. As brands expand into new markets and languages, it’s critical they don’t let empathy get lost in translation.

With an augmented machine translation approach that combines humans and machines, machine translation tools will keep pace with customer needs while humans help capture the right context and cultural nuances to improve the machine learning algorithm.

The bottom line is that, without quality translations and nuanced localization, a sense of brand empathy won’t reach global customers. A human-in-the-loop AI approach to localized translations is the most effective way to ensure multilingual communications help build positive and lasting customer relationships.

Vasco Pedro
Vasco Pedro is a co-founder and chief executive officer of Unbabel, a company that removes language barriers by blending artificial intelligence with real time, human translations. A serial entrepreneur, Vasco has led Unbabel since 2013, taking it through Y Combinator and raising a total of $31 million in funding.


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