Empathy and native language are more deeply connected than you might think. As a native Portuguese speaker, I instantly feel more comfortable and connected to people who speak my language. The same holds true for customer interactions. It can be hard to translate feelings of empathy into a non-native language, and scaling native speakers on your team for every potential customer isn’t an option.
Fortunately, new approaches to operationalizing language can scale customer empathy for companies with a growing global footprint. Let’s dive into why language matters for customer empathy, and how you can operationalize language to better resonate with your customers.
Why Language Builds Customer Empathy
Before we get into what I mean by operationalizing language, it’s important to consider how language impacts customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Have you ever tried to buy a product from a company that didn’t have a website in your native language? It’s a difficult and frustrating experience. That’s why a recent survey found that 40% of customers will never buy from a website in another language.
Since English is the most heavily used language on the internet, there are limited options for non-native English speakers. Many companies operate under the illusion that English is universal, but in reality only a quarter of the world speaks the language.
Diving a little deeper, it’s also not enough to simply translate information into another language word-for-word. Language is far more complex than that, so poor translations can be off-putting for customers. Speaking to a customer in their native language, and accounting for cultural and linguistic nuances, makes all the difference in how compelling the interaction will be.
In fact, research has shown that a language learned during childhood, or someone’s native language, elicits stronger emotional responses than foreign languages learned later in life. That means speaking someone’s native language creates a common social context that can foster stronger human connections and customer empathy.
Consider how well-received your brand would be if you spoke to your global customers authentically using their native language. In difficult customer service situations where empathy counts, language can differentiate your business and build authentic connections with your customers that keep them coming back.
How Can You Scale Multilingualism?
Even though language is critical for fostering customer empathy, language efforts often live in silos for many companies. For example, marketing teams might own localization for a company’s website and product offerings. However, customer service isn’t a part of this localization process — it’s an entirely different workstream owned by a different department.
When there’s little collaboration between customer service, sales, and marketing, the translation and localization process becomes more expensive and inefficient to scale. For example, when multiple departments translate a language like Chinese – with many regional differences and cultural nuances – their translations can vary for industry-specific terminology and jargon. This disjointed process could lead to inconsistencies that negatively impact the customer experience.
Today’s siloed approach to language creates barriers to communication and fails to connect with customers on an emotional level. Adopting a Language Operations (LangOps) strategy, where an AI-powered universal translation layer is available to anyone in the company to authentically communicate in multiple languages, is a powerful way to use language as a strategic asset for building customer trust and loyalty.
LangOps Makes Companies More Authentic
When you adopt an effective LangOps strategy, empathetic customer connections can happen even more frequently. With an augmented machine translation approach, humans help capture the right context and cultural nuances to improve the machine learning algorithm.
By creating an integrated LangOps process, businesses can scale the use of multilingualism without the need to hire a large number of native speakers. Moreover, the effort by sales representatives and customer service agents to use language as a tool for empathy shines through to your customers.
Every interaction counts, and speaking to customers in their native language in an authentic way is one of the best ways to build trust and make a lasting impression. That journey starts with democratizing language for all.