How Retailers Can Provide a Consistent Multilingual CX Across Every Touchpoint


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Starting with the first touchpoint, a retailer’s CX can make or break a customer’s perception of a brand. But, because CX covers the entire customer journey, it can be difficult to provide a cohesive experience.

The customer’s first impressions via a retailer’s website, email, or an advertising campaign may vary. And all of those impressions may evolve even further when the customer reaches out to contact a member of the customer support team. What’s more, these interactions may happen through different channels and with different people — so it’s easy to see why results may vary.

One overlooked part of the CX for retail is language. Native language experiences may be one of the most profound competitive advantages for retailers today. Yet, language barriers can cause these CX consistency issues to increase exponentially.

Global language: It’s complicated

If a retailer’s employees primarily speak the same language as their customers (for example, the company only sells goods in one country), then consistent CX comes down to a solid working relationship between marketing, customer service, and sales teams. These teams need to work from the same playbook when it comes to brand messaging, customer interactions, and company processes and policies (such as returns, online purchases, loyalty programs, etc). Larger retailers typically have a robust onboarding and training process to get employees on the same page, plus strict brand guidelines that all employees and departments must follow.

But when the company starts expanding to serve an international customer base, things can get complicated. For example, U.S.-based marketing copy won’t necessarily translate directly in Japan. Or, even within the same language, a Portuguese-speaking support agent might speak to a customer in Brazil differently than someone in Portugal.

So, how do global retailers account for these variables and still create a cohesive CX? Organizations need a way to ensure high-quality multilingual CX across every touchpoint. For this strategy, both translation and localization services must be unified. The first step is to consider what global customers expect from multilingual CX.

What customers want from global retailers

As global retailers might know, many customers are willing to purchase from international brands. In fact, Unbabel’s 2021 Global Multilingual CX Report revealed that 47% of people purchased from brands that are not native to their country. However, not all retailers are ready to capitalize on this trend. Less than half of brands offer a multilingual CX, even though 69% of customers believe it’s extremely important and will switch to a different brand if there isn’t a native-language experience. In other words, many global companies are missing the mark when it comes to language.

To make matters more complicated, global customers have different preferences for which channels brands should perfect this experience. For example, social media is extremely important to customers in Brazil, where email is the top channel for customers in Germany and the UK.

As if creating multilingual brand experiences wasn’t enough, factoring in cultural preferences can make the task seem insurmountable. However, resonating with customers in a way that feels authentic isn’t as difficult as most retailers might think.

The truth about localization

“Fluency” and the ability to create a great multilingual brand involves understanding how to communicate with customers, regardless of their location. That includes accounting for nuances and appropriate cultural norms. From formality and tone, to cultural references, to visual representations of the brand – these seemingly minor nuances can make or break a global retailer.

Localization is work within many global companies. For example, Nestlé takes a localized, market-by-market approach to selling its popular Kit Kat candy. When Kit Kats are sold in different markets, Nestlé doesn’t copy-paste a single marketing campaign message, tagline, or list of ingredients. Kit Kat bars accommodate local taste preferences (such soy sauce flavored Kit Kats in Japan!).

As illustrated by this example, effective localization starts with language, and accounts for many cultural nuances that can make or break the CX.

Unifying a retailer’s language strategy

Though it may sound overwhelming, creating a top-notch multilingual customer experience that incorporates language translation, localization, and global customer preferences is possible. The secret to success lies creating a unified strategy across an entire organization called Language Operations (LangOps).

LangOps means creating a system of governance for how a retailer operates in a local market. This might include standardizing the translation tools used within the organization to provide a single system of record and avoid duplicated efforts within the digital experience. It also includes using AI and machine learning to account for the cultural nuances and localization needs that are ever-present in the translation process. Rather than delegating the task of language to each department, there may be a single team focused on operationalizing and measuring language across departments.

Ultimately, the goal is to integrate translation and localization systematically within every aspect of the brand – both online and offline. That makes it infinitely easier and more efficient for retailers to conduct business in markets around the world. In a recent survey, more than 86% of decision makers said they believe language operations would be extremely or very valuable to their organization.

Language as a competitive advantage

The cross-border commerce market is expected to grow by more than 15% in the next five years. Factors such as rising incomes, increased access to internet-enabled devices, a growing middle class in Asia-Pacific countries, and government encouragement of cross-border trade are playing major roles in this opportunity. Access to these global customers is a matter of creating multilingual experiences that resonate with them culturally. Operationalizing the organization’s approach to language is a great first step toward achieving this goal.

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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