Today’s interview is with Vasco Pedro, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Unbabel, a company that removes language barriers by blending artificial intelligence with real time, human translations. Vasco joins me today to talk about their AI-powered, human-refined “Translation as a Service” business, the concept of language operations, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, how their technology works and the sort of results it produces as well as sharing a few ideas about the future of service, experience and technology.
This interview follows on from my recent interview – The power of personalised videos to drive engagement at all stages of the customer journey – Interview with Matt Barnett of Bonjoro – and is number 376 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.
Here’s the highlights of my chat with Vasco:
- Translation is one of the oldest human trades.
- Human translation doesn’t scale very well.
- The provision of great customer service is often bounded by language capability.
- Unbabel’s technology operates as a (real-time translation) interface that sits on top of and integrates directly into a CRM system thus delivering a seamless experience i.e. an agent may speak English, say, and they receive an email from a customer in Chinese. The technology translates the Chinese email into English, the agent replies in English and the technology translates the reply into Chinese before sending it to the customer.
- This enables organizations to offer multilingual customer service but in a much more cost effective way. This leads to lower turnover, higher quality, lower response times and a much higher customer satisfaction.
- We need to start thinking about language operations as many of the issues that customer service teams face also feature across whole organizations….sales, marketing, logistics, internal ops, finance etc.
- Access to global talent is very language dependent.
- Think about the Babel Fish in Douglas Adams’ book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where you put a fish in your ear and somebody else does the same. and then you can talk to anybody from anywhere speaking any language. We’re 10 to 15 years away from that right now.
- In the next 10 years we’re going to start seeing a lot of progress towards direct interfaces with our brains.
- We’re very much heading towards the idea of William Gibson’s cyberpunk in his novel Neuromancer.
- Jules Verne used to say that the laws of imagination have to obey the laws of the universe. The corollary of that would be that anything that you’re able to imagine means that it’s possible to exist at some point.
- Working with the particular glossary and terminology of an organization the Unbabel engine is continuously learning how to be better at their voice. Based on that, the technology performs an initial translation then it passes through a pioneering quality estimation layer which estimates if the translation is correct or needs some human intervention. If it needs some intervention then it gets sent to Unbabel’s community of expert translators for correction and adjustment.
- Logitech saw a 300% increase in ticket volume during the initial part of the pandemic. To cope they increased staffing by 45% but by utilizing Unbabel’s tech they were able to handle not only the 300% increase in tickets but they were also able to increase their NPS scores by 58 points and cut ticket response times from 48 hours to 12 hours all while operating remotely.
- We’re still a few years away from being able to do real time audio translation.
- One of the big challenges right now continues to be accessibility to users.
- There’s a certain inequality of customer service that is highly dependent on language. You know, for example, if I called British Airways on the English line you have 24/7 support. But, if you call on the Portuguese line, that’s 9 to 5, 5 days a week.
- We should be aiming to raise the level of customer service and customer experience that is equal and independent of language and location.
- Vasco’s best advice: It’s very important that you talk to your customers in their own language. It has a huge impact in creating trust and satisfaction.
- It’s also important to consider restructuring your customer service teams across product lines so that you have experts that know the product thoroughly and intimately because that leads to a much better experience for your customers.
- Punk CX word: Vulnerable
- Punk CX brand: Zappos.
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.