Why Data-Driven Language Operations is the Key to Customer Success


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Today’s customers can access online businesses from anywhere in the world. During the pandemic, in particular, global cross-border eCommerce sales grew 21% from January to June of 2020, compared to the same time period last year. If something goes wrong, how many of these people can get support in their native language?

According to a study from Intercom, only 28% of them. That’s despite the fact that 70% of people would feel more loyal with native language support – 35% of them even said they’d switch products altogether to get native support. So why is native language support still such a challenge?

Some languages, such as Chinese, are tough to service because of the vast amount of regional dialects, cultural nuances around formality, diction and more. Others, like German and Dutch, are less prevalent and difficult to justify staffing with an agent full-time. What’s more, many agents need to fluently translate industry-specific terminology across languages. That’s a complex problem, to say the least.

Regardless of these barriers, precise use of language can quickly get the job done in a difficult situation. The issue, especially this year, is that many companies have to do more with less. Airlines, for example, have had to cut tens of thousands of jobs – yet are still under tremendous pressure from high-demand customers around the world. Their customer bases have also shifted as international coronavirus status updates have forced travel restrictions. So what’s a business to do?

Fortunately, an emerging discipline called language operations can help teams scale their multilingual customer service capabilities, using data to intelligently allocate AI technology and team resources.

Solving for unpredictable surges with machine translation
Multilingual machine translation (MT) can help organizations serve more languages with fewer resources. This technology helps teams translate chat, email, and website FAQs or help centers, so that customers can get support in their native language faster. MT translates the text in bulk, and human editors refine it as needed.

Say, for example, an American airline is dealing with an influx of cancellations in France after a quick change in travel restrictions. With MT, English speaking agents can handle these requests quickly. Instead of guessing where the highest-demand customers are coming from (and how that changes over time), the right data and insights can help teams scale these capabilities and predict what may seem like unpredictable surges in demand. That’s where language operations comes in.

The data of language operations
Language operations is an emerging cross-disciplinary function that helps global businesses effectively communicate with their customers and other stakeholders by scaling multilingual capabilities. In customer service, language operations can help a business understand exactly which languages are in highest demand, so that organizations can support customers better and build stronger relationships.

Data is an important foundation for language operations in customer service. Language-related customer service metrics can help teams fully realize the value of multilingual customer service. For example, many organizations have to service customers in languages that are hard to hire for. In the past, finding the resources to fulfill this demand was an expensive endeavor. With language operations, organizations can view data by country, service line and channel. This helps customer service leaders make important decisions on where to deploy machine translation technology and other resources.

Language operations data can also tie directly back to customer success KPIs, from CSAT to first response times (FRT) and beyond. It can show customer service leadership how effective agents are at resolving customer inquiries in a variety of languages, and which markets may have room for improvement. Knowledge of these metrics can improve customer satisfaction and reduce churn. It can also help managers provide more effective feedback to their agents, and reward success.

Ultimately, data-driven language operations can help customer service organizations understand how to measure the ROI of multilingual customer service and make more strategic decisions. Covering a whole world’s worth of languages is a tall order for any business. A combination of AI and language operations can help brands make lasting connections with their customers around the globe. It’s more important than ever to maintain customer loyalty, so every interaction counts.

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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