Thursday, February 21, 2008

Translation: The Key to Excellent Customer Service

Foreign language translation could be your key to better customer service and to higher sales.

There's a German saying that I love to quote: If I'm selling, I'll speak English, but if I'm buying, Sie mussen deutsch sprecken (you have to speak German). I like that sentence because it points out the one thing that American companies seem to get right domestically, but not internationally: customer service comes first.

Here in the land of "the customer is always right," we tend to think that the customer always speaks English. And, a lot of the time, we're right. In Denmark, for example, English is taught from elementary school up. English is the most popular foreign language taught to grade schoolers in the EU and has quickly become a powerful language of commerce throughout all of Asia. But just because someone speaks a language doesn't mean that they speak it well or that you should expect them to. Your customers may speak English, but when it comes to strengthening your sales, is English the language of customer service?

Papa Johns International, CNN, Wells Fargo, the American Lung Association, Lowe's, even the IRS--across multiple industries, through online and print advertising, American business are starting to tap into the 52 million people in this country who speak a language other than English at home. These people just aren't immigrants; they're a target market. That's why companies like Bank of America, DISH Network, and AT&T are offering their websites in Spanish--because they want to reach out to this market. Because if they don't reach out to them, someone else will and their money--that sale--will go to the competition. Trick of the matter is, however, if you want to reach them, you can't do it in English. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2005, over 29 percent of all Spanish speakers, 22 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander speakers, and more than 13 percent of Indo-European speakers in the US today speak English "not well" or "not at all." This is in a country where English is the spoken vernacular, the language of education and commerce, the main language used for publishing and broadcasting news, as well as the language used in the medical field. This is the United States of America, where there is a higher concentration of English speakers than anywhere else in the world. Yet even here, you can not assume that your customer speaks English.

This is only if you do business domestically. If you want to do business on an international scale, you must also think and act internationally. You may not speak French, but if you are selling to the French, you need to at least learn how to say "Bonjour." Like the German saying I quoted earlier, a German business man looking to buy will buy from the salesman who uses German.

American companies are known worldwide for their superb capabilities for customer service. And while many might argue that it is harder to get waited on in a store than it used to be, that is still the mantra of sales in America today. The customer comes first. The customer is always right. The customer is our top priority. This is why I find it shocking that many companies doing business in non-English speaking countries fail to see the practicality of foreign language use. It's simply good customer service--communicating with them, marketing to them, and making deals with them in a language they can understand.

So, in a nation where many of our top execs and graduating talent pool do not speak a foreign language, where does this leave us? The world changes quickly. One minute, the popular business country is Japan. Then it's India. Then it's China, then it's India again. And not everyone is good at learning languages. Some people, no matter how hard they try, just can't get past lesson six. And it may not be cost or time effective to become fluent in the language of every company you have dealings with.

This is where translation comes in. This is why the translation industry exists--because someone has to be there to break the communication barrier. My company, In Every Language, for example, offers services in 155 different languages. There is no way any single employee could become fluent in 155 different languages. Translation companies therefore save businesses time and money by doing the linguistic legwork for them. It's why we're here. It's our job. We speak those languages so you don't have to. For a just a few cents per word, translators can get your material in front your buyers in a language they can understand.

Yes, translation costs money. But how much money could a good translation make you? If you made one dollar from every non-English speaking American, the US Census Bureau says you'd make 12 million bucks. 12 million. You may or may not see the benefits of reaching out to the non-English speaking market, but you can bet your competition does. And once they already have that market, there may not be much room in it left for you. We all know the power of brand loyalty. If your competition achieves brand loyalty before you do, you may one day have to spend money on translation just to stay alive. Wouldn't you rather spend that money on making a profit?

Translation services are therefore not just a way to provide customer service, but they're a way to increase your sales. Customer service does come first, but in this case, customer service goes out before you, paving your way to profits and sales success.

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