Expanding Your Horizons
Let’s run a hypothetical here: you’ve got an amazing new website selling, say, legal music downloads, which is making a fantastic profit in the USA and UK, so you’re looking to expand beyond those territorial boundaries. You know the French like their tunes, and you’ve seen that download sites in France do a pretty good trade, so you’re hoping to expand your online reach into the French-speaking market. How exactly do you go about successfully cracking that foreign language territory? Well, here’s how…
The first step is to create a localized site for the French market. Besides doing your research into the French mp3 market and what bands or producers you’ll need to feature, you’ll also want to do research into popular French websites in general. What’s popular, minimalist design or lots of shiny Flash animation? What colour schemes are prevalent? Is there a lot of copy or are the pages mostly text-free? What navigation tools do the other sites use? Use this research to build a profile of your average French music-downloader and then tailor the design and aesthetic of your site towards this profile.
Then comes the most important step – getting your copy correct. It goes without saying that you’re going to need a professional translator (working into their own native language) to turn your English copy into impeccable French, but it’s worth also getting a French copywriter to then check that copy and ensure that you’ve got the tone, style and slang absolutely correct for your audience. Consider the case of General Motors, who launched the Buick LaCrosse in Canada in 2003, then quickly had to withdraw it and find a new name, unaware as they were before launching the car that ‘la crosse’ is a popular slang term in French-speaking Quebec for, ahem…self-pleasure.
Embarrassing branding blunders aside, online consumers are savvy, and if they spot a phony – whether it’s through misused terminology, a misspelling or a false note in the tone – then that’s a customer you’ve lost. This applies to any language and cultural group, but especially so for ‘High Context’ cultures, such as Asian or Middle Eastern cultures, where much of communication is implicit and social interactions are governed by unspoken but mutually understood rules. The potential for causing offence with poorly considered copy is high, so making sure that your copy is absolutely word perfect and cultural appropriate for its target audience – before going online – is an essential step to success.
The next step to success, once you have those customers, is keeping them – being able to speak to your customers in their language at the outset is no good if you can’t then offer customer support in their language as well. The key steps to effective customer support are making sure your support team are quickly and easily accessible, making sure that any client issues or queries are quickly, effectively and truthfully dealt with, following up with the clients after fixing issues and then having clients provide feedback to measure the effectiveness of your support system and making changes, as necessary.
Obviously, unless you’re already bringing in massive profits, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to afford a dedicated customer support call-centre for each specific language group. There are some simple strategies you can employ, though, such as hiring a full-time translator or maintaining regular working relationships with a team of freelance translators to field incoming and outgoing emails, as well as translating and checking the copy for your online marketing tools including newsletters, tweets, and all other business to business and business to customer communications. It’s also a good idea to think through the range of potential queries or situations that will arise and then have a series of FAQs and template emails written and translated, so that the majority of basic issues and queries can be dealt with automatically.
Finally, consider the peculiarities of customer support services in the specific market. In the case of an mp3 download site for the French market, for instance, the customer demographic is likely to be young and tech-savvy, and also impatient – in this scenario a good option is to provide customer support via an instant social media tool such as Twitter.
Customers with queries or complaints can then seek help directly from the company and receive feedback almost immediately – in this scenario the downside is that criticism will be exposed to the entire client base, but it also means a boost to your reputation as an honest and open company.
Running your customer support service via instant messaging and social media would necessitate hiring a full-time language specialist, but would be less extravagant than running a language-specific call centre, as you would likely require if you were an international electronics company or a bank.
Your third option is to field all issues and queries via email, which would allow your company to keep a team of freelance translators on stand-by to deal with email problems as and when they came up. Either way, the key to a successful expansion into a foreign language market is to offer a specialized service in their language – if you speak to a customer on their level, then it’s likely they’ll listen.
About the author
Christian Arno is founder and Managing Director of translation and localization company Lingo24. With operations spanning three continents and clients in over sixty countries, Lingo24 achieved a turnover of $6m USD in 2009.