Taking Customer Service Global (via Charleston)

I’m headed to Charleston next week for the Services Industry Summit an annual event sponsored by Service Strategies. I’ll be speaking on the unique opportunities (and challenges) of localizing your customer service Web sites and knowledgebases for audiences around the world.

Although customer service isn’t the area that companies first tackle when they take their Web sites global, it can play a huge role in the ultimate success (or not) of each localized Web site. For starters, the global navigation has to make it easy for non-English speakers to find what they need.

On the Web, customers (like me) sometimes check before they buy a product to see if they can make sense of the user manual, and if that manual is poorly translated, well, user manuals can be hard enough to understand even if you do understand the language.

And then there is the knowledgebase, which in addition to the manuals may include user forums, product updates, and other assorted information. This is an area where I expect we’ll see a significant amount of investment in machine translation (MT) in the years ahead. Microsoft already uses MT to automatically translate parts of its knowledgebase into Japanese and Spanish — and reports very strong reviews from users. That’s not to say that MT content is perfect; far from it — but MT content is better than no content at all.

And it’s not just your customers you need to localize your Web sites for. You also need to consider your in-country distributors, phone support team, and other partners and how they interact with your Web content. I know of one company that uses MT specifically for in-country customer support people who will translate the knowledgebase in real time to provide support for customers in their country.

Anyway, if you’re going to attend the event — or just want to meet up in Charleston, please give ma a shout.

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.