If the massive Netflix hit Squid Game has shown us anything, it's that meaning and empathy can easily be lost due to translation discrepancies. As an avid linguist and language technologist, I frequently see how poor translation can become a canyon of potential miscommunication for businesses. The inherent bias of language can cause global and international companies to lose significant capital.
According to Unbabel's Global Multilingual CX Report published last week, one in four U.S. consumers said they won't spend more than $500 with a business if it doesn't offer proper language support. That's a lot of potential revenue left on the table. Without native language support, brands are losing out on customers before they comprehend their products or even know they exist.
This will increasingly become a problem for American businesses, as an increasingly diverse population brings with them languages outside of standard English and Spanish. It's estimated that roughly 350 to 430 different languages are spoken in the U.S. With this in mind, it's clear the most successful businesses will be those that communicate empathetically and authentically, use language as a superpower, and understand how their customers want to speak with them.
Here's my advice for businesses thinking about how to create the best customer experiences and keep their customers happy:
Build trust with personalized experiences.
Customers will pay to communicate in their native tongue, and 68 percent of surveyed consumers said they would jump to a competitor if a business doesn't speak their language. It's on businesses to make customers feel valued and comfortable, so they can communicate their needs and report any issues with a product or service.
Empower your customer service team.
Ninety-two percent of global consumers said they believe that poor customer service, even if it is in their native language, will negatively impact their trust and loyalty toward a brand. It's not enough to only translate.
Your business has probably always thought that employing native or fluent customer support staff will help non-English speakers with their support tickets. However, a more realistic solution is to prioritize customer support channels that rely on email or chat to remove any staff members' potential biases and preconceived notions about non-English-speaking customers' accents and word choices.
Less than a quarter of the world speaks English. By diversifying language offerings, businesses can accept more business globally. Let customer chat groups in various languages become an asset, and use technology to listen to their messages, communicate empathetically, and find trends. For example, if all your Brazilian-based customers have one particular question, other markets likely will too. Allowing your customers to speak their native language can help you uncover problems sooner. Use global learning to educate local customer service agents.
Know (and use) your customer's preferred mode of communication.
While language is essential, other factors are at play when communicating with customers -- especially what generation they belong to.
We found that 63 percent of Boomers, 59 percent of Gen-X, and 50 percent of Millennials prefer customer service support over email, while 45 percent of Gen Z prefer social media, phone calls, or in-store. Millennial customers are also heavily persuaded by native language communications -- 74 percent of Millennials said they would pay more for a product or service if a brand offers a customer experience in their native language.
Make customers feel like part of your brand.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion measures do not exist in a vacuum. Customers want to feel represented by the brands they invest in. Seventy-one percent of surveyed consumers said they believe it's important that a brand promotes and supports their products and services in their native language.
In addition, customers said they feel that a lack of multilingual experiences could indicate potential prejudice toward some countries and cultures. I've noticed how some businesses offer 24/7 help in English and only 9-5 support in Portuguese, for instance. This unintentional "language discrimination" can impact customers' perception of a company and its relationship with them. Language support should be unbiased and approachable whenever your customers need it.
Positive interactions with customers build trust and loyalty, which are key to repeat business and bottom-line growth. Let your customers feel like they're being heard and seen by speaking their language.