Mais Oui, Customers Want Web Sites To Speak Their Language

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We live in a multicultural and multilingual world, and even in the United States it is not uncommon for us to see things in more than one language.

From television shows to mortgage lending pamphlets at the local bank branch to news Web sites like CNNwhich is available in more than 10 languageseverywhere you turn you see examples of information available in several languages. Technology has forced us to become more globally aware than ever before. For example, when was the last time you saw an ATM where transactions could only be conducted in English?

Today, a companys constituencies (brokers, salespeople, partners andmost importantlycustomers) prefer being reached in their native languages. For companies in any industry, whether multinational or local, addressing customers in their language is a matter of courtesy, as well as competitive advantage. Extending that commitment to one of any companys most crucial customer interfacesits Web siteis a key step in building a unified global brand, boosting customer satisfaction and increasing sales.

With many technology projects, the right approach is often counterintuitive. The same is true for Web “globalization,” which is how the industry characterizes building out multi-language Web sites. Translation–the knee-jerk answer to the Web globalization questionis just the tip of the iceberg. Translation is a commodity, and is readily accessible at a simple per-word price.

The real challenge comes when a Webmaster (or marketing staffer, or communications department, or whoever manages the site) gets their hands on page after page of translated content. How do they integrate it into the site, and where? More importantly, how do they manage the often daily changes that will occur to the master Web site, and which need to be reflected in each additional language?

Finally–and crucially, given the current spending climate and emphasis on technology ROI–how does a company keep costs in line with requirements? There are a few options, which basically correlate to the complexity of your Web site and your budget.

For complex Web sites that are transactional in nature, involve personalization and are highly dynamic, a custom solution may be the only answer. By working with translation service providers and large enterprise-level globalization tool providers, custom solutions can be built, redesigning your Web site platform and content to accommodate the specific needs of your business.

For dynamic content that changes very rapidly, multilingual content creation, which involves rebuilding a Web site using an enterprise-level content creation and management tool, may be advised.

While it is a complete solution, a custom option is a large-scale project, often costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and possibly taking months to build and implement. This type of solution is keyed to managing transactional e-commerce needs, and is probably an option that is limited to Global-2000-level corporations.

The other alternative, an off-the-shelf software package or ASP (application service provider) solution, is an effective way for smaller companiesor companies with more modest needsto build and manage multilingual sites. With the ASP model, companies are given access to the software over the Internet in exchange for a monthly or quarterly subscription fee. ASPs are generally much more cost-effective and can, depending on the size and scope of your Web site, solve the same multilingual development issues.

Off-the-shelf software (whether resident or delivered via ASP) for multilingual content management has evolved to suit the needs of firms that do not have expansive budgets. These globalization tools and services are offered at lower startup costs, present a hosted solution and provide excellent quality for many sites.

An extra benefit of the ASP solution is that the ASP manages the necessary resources (servers, connectivity, software), which frees up your internal resources to work on other things, and allows nontechnical people to more easily manage the project.

An ASP solution can cost as little as $5,000 in startup costs and $500 per month continued hosting and maintenance, and can get your multilingual site up and running in as little as one week.

In addition, an ASPs technology is constantly updated to include the latest features, and to integrate with standard Web development and translation tools.

If, like most insurance companies, youre using your Web site for informational purposes and your Web site is not highly complex, this solution is likely a better option. If cost is still a concern, it is commonplace for firms to globalize only the most critical portions of a Web site first and scale the project as needs and budget permit.

With either of these two options, Web site globalization should not be treated lightly, however. Studies have shown that a poorly globalized Web site (for example, one with incorrect or inappropriate translation, outdated or inconsistent information) can actually hurt a firms sales or reputation.

You also need to be prepared for the customer service responsibilities that come with globalization. Once you have translated your Web site, you will start receiving telephone calls and e-mails in other languages. If customer demand spurred you to globalize your site, developing a system of dealing with these customer service issues is imperative.

Working with an experienced partner can save you from headache and hassle in this regard. While not intended to discourage you from globalizing, these warnings merely serve to remind you of the complexity of such an undertaking and the necessity for careful planning. The rewards can far outweigh the pitfalls.

Looking at the United States alone, we see a shift towards multilingualism. With the growth of Hispanic and Asian markets, we are seeing multicultural needs enter the American business consciousness. In engaging our international neighbors to the north and to the south, French and Spanish are imperative. Beyond those, German, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese are the most commonly chosen languages for globalization due to widespread community presence.

Look at your own clients and partners: Where are they located? What languages do they speak? What impact do they have on your bottom line? If they positively influence your business, as brokers, sales people, partners or customers, perhaps it is time to communicate with them on their termsand in their language.

is CEO of Glides Inc., based in Bellevue, Wash. The company can be reached at www.glides.com.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, September 10, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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