Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Myth #11 - Ahhhh, elevenses, where everyone is literate in English™

Now we enter the land of fantasy, where eating pizza and ice cream causes weight loss and lowers blood cholesterol, and everyone is able to read and write English. Here we have a new myth in the series:
"If something is wrong, our customers will tell us."
The question is, what venues do you give them to tell you? And how do you know that the reason they didn't buy your product is because of certain internationalization (or other) problems? those are the two main stumbling blocks to overcome, but there are undertones as well.
Starting with the venues, have you provided your customer with easy ways to tell you about problems? That is:
  • Do they know what URL to go to, what email address to mail to, and what number to call?
  • Is the text at the URL translated into their language?
  • Does the form at the URL accept text in their language?
  • Is the person who answers the phone the person who helps them throughout the problem reporting process (regardless of who has the correct solution for the problem)?
  • Does the person on the phone speak their language?
  • Are emails in their language?
  • Is there a discussion forum in their language, and is someone from your company monitoring it?
  • Can your bug tracking system handle data in other languages (which your software processes)?
  • Do you conduct seminars and conferences on your products in different parts of the world, and are there interpreters and translations of slides and papers into the local language(s)?
I'm sure there are loads more things that can be done, but this is what I mean by venue. Some of the above points are more general; making sure your customers (or potential customers) know exactly where to go to ask questions and report problems (they should be the same place, one contact point to your company, regardless of the communication) is basic customer service. Providing them different channels (Web, telephone, email) gives them the flexibility to choose what they are most comfortable with. Providing these venues in the customers' languages is also essential; it shows you care about them and you will listen to them. Even more fundamentally it enables them to communicate! Not all customers are comfortable enough with English to report a problem. And there are cultural issues to consider: many people don't want to embarrass themselves by using their so-so English, potentially creating a misunderstanding. In some cultures, pointing out a problem is an incredibly rude thing to do, even if it's a product they've paid good money for. They may be more inclined to quietly return the product or eat the cost and move to a competitor's product. In those cases you will never learn of the problem which lost you that customer, and maybe others, too.
This brings me to the second point, do you ever find out exactly why a potential customer never became an actual customer? Does your company do follow-up? Have you listened carefully to your potential customer's requirements - in their language, using their cultural conventions - and verified that your product fulfills them? Are you approaching potential customers in a culturally appropriate way? Are you advertising in the right fora (forums)?
It may sound like a lot of work, but the payback is huge. If you think your company does OK in this area, take a closer look. Talk to the people who live and work in other countries and get the real story. Most recently I heard from someone who worked in the support area in China. He knew of several cases where customers reported problems with the product running in the Chinese environment. Because the people trying to reproduce the problem didn't try it in a Chinese environment, they couldn't reproduce the problem, and closed the bug report! (Yes, this happened in 2004.)
Do you think those customers ever reported another bug? They may not even be customers anymore. This actually points to a future myth, that is, that internationalization is only necessary for software development. Until then.

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