At tcworld India last month, I heard a familiar refrain: “We translated, but there were no takers.” This particular complaint emerged from the Indian travel e-commerce sector, but it could have come from any part of the world where emerging or long-tail languages are spoken.
The company’s representative said that although they had translated into some Indian languages, their website analytics showed that users were defaulting to the English version. Surprising, right?
So, what makes this complaint common among buyers of translation and localization of long-tail languages?
Translation does not equal localization
If your localization effort stops at translation—that is, merely transforming the words from one language into another—it’s an incomplete user experience (UX).
For localization to be complete, each interaction or step in the buyer’s journey must be locale-compatible. Does the screen orientation align with the language orientation, in case of right-to-left and vertical languages? Are currencies, date formats, and form fields adapted to the local market? If not, your website has not been internationalized—a big no-no in localization.
Is the payment gateway in the target language? This may not be under the website publisher’s control, but it goes to show that the most important step in the buyer journey is where you start speaking an alien language.
Also, what about the non-website marketing efforts and post-sales communication? Are your text or instant messenger messages and emails also localized? This doesn’t directly explain why a user might default to an alien language when presented with a native language version online, but it does reveal gaps in your marketing and post-sales interactions.
Half-hearted localization is no localization
By half-hearted, I simply mean that when you go beyond the first click on a “localized” website, it’s all in English or the source language again. Sometimes the source language creeps in right on the homepage. The only thing that is translated is the menu text. The English product descriptions that may show up as a preview on the homepage give a hint to the prospective customer about what lies ahead.
Is it any surprise, then, that users would rather stick with the English version and enjoy a complete experience from start to finish, rather than choose their language but be forced to encounter English again later?
Quality must be on a par with global
What makes you think your customer in Germany has higher quality expectations than, say, one in Vietnam? They may have different quality expectations, but that doesn’t necessarily make the quality higher or lower.
At another localization conference in India, a presenter mentioned that an Indian-language operating system (OS) had been launched but failed. He later revealed that the OS was far slower than its non-localized peers. Of course it would fail. Why would Indian users opt for a slower (and less-known) OS than a faster one, just because the latter was available in their language?
Customers won’t be grateful that you localized and handed them a substandard product. They will simply switch to the non-localized but high-performing products, and put up with the relatively lesser discomfort of an alien language.
It’s about the confidence that you inspire… or not
A badly or half-localized product doesn’t inspire confidence—much less a sense of ownership—among your users. They may default to English or the source language because they immediately associate the bad localization with a possible broken experience or missing or misleading information further along the purchase journey.
Think about it: This behavior isn’t typical to the global customer. Would you feel confident in completing an online transaction on a website that has tons of typos or uninspiring or outdated design?
In emerging economies where long-tail languages are usually spoken, companies are usually just beginning to localize. And, customers are only slowly becoming aware of and demanding their linguistic rights.
That still doesn’t justify half-hearted localization, though. Treat your international customers the same way you would treat those at home. That’s what localization is about: a democratization of the marketplace for buyers.