The customer experience (CX) is showing up in the actions and plans of industry captains around the world as the biggest driver of sales success and therefore achieving revenue goals. They recognize that a prospect’s journey, beginning with the idea of satisfying a need, moves through scores of stops and starts. The ideal CX process aims at the prospect buying at the end of a twisty road, then using the product or service without complaint. Successful CX-centric marketing and sales strategies don’t leave a stone unturned to engage the prospect at every stage along the buying journey. These stages, known as touchpoints, are designed to keep the process moving forward. A customer’s interest in the offer aligns closely with the marketer’s ability to erase CX tripwires that can severely disrupt the desired advancement.
What does language have to do with customer touchpoints?
Everything, and much more than that even, depending on the audience. The acid test of touchpoints revolves around a single question, “Is this the way the buyer wants to buy?” Remember, you compete, often intensely, to keep the prospect headed in your direction. That means mapping out the CX journey inch by inch, and yard by yard, leaving nothing out. It involves tracking reactions and movements:
- In and out of your online site.
- In and out of your store.
- Through every customer service connection.
- After clicking on your social media promotions
For example, if a customer phones in or registers for an online chat in Spanish, can your support agent or AI program respond? If it’s happening one in 200 times and English response can’t keep them engaged, it’s probably not anything to worry about. On the other hand, if it’s hitting you one in five calls, even one in twenty, that’s another ball of wax.
All this tells us that tracking the CX process is a complicated process. Every professional marketer understands that communication is at the core of customer interaction. If this fails, it’s a CX roadblock. If customers collide with a language they don’t understand, or it’s ambiguous, they’ll bounce – instantly. It’ll kill the sale before it even begins.
Speaking the customer’s language – literally and figuratively
International organizations competing in the Euro markets routinely accommodate Italian, German, Spanish, French – up to thirty languages. The USA, by comparison, is not remotely as diverse, but certainly can’t ignore multilingualism as a CX driver. It immediately throws a spotlight on the language preferences of the consuming public living in the USA, and whether you can get away with communicating only in English.
Here are some facts about languages in America that can make a massive difference to the customer experience:
- According to the 2018 United States census, 327 million people were living in the United States of America. English, believe it or not, isn’t the official language but labeled as the national language. In any event, around 91% of the population is proficient enough in English, although it may not be their first language.
- The implication is that communicating in English to customers covers close to 300 million – leaving around 30 million that can’t speak English at all. If your product aims at the latter, English is as useful as an ice pick in the desert.
- The census also tells us that close to thirty-six million are bilingual but decidedly more comfortable with another tongue. The second big language, of course, is far-and-away Spanish, followed way down the ladder by some Chinese dialects, French and French Creole.
It’s when other demographics enter the equation that the language factor becomes really interesting. For example:
- Senior citizens, raised most of their lives abroad, speaking a foreign language, are relatively less flexible with English communications than the next generations. Teens and young adults in the same family are far more language versatile.
- Now point your geographic microscope on the map of the USA.You’ll see there’s a huge concentration of Spanish-speaking households in South Florida and also the Southwest.
- You’ll also pick up on big Spanish speaker pockets in almost every city, including Atlanta, Chicago, and the Acela corridor running from D.C. to Boston.
- Did you know, there are 39 counties where a language other than English dominates as the home language? Bronx County in N.Y. and Florida’s Miami-Dade with a combined population of 3.8 million, two major Hispanic outposts, reflect Spanish as preferred by 60%.
Developing CX with language preferences
CX can only make sense if viewed in the context of a commercial marketing proposition. So then, what constitutes a market? It’s the first thing to understand before CX can be meaningful in ROI terms. In a nutshell, it’s a group of customers or even a single entity where the buying power for a product or service warrants a marketing effort. If indeed, that targeted segment is worth fighting for, you can be almost sure that competitors see it the same way. From that point on, the fight is on, and to the winners go the spoils. The combatants that appeal most to the audience, the ones whose message resonates compellingly, have the best chance. From every account, language preference features heavily when the chips are finally down, and every little CX message matters. Therefore, keeping things in perspective from a profitability viewpoint:
- If the audience is big enough and has a preferred language, communicate with them that way. Period.
- Conversely, if there are only a few foreign-language speakers in the audence, the cost of second-language promotion may not be worth the expense.
Let’s say you’re marketing a security software package accepted widely in Latin American countries, except you’re targeting their embassies (as a customer grouping) in the USA. On research, you find that most of the decision-makers and influencers of a potential purchase herald from their countries of origin – one hundred percent of which are Spanish-speaking. Failure to integrate Spanish into your marketing materials, direct presentations, and instructions would be like handing over the prospects on a plate to your competitors.
Similarly, if you are targeting any of the big Spanish-speaking counties (i.e., 39 of them – see above), you get a leg-up by weighing heavily on a bilingual approach. It also applies if your product is specific to an ethnic group like, say, Russian or Chinese delicacies. Even more so if older people are in the mix and see it as part and parcel of the old country nostalgia. It’s a no brainer to be language-specific in these instances.
Murky CX language waters
The bumper challenge arises when the targeted markets are not so black and white:
- Sometimes the language preference doesn’t stand out so much,
- Or even if it does, the viability of double language communication is not very clear.
- Indeed, some potential buyers – especially the younger crew – may see messaging in anything but English as a little demeaning. In other words, they’re sensitive to their new heritage and want to be treated like any other American.
In cases like this, the decision to go for languages other than English rests crucially on:
- The database that’s available to you. From the Census Bureau alone, as you can see above, we picked up valuable information. You can also go to a recent Nielsen report on Hispanics highlighted as a super consumer group.
- Analyzing the Hisapanic population segment in-depth to obtain insights that give you a CX edge through the customer’s buying process. Recent research shows (amongst other things) that Hispanics:
- Are a digitally savvy group and that as an audience, they use online ads as a reference tool 66% of the time – 20% more than the national average. It ties in with their vast ownership of mobile phones.
- Engage in internet browsing by up to 55% more than they do T.V. commercials to get purchase information. Also, they use their mobiles for purchase info 83% of the time when browsing through a brick and mortar store.
There are businesses located in Hispanic population counties reliant totally on their support. These and others, eager for Spanish speaking clients, may be promoting aggressively on TV, minimally online, and in English. How wrong can one go?
We can safely conclude.
There’s no substitute for the task of getting to know your customers, especially when Spanish or other languages enter the picture. Always validate if the buying power behind language groups makes dollar sense. Not only that, get to know the media preferred by language customer segments. It’s an essential element of strategy that keeps it all together. The bottom line is that if you ignore language differentials in a gigantic national market like the US, where segmentation rules the roost, you do so at your peril.