There’s a force gathering – 3 billion strong – with the potential to create the next shift in customer experience. The shift is a logical continuation of the path to where we are today, but it could catch companies unprepared for tomorrow. Here’s why…

In the Beginning
Procter and Gamble played a large part in defining and shaping the customer experience. In 1939, just a few months after television was invented, P&G aired its first commercial during major league baseball’s first televised game. The success that followed powered decades of mass media’s one-to-many model of communication. Despite enormous growth, P&G’s marketing and consumer behavior department adapted well to change.

New Mindset
In September of 2005, The Wall Street Journal published an article that began to shift the customer experience closer to today’s one-to-one outlook. P&G asserted that customers were making buying decisions on the spot within the first critical seconds of noticing a product on the shelf. This was termed “the first moment of truth,” or FMOT. P&G put serious resources into optimizing the FMOT in-store. Customization and decentralized communication were taking their first steps.

Enter Social
Social media changed everything. Google best explains the significance by turning math on its head, showing how zero is greater than one with social. Google discovered that today’s purchasing behavior begins with an unprecedented amount of research. Customers refer to about 10 different resources before buying. All of this activity beforehand makes the FMOT less influential. Realizing the model has changed, Google calls this flurry of pre-sales activity the “zero moment of truth” or ZMOT. Reaching customers earlier in the buying cycle is critical to the experience.

Follow the Crowd
Not long ago, Forbes published an article based on a study that determined today’s customer is a “multi-screener.” A trend is emerging where the customer experience is fragmented. Customers are jumping fluidly from one device to another.

If – for example – someone starts researching a purchase on a smart phone, does more research on a tablet later and makes the purchase on a laptop, the customer experience needs to be cross-platform so shoppers can easily switch between devices.

This seems to be where much of the focus is today, and with good reason. Technology has changed people’s behavior so that architects of the customer experience need to make accommodations. The next big shift, the factor that is potentially missing, could be the exact opposite. What if people forced the technology to change or at least evolve?

Got Culture?
Within a few years, 3 billion people from the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are set to equal the cell phone usage of Western Europe and North America. Diversity is also exploding in-country. As a result, the cross-platform experience will need to be in different languages and localized for other cultures.

Keeping It Affordable
Localization projects can be expensive and difficult to manage. But they don’t have to be. It would be impossible to cover every aspect of localizing websites and other media, but I can share my own experience and advice on pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Choosing Languages
    Studies suggest a website in English, Spanish and Chinese can reach about half the world’s online users. You can add more languages (there are over 6,000 in the world) but remember that translation is just one component of localization cost.
  2. Content
    Will you translate everything or just part of it? It all depends on you, your customer and your budget. One caveat: company names, brand names and product names are notoriously hard to translate. If you don’t leave them as is, your options are basically a literal translation, a subjective translation that captures the general meaning or a translation based on how the word sounds.
  3. Design
    With localization, there’s more to design than meets the eye.

Branding – Can you preserve your carefully crafted brand image and design for different cultural preferences? A separate localized site for each language or country with unique colors and design is a possibility.

Clarity – A picture is worth a thousand words, but it can also confuse – especially with other cultures. Symbols you assume are universal could actually be misinterpreted. Take for example flags as a language menu. There are over 20 countries where Spanish is the official language and many more where it is spoken prominently. Which flag would you use? Spain? Mexico? Venezuela? Costa Rica? A written option for language choice is better, but not in English. Visitors need the ability to select Español instead of Spanish.

Scalability – Design affects translation cost so be sure to plan ahead. Translations such as Spanish can have up to 25% more words than the English source; others like Chinese might have 25% fewer words. If your design doesn’t scale, it could need expensive and time consuming overhauls.

Website Copy
It’s much more difficult and costly to translate slang, metaphors, pop culture references, technical jargon, humor, puns or a play on words. Results can be flat out embarrassing. Just google “translation mistakes” and you’ll see what I mean.

Multilingual CMS
Today’s multilingual CMS makes it much more feasible to provide a multicultural experience.

There are three basic options for translation. Please note they do not include a company employee who knows the language or a college student majoring in the language. It just doesn’t work.

1      Machine translation

2      Freelance translator or crowdsourcing

3      Translation agency

Regardless of your choice, the CMS needs the ability to export content and re-integrate it once the translation is finished. The best file types are XML and XLF. These files are very compatible with computer aided translation (CAT) tools such as translation memory, which stores and reuses previously translated segments of text. The CMS also needs to support currency conversion, dates, measurements, times and calendars.

Well, there you have it.
While there are challenges, it’s definitely possible for almost anyone to add other languages and cultural savvy to the cross-platform customer experience. Your visitors are ready for it – are you?