Localizing Support

By Ian Henderson, Chief Executive Officer, Rubric

During a meeting with Hewlett Packard, their technical support group executive made a not-so-surprising comment.

“Rubric’s work on localizing reduced our help desk support cost 40% in Japan and Korea.”

Pleased as this fellow was, it was not unexpected. Poor localization of support documents confuses customers and leads to product misuse, problems, and on rare occasion, product liabilities. Good product localization leads to lower support costs and happier customers.

The top-line

Localizing your products is a requirement for market entry in almost every product category. But today, product acceptance is based not only on how well localized content attracts buyers, but on how well the product is supported. People demand more from all products, including imports.

For example, in the 1970’s, the term “Jenglish” entered the North American vocabulary. “Jenglish” was a contraction for “Japanese English”, and was used to describe the less-than-perfect translations of instruction booklets included with Japanese manufactured goods. For many years Japanese products were unfairly considered as inferior by most Americans in part due to poor localization. This slowed market gains Japanese companies could have achieved in North America – a direct hit on top-line revenues.

The same applies when American companies export goods to other regions. Though the number of non-Americans with some English skills is higher than the reverse, English is still a second language and precise product and content localization is required to gain market share.

The support bottom-line

Top-line localization issues are well understood, but bottom-line customer support issues are not. There are significant direct costs associated with foreign support. These costs can be reduced with effective localization of the following customer touch-points:

User manual: Educating the customer the moment they open the box – and upon occasion, before they open to box – prevents problems and avoids support needs.

Online support: The cost of self-service support via the web is much lower than telephone support, but not if the content is confusing.

Support staff: Once a support call is made, your foreign support staff needs quality information that is easy to understand, search, and communicate to customers.

The first two touch-points – the user manual and online support – suffer from the same problem, which is a lack of dialogue. Each form of support is basically static, and prevents the customer from asking better or more detailed questions.

If there is any ambiguity in documentation, the customer is forced to make a support telephone call, and your costs rise as a result. Conversely, if the localized content is precise and understandable, then your support staff’s time is reserved for handling more difficult and unusual calls.

Reducing your call load is, of course, the primary objective. Though you can never eliminate telephone support, you must try to reduce it given the staggering expense. Manpower, training, and transcontinental communications with 2nd tier support teams account for the largest part of your foreign support costs.

Part of your total cost of poor localization comes from your knowledge base and internal documentation. Your foreign support teams need documentation on products, issues, and support procedures. Inferior localization of these materials will result in high costs as your foreign teams attempt to decipher the documentation. Worse yet, if the documentation is unclear, they might in turn give your customers inadequate support and create unhappy customers.

If your foreign support staff is completely dumbfounded by their documentation, they will add to your support costs through frequent communications with your home office. Your 2nd tier support teams and engineers are expensive resources, and their time must not be squandered on remedial, real-time education of your foreign teams

How to minimize the costs

To minimize your bottom-line support costs, you should focus on just a few steps.

Product localization: The more care you take in the localizing of your product, the less your support costs will be since your foreign customers will get full value from your product. This involves expertly localizing your documentation, and in the case of many products (especially software), properly localizing the user controls and interfaces.

Content management: For online support, use a content management system that streamlines the posting of knowledge base materials and submitting new materials for localizations. Use an outside firm that has in-country technical and language experts who can properly translate the content.

Constant partner: Pick a reliable partner for localizing your content. Having Rubric as your partner provides support for both the product creation and support phases. This creates a uniform level of documentation, which in turn reduces customer and support staff confusion.

BIO:  Ian Henderson, CEO, Rubric – www.Rubric.comIan Henderson oversees Rubric and the creation of a better localization experience. Ian combines a deep knowledge of globalization issues with an equally deep knowledge of technology and distributed team management. This combination of skills has been the foundation of Rubric, and has achieved the company’s unprecedented 98% customer retention rate and the highest satisfaction ratings in the industry. Ian’s opinion is often reported throughout the localization industry and has appeared in Multilingual Computing & Technology and Software Business. Prior to joining Rubric, Ian worked in a variety of management and engineering positions at Siemens (Germany), Expert Software and Phoenix Software (New Zealand) and Berlitz (England). Ian has been with Rubric since the inception of the company in 1994. Ian co-founded Rubric in 1994.

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