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The best approach to building an international customer base is combining the strengths of machine translation with the skills of professional linguists, according to international business experts. Several business strategists and CEOs spoke at “Building Blocks to Going Global” Wednesday.

Advice from sessions at the event aims to help companies just getting started with international expansion plans as well as companies already serving customers in multiple languages.

Analyze your website traffic

Renato Beninatto, chairman and co-founder of Nimdzi Insights, is an experienced leader in the translation, localization, interpretation and the language services industry. He shared advice on how to get started developing international markets in his presentation, “The Five Prerequisites to Expansion.” His first piece of advice was simple: Look at your website to see if you have any existing international traffic.

He recommended using that analysis to guide initial planning for international expansion.

Translate your social media ads

Beninatto’s other advice was to translate ads into foreign languages. That also will give you a headstart in understanding what customers are most interested in your product or service, he said. Facebook has a free translation service for ads on its platform. Companies can provide translations as well. In 2020, Facebook launched a dynamic ad optimization service. This allows companies to build and run ad campaigns and boost other content such as posts in multiple languages.

Build the right translation engine

Once you move beyond ad copy, you’ll need more than social media tools to deliver content in multiple languages.

David Ruane, digital content and partnership manager at XTM International, explained how to build the right platform to manage translation services and localize large volumes of content. He said that the KISS principle is still the best guidance because localization is already quite complex.

“Companies should look for systems which are open and easy to connect to and systems with AI that is regularly updated,” he said.

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The two key components for a translation platform are a management system and a cutting-edge machine translation engine, according to Ruane. He said integration and automation are the two key criteria to use when selecting a translation management system.

He recommended looking for these features in a translation platform:

  • Terminology management
  • Multi-vendor enabled
  • Linguistic quality assurance
  • Global messaging
  • Translators workbench
  • Analysis engie
  • Content connectors
  • Workflow automation
  • Open APIs
  • Reporting engine/dashboard

Keep subject matter experts in the process

Mostansar Virk, founder and CEO of Epic Translations, works with customers who need product manuals, engineering documents and legal contracts translated into multiple languages. He said during his presentation that while machine translations are good, having a human being involved in the process will be necessary indefinitely.

“Keeping humans in the loop is required to make sure our clients are able to successfully connect with their target audience emotionally and psychologically,” he said.

He said human expertise is especially important when it comes to content related to healthcare and manufacturing. Human translators bring their professional background, education and experience in that space to the work.

“Human in the loop is an essential ingredient to reduce translation costs and ensure as much consistency as possible,” he said.

Virk predicts that the need for human translators will increase as more content is produced from AI translation engines.

Combine human expertise and automation techniques

Heather Shoemaker, CEO of Language I/O, explained how to make multilingual customer service work during her session. She said that two common mistakes are doing translation work directly in a CRM system and starting from scratch when building chatbots in a new language.

She recommended using translation applications that integrate into a CRM and have the ability to export content for review by a professional translator.

“You want to use technology to submit an English knowledge base for translation,” she said. “Look for an app that can push that content out of the CRM into a translation platform where human linguists can translate or update it.”

Shoemaker said that chat support is the preferred channel for most customers. To fill this need across multiple languages, she suggested using technology that allows English speaking agents to work in any language.

She said that automated translation is the best approach in this instance because hiring native speakers for every language can be inefficient and expensive.

“Companies think they have to hire native speaking agents but that’s often unnecessary and creates a bandwidth problem,” she said.

Reducing customer service questions

International customers will have the same questions that American customers do, according to Phil Gorman, CEO of E-Commerce Day. The key to reducing the volume of customer service questions is to provide answers to common questions in the local language. This includes questions about payments and shipping. Taking the time to translate this information will save time in the long run, he said.