New people come in through our office every day, we’ve kind of gotten used to it. But, when one of the fathers of machine translation walks in through the door, it’s reason enough to jump out of one’s skin.

That’s what happened when Professor Andy Way of the ADAPT Center at Dublin City University joined us in Lisbon for the first episode of Understand with Unbabel.

Customer Support often has a bad name. And that’s strange. Because everyone who works in customer service also knows exactly what it’s like to be a customer. They also know what it’s like to experience both excellent and lousy customer service. So how come so many CS operations have traditionally been closer to lousy than excellent?

Well, management teams have in the past done an almost perfect job of creating an environment in which customer support fails to deliver:

Meet Daniel Wellington

Daniel Wellington is a watch brand, known for sleek and timeless design, its interchangeable NATO straps and mid-price positioning. Founded in Stockholm, Sweden in 2011; by February 2017 the venture was crowned the fastest growing business in Europe with growth across three years of over 4500%. 

A retail all-rounder, the company has a strong e-commerce presence, including a committed global following on social media (Daniel Wellington on Instagram has over 3 million followers). It also boasts a mature reseller network in stores across the world, in partnership with flagship retail brands. Daniel Wellington is today still a private company, so valuations vary; but it is generally believed to be worth around $200m.

“It’s always been a pleasure for me”

Rebecka was born and raised on the west coast of Finland, in a small municipality called Larsmo (Luoto). Situated in the middle of a large archipelago consisting of about 360 islands and skerries, Larsmo is one of the larger islands, home to tall pine forests, a number of small towns and Finland’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Larsmo. 

“It’s the kind of place where almost everyone knows everyone,” Rebecka recalls: a small place with lots of forests and water.”

Traditionally, the Customer Support function has been the unsung hero of business, for a very simple reason: the customer neither sees nor envisages a problem at the point they hand over their money. 

When you get a mortgage, buy a dress or book a flight, you don’t exhaustively assess a business for its quality of service. At this stage, we are still much more likely to think about price, product quality and features as our main points of comparison.

But anyone who has worked in a call centre or on a helpdesk knows how important the support function is; often the last opportunity to rescue a negative situation and lock down a customer for life.

However, the role of Customer Support as a hidden asset has been changing for much of the last decade. 

“Born to be bilingual”  Ray Kwan, like most others on the Unbabel platform, is not your typical translator: “translators are supposed to be more concerned with the liberal arts, but I am more of a geeky guy. I like chasing all the new techie stuff, and following the latest trends in the tech industry.” For Ray, Unbabel is changing up the role of the modern translator, and he’s excited about the way bilingual editors work in partnership with predictive technology. Unbabel’s ability to unite the speed of computational translation and the subtlety of human translation make it unique: I think combining technology and the liberal arts can bring greater inspiration, just as Unbabel seeks to do – using AI technology to deal with language. Ray has now worked for more than a year as a translator for Unbabel, following a position at the Chinese version of Fascinated by...

In part 1 of this series, we saw how history and luck put English at the top of the world’s linguistic tree. It might not have been the most spoken language in the world, but if English had a GDP, it would dwarf any other language on the planet.

In part 2, we found out that, particularly online, the strength of the English language is dwindling. Just 23 languages (out of more than 7000) are the native tongue of over 4 billion people that’s more than half the world. 

This gentle decline in the use of English should be discussed in terms of the economically-driven success of other countries. Whilst China for its sheer size has hogged the headlines, large parts of Asia and Africa are starting to assert themselves on the world stage. This has consequences for business.

In the first piece of this series, we discovered that English had got lucky. Of the 7000+ languages spoken in the world today an ever-changing list as dialects flex, grow and die out English became dominant. 

It’s historical good fortune and the practicalities of trade that gave English its position by the late 20th Century, and it’s no surprise that circumstance and practicality are equally responsible for the new world of language we find ourselves in today.