Organizations’ Translation Efforts Have Accelerated. Here’s Why.

August 3, 2021

Our recent Language Operations (LangOps) survey of decision-makers at globally operating mid-market and enterprise organizations found that 62% of companies have increased their translation and localization efforts since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

That may come as a surprise, as it may seem like the world has become a more isolated place over the course of the past year. But innovative technologies have actually enabled humankind to become more connected and more inclusive in many ways, resulting in a significant need for communication without barriers. 

As organizations speed up digital transformation, strive to provide a consistent global customer experience (CX), and work to facilitate a distributed labor force, translation and localization have become critical business drivers. 

Let’s examine each of these factors and how they have accelerated the need for high-quality language translation since the start of the pandemic.

Cross-border ecommerce takes off  

One of the biggest drivers of the increase in language translation efforts during the pandemic has been the massive spike in online shopping. Research from eMarketer found that worldwide retail ecommerce sales grew by 27.6% during 2021 (despite a mid-pandemic prediction of a 16.5% growth rate). Another study discovered that global consumers spent $861.12 billion online with U.S. retailers in 2020, an incredible 44% increase from 2019, 

As people were advised to limit their interactions with the general public — and at times required to shelter in place — throughout the pandemic, many turned to the internet to order food, clothing, electronics, household supplies, and just about any other goods under the sun. People who had never used ecommerce before or who mostly preferred to shop in-person turned to digital channels out of necessity, and occasional online shoppers became recurring customers of their favorite brands across the world. 

This collective adoption of ecommerce has resulted in organizations expanding their translation capabilities to better serve a global customer base and access markets they may not have previously considered. A report from the United Nations determined that buyers in emerging economies made the greatest transition to online shopping during COVID. For example, Thailand saw shopping app downloads increase by 60% during just one week in March of last year.

Providing a unified global CX

Another reason companies have become interested in enhancing their multilingual capabilities during the pandemic is the need to provide a consistent CX across the world. Some of these organizations technically had the ability to translate products and services into other languages pre-COVID, but the quality was inconsistent, to say the least.

A few years ago, we carried out a test where we contacted enterprise customer service teams in different languages. It was shocking how many of them sent back responses that contained major errors. A free translation tool like Google Translate has plenty of useful applications, but carrying on a natural-sounding conversation across languages — especially when there is emotion involved, as there often is in customer service interactions — is challenging for basic translation tools. 

Along with greater ecommerce use during the pandemic comes the need for more customer support: Freshworks found that 71% of customer service managers have seen an increase in overall contact volume since February 2020. With the volume of customer support demand going up across many different languages, companies simply can’t get away with mediocre translation. Poor customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores in a language with growing demand can take a major toll on a company’s reputation — and revenue.

Offering a unified multilingual CX in a scalable, cost-effective way can be a difficult puzzle to solve. Our What’s Top of Mind in 2021 survey discovered that 45% of global customer service leaders believe providing a consistent experience for international customers is their top challenge this year. Additionally, 36% said they want to hire the best customer service agents, but find it challenging to do so due to language, location, and skill set requirements.

Remote work becomes the norm 

Almost a year and a half after the start of the pandemic, it’s obvious that remote work is here to stay. In a PwC survey of nearly 700 global CEOs, 78% agreed that remote collaboration will be a long-term component of their businesses. Now that organizations have workers in multiple geographies, language translation has become an essential part of many job functions and conducting international business. Relatedly, the number of bilingual remote jobs jumped by 30% between March 2020 and March 2021. 

Many companies have chosen to increase their use of translation technology to facilitate a remote workforce, but the lack of centralized processes across all departments and locations can make things difficult. If one team is using translation software but another is relying on native speakers and doesn’t have access to the same technology, the results can be erratic and difficult to compare. Despite the rise in language translation efforts, organizations are still searching for a way to level the playing field.  

Language Operations, a way to do more with less

While many companies have increased their language translation and localization efforts during the pandemic, there are still challenges that keep some from serving more languages and accessing new markets. In our recent LangOps survey, we learned the top barriers that prevent organizations from scaling into new languages include:

  • Prohibitive costs (44%)

  • Lack of a single owner to manage the operation (36%)

  • Lack of a centralized process (36%)

Even before COVID caused an increased demand for language translation, we predicted that these challenges would impede growth for companies looking to scale their global operations. That’s why we have pioneered solutions that make it possible to bridge the gap between multilingual communication and its operationalization. With LangOps, language as a discipline is handled by a single team that uses technology such as human-in-the-loop machine translation to scale throughout the entire organization.

The LangOps team oversees all decision-making surrounding the people and technology that are needed to serve a global customer base and expand the business into untapped markets. For example, an English-speaking team in Ireland might use AI translation software to communicate with customers across 10 different languages for chat and email support. This solution is much more cost-effective than hiring a full-time team of native speakers or outsourcing translation services to third-party vendors.

After learning about the transformational power of LangOps, more than 86% of respondents to our recent survey said they believe a centralized LangOps team managing all the translation and localization efforts in their organization could be very or extremely valuable.

The current outlook on LangOps

As you can see, language translation and localization bring a wealth of opportunities for global organizations, but they also present certain challenges depending on the approach used. To learn more about the ways in which LangOps can help solve these issues, download our latest ebook: Going Global with Customer Support: How and When to Build and Execute a Language Operations Strategy.

About the Author

Profile Photo of Content Team
Content Team

Unbabel’s Content Team is responsible for showcasing Unbabel’s continuous growth and incredible pool of in-house experts. It delivers Unbabel’s unique brand across channels and produces accessible, compelling content on translation, localization, language, tech, CS, marketing, and more.