Why Companies Should Regard Language Operations as a Driver for Growth

By Vasco Pedro, co-founder and CEO of Unbabel

When a company expands its business operations into a foreign country, it can be daunting to operate in a market that does not speak the company’s native language. Organizations are expected to speak the language of their new customer base, and beyond that, there is a list of complexities that needs to be addressed: New foreign employees need to be onboarded by HR departments, marketing and PR strategies need to be fine-tuned in new languages, and legal departments are required to adhere to regional contractual requirements and obligations. An organization needs to be able to work at all levels in a new language.

Having effective language translation capabilities can ease this transition. Language Operations (LangOps) is a cross-disciplinary function that helps global businesses communicate effectively with their multilingual customers, employees and other stakeholders. With LangOps, organizations can start to view language as a vehicle for growth and a means of successfully transitioning into new markets.

Scaling localization and translation with LangOps 

According to a recent survey about business expansion and LangOps, customers want companies to speak to them in their native language, with 65% of customers surveyed preferring content in their own language, even if the quality of those translations were poor. Around 40% of the respondents said that they would not buy anything if the company did not cater to their own language. When customers have bad experiences with a brand, it’s usually as a result of interacting with customer-facing teams who are on the front lines of dealing with product and service issues. With so many translation tools and technologies available, it is no longer feasible or even acceptable to argue that interaction with people in a different language is an expensive task.

However, pure AI-technology is limited in its ability to understand the full range of unique queries. With any aspect of communication – whether it’s legal compliance, marketing or onboarding new clients or hires – there are many nuances and regional sensitivities, which the AI needs to be able to understand. Pure AI translation is trained on data sets taken from the internet, and issues have arisen in the past where AI-chatbots have turned toxic.

So what can be done? Instead of relying solely on the translations of simple AI chatbots, the solution is to adopt an approach of scalability, married with a nuanced approach to language translation. This is possible using a hybrid translation approach that combines an AI-based system with human editors, who consistently work to update translation algorithms unique to a market’s or country’s language preferences. The result is a robust system with a handful of skilled editors working behind the scenes who can adequately address any kind of query, at scale, with quick turnaround times. 

Implementing LangOps, with the right leadership

To begin a LangOps journey, consider where the new system will benefit an organization the most. Often, business leaders default to the customer support arena, which is a sensible decision, as it is usually a costly space that sees high staff turnover. Customer support is a great launchpad into realizing tangible results with LangOps. 

An organization also needs the right leader to head up the new system. Hiring for a LangOps leader requires input not only from the customer service leaders and localization specialists, but also the C-suite, since the LangOps leader needs to have a range of technical and soft skills to operationalize multilingual communications at scale. LangOps leaders’ responsibilities include procuring and implementing machine translation solutions, training models with clients’ language requirements, measuring the success of optimized translation capabilities, and teaching others how to perform the work. 

Once the LangOps leader has been appointed, proceed to building out the team. How large the LangOps team should be and what responsibilities each role will have depends on the company’s vision for the new system. If the plan is to implement LangOps throughout an organization, the system may need a manager or small team dedicated to each department. Consider what technologies each department is using and what the company’s LangOps goals are. Perhaps an organization wants to improve its internal communications across different departments, or its business processes need to be centralized. These are realizable outcomes with a LangOps system in place.

Using LangOps beyond the customer service space

Using LangOps, customer service will see quick returns, but that doesn’t mean that businesses can only use the system in customer support. LangOps is a useful tool for centralizing business processes and realizing cost efficiencies. The key to using LangOps is to have a business-wide strategy that strikes a balance between human and machine translation efforts. With its wide-scale applicability for different organizational departments, it’s becoming necessary to see the potential of LangOps beyond the customer service arena. Other departments – like HR, product development, sales, and more – stand to benefit.

HR is a great example of where LangOps can make a marked difference for an organization. Combined with a LangOps system, having a centralized HR department for employees based in different countries will create transparency for everyone using the platform. Employees will be able to take the same skills development course and receive feedback in their own language. A LangOps strategy delivers process refinement and provides transparency and control for its users. It also improves interdepartmental relations for companies that operate in multiple countries.

Providing opportunities for holistic business improvements 

With such a wide sphere of potential applications, it’s a no-brainer that investment in a LangOps strategy can lead to better organizational experiences, better scaling for different departments, and improvements in customer experiences. Having the right LangOps leadership and knowing which areas in a business require process refinement are sure-fire ways to set up a successful strategy. With LangOps, language should no longer be considered as an obstacle to business expansion. 

About the author: 

Vasco Pedro is Co-Founder and CEO of Unbabel, an AI-powered Language Operations platform that helps enterprises grow into new global markets and builds customer trust by creating more consistent, high-quality multilingual customer experiences across marketing and customer service. He developed his love of both languages and technology during his time at Carnegie Mellon University. After a degree in language and knowledge learning, Vasco went on to develop his master’s degree and doctorate around language technologies — an academic study that covered over a decade of research. Vasco then worked at both Siemens and Google, where he helped develop technologies to further understand data computation and language.

He co-founded Unbabel in 2013. Vasco’s knowledge of bridging both language and technology is at the core of everything that is built at Unbabel. He is bilingual in Portuguese and English.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.