We have a future after all... (article on customer relationship management)
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Apr 10, 2002



Customer Relationship Management

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Enterprises Need to Automate and Translate the Handling of Text and Audio Language Translation

By John Zipperer

So much for English as the lingua franca. you don\'t have to be a devotee of Samuel Huntington to believe that doing international business increasingly will require juggling multiple languages. Huntington is the Harvard political scientist who argues that as civilizations other than the West continue their economic resurgence (such as in China, India, and some Middle Eastern countries),

English will be used decreasingly as the common language between two parties of different cultures. Increasingly, they will study other major languages in school and use those languages with each other, and English speakers will find more resistance to the expectation that they will use English with us, too.

The idea of a common language in business has long been oversold. [See \"Global Languages Aren\'t Universal,\" June 15, 2001, p. 14.] The main problem is that it still only dealt with a thin layer of a society, the elites who were somewhat cosmopolitan. But your consumers in other countries—as well as Americans whose primary language is other than English—need information and help in their local languages and your business customers will, too. So how do you deliver it to them?

Companies such as package-deliverer United Parcel Service, with call centers around the globe, already had a local-language infrastructure in place as they looked to expand their CRM services. \"Being global is not new to UPS,\" says Ramsey Mansour, the company\'s director of international e-commerce. \"We\'ve always had the process in place where we have the local content in the local language.\"

Michael Ryan, vice president of international e-commerce at UPS, says that bringing its customer relationships to the Web—and away from physical visits—and handling the necessary translations were the big parts of the effort behind its recently launched UPS Online Tool, which gives its customers the ability to use services from the Web or from a mobile device. The company had seen the importance of local languages when it upgraded its Web sites. \"We\'ve been working hard to get our UPS.com Web sites around the globe translated. About a year ago, we translated our Asian Web sites, and we saw such a tremendous growth in usage—in Asia alone, there was a 225-percent increase in usage,\" says Ryan. \"That sends us a message that our customers want to use their local languages.\"

Language Automation

Handling the automation of customer requests in different languages is a challenge that Banter has had to meet with the natural-language technology it supplies to the CRM industry. Its technology takes messages from customers—such as e-mail or chat—and extracts from it what the customer is trying to say, such as inquiring about an order status or making a complaint or a threat of legal action. Responses can be handled automatically or can go through human agents for response or vetting.

Yoram Nelken, Banter\'s CTO, says handling customer queries presents a problem because of the imperfect language people use. \"When you analyze newspapers and articles, you can assume correct language and grammar,\" he says. But \"real\" people don\'t necessarily comply with all the language rules, and that becomes an even bigger problem to sort out when you have to handle bad grammar or improper word-usage in multiple languages—even though English may have a place of (dis)honor for the most mistakes. \"Broken language is mostly an English phenomenon,\" Nelken says. \"You have more foreigners trying to write English than any other language. If you\'re writing in French, you\'re more likely to be French.\"

As some multinational companies consolidate international offices to take advantage of centralized information control or just to lower costs, there\'s a need to go beyond mere translation. That\'s why products like Point Information Systems\' CRM solution or Click Commerce\'s Relationship Manager stress their localization abilities. Point\'s product is in 19 languages across 36 countries; Click\'s is in more than 15 languages in at least 70 countries.

\"The Click Commerce Relationship Manager allows users to specify their locale rather than just their country,\" says Steve Cole, senior vice president of corporate strategy for Click Commerce. \"This complex profile allows users to select their country, their language, and even their preferred currency, while simpler applications would assume, for example, that all people living in Italy speak Italian.\"

This is also the approach of Kanisa Inc.\'s Kanisa 3.0 product. (Kanisa\'s Web site states that the company is named after the word \"know\" in Lingala, an African tribal commerce language.) Its automated customer-care system offers the ability to handle customer interaction in multiple languages simultaneously.

Kanisa\'s vice president of solutions and technology, David Kay, says that handling languages gets complicated. \"Any one aspect of the problem is relatively easy, certainly from a technological standpoint, but the whole package is really, really hard, because there are so many policies,\" he says.

Genesys announced a product in March that it calls Contact Navigator, which is a contact-center tool that rests on top of CRM applications. The product is also compliant in Unicode, a system for displaying the written texts of various languages.

Multi-byte languages can be handled by many systems, but the connected company needs to tie that use into the whole customer interaction and interpret meanings all along the way, including knowing what to pull up in searches. A Japanese subsidiary, for example, not only uses English-language material from its American parent but might also have documentation for Japanese-only products for which there is no English need. \"So if you have a system that assumes there\'s a master English document for everything, that won\'t work,\" Kay says.

Juggling Multiple Languages

Dealing in the world of multiple languages is just one more important aspect of CRM, which is being driven by the need to give the customers more self-help tools, cut down call-center costs, and feed intelligence-gathering efforts. No one element is going to make a CRM strategy successful, but lacking one element could make a CRM strategy fail. That\'s supported by a recent survey done by DMR Consulting (recently renamed Fujitsu Consulting), which found that CRM strategies that include sales, marketing, and customer service are \"more likely to achieve key strategic goals\" for their companies than those that target just one or two of those features.

\"ROI isn\'t only measured by dollar savings,\" agrees Robb Eklund, PeopleSoft\'s vice president of CRM product marketing, \"but it also goes to the question of am I able to improve the level of services to customers? Am I able to deploy my best resources to my most profitable customers?\"

\"The business of internationalization has been very interesting for us,\" says Kay. \"Without a well-thought-out approach to internationalization, none of our customers would have bought us. On the other hand, there are so many challenges to the organizations themselves to roll out completely internationalized experiences, it\'s still taking them longer then they\'d like just to get their own ducks in line internally. It\'s a problem, but it\'s one that our customers tell us will offer significant competitive advantage for them.\"


Technology editor John Zipperer can be reached at zipperer@iw.com.



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We have a future after all... (article on customer relationship management)

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