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Salesforce Commerce Solution Guide

Dissolving Customer Support Communication Barriers

By Mark Tapling
Dec 11, 2009 4:00 AM PT

Companies are gearing up for a strong finish to 2009, and consumers are gearing up to acquire more high-tech gadgets from big box stores and online retailers at highly competitive prices. This is a great time to consider how companies can ensure customers are satisfied and successful with their purchases and how they can plan ahead for 2010.

Dissolving Customer Support Communication Barriers

Picture this: Manuel waited in line for more than 24 hours to get the best Black Friday deals. He gave up Thanksgiving dinner with his family and battled cold temperatures through the night so that he could be the first person in line at his local big box technology retailer when the doors opened at 5a.m. on Black Friday. It was worth the long wait, because he walked out with a new 50-inch television at a rock bottom price -- complete with features in Spanish, a requirement of his family and friends.

Now -- the moment of truth. It is time to set up his prized possession -- his reward for his long wait in line. Manuel carefully unpacks the TV and strategically places it in the family room of his house for all to enjoy. Now all he has to do is figure out the setup and programming.

From Ecstasy to Agony

However, Manuel makes a horrifying discovery: The programming menu is stuck on the English main menu screen and won't advance to the next menu screen or switch over to Spanish. The manufacturer did provide the quick start guide in Spanish to help with the setup, but it offers no help in troubleshooting this error. The support manual is available as a PDF on the company's Web site, but Manuel doesn't know there's a translated version.

His only other option is to call the support line, but on a holiday weekend he knows from experience that he will be directed to a call center, and he will be on hold listening to irritating music for more than a half hour while he waits for a Spanish-speaking representative.

All of a sudden, the time spent in line, the cold weather, and the frustration of missing dinner come flooding back and are aimed squarely in one place: the manufacturer of the TV.

This is not an enviable position for most companies and recovering from it is difficult. This type of customer frustration won't lead to positive reviews, recommendations or repeat business.

Time spent trying to resolve support issues can send the most loyal customer into a state of anger. To help your company avoid pitfalls like these in the New Year, focus on providing customers with a more positive self-service experience by reducing communication barriers. Following are three recommendations to help companies' self-service efforts succeed.

Beef Up Your Web Site

Eliminate the need for customers to call support for simple questions that can be answered online.

By providing self-service options on the support site through a knowledge base, FAQs, chat or other channels, companies can dramatically reduce their support costs.

The average call to a call center costs US$33, while self-service averages between one and two dollars. It doesn't take long for these savings to add up. In Manuel's case, if the self-service site had been featured in the quick-start guide, he might have been happy to check there first.

And Information for All

Provide customers with the same depth and quality of information for self-service, regardless of the language they speak.

Providing a self-service option on your site is great, but if you are selling globally or to diverse groups in a particular region, remember that customers prefer to interact with companies in their native language. Manuel prefers Spanish and would have been thrilled to know there was a self-service option available to him in his native language.

Oftentimes, companies will translate product information required for prepurchase into many languages but stop short of translating support content because of the cost. This sends a signal to customers that they are important enough to sell to but not important enough to support. Manuel was starting to wonder if the company's Spanish-speaking customers were less valuable than its English-speaking customers.

To ensure that all customers receive the same level of self-service support, companies have started to deploy automated translation software to quickly translate support content into many languages. Companies like Intel and Cisco have successfully deployed automated translation on their support sites to deliver self-service information to a global customer base without incurring the high costs associated with human translation.

Open the Community Gates

Enable Web properties to provide all of their visitors -- regardless of location or language spoken -- with the same community-contributed content.

The next wave in support is the community. Younger generations prefer to get help from peers before going through traditional communication channels set up by an enterprise. These same people also expect answers faster than ever before, so unless you have a huge call center with short wait times, a user community should be in your plans.

For these customers and future customers, it is important not only to deliver a community portal, but also to enable contributions from a global customer base. What is learned by customers in France, Spain, China, or Istanbul will be just as relevant to customers in the United States, Germany and Japan.

Communities empower your customers to contribute, help each other and interact with the company in a new way, and translation of community interactions enables companies to broaden the reach of a single piece of content.

Harness Positive Energy

As you look ahead to 2010, think of Manuel and his excitement over his new television. That excitement can be harnessed and used to your company's advantage if communication barriers are reduced to enable interaction in multiple languages and across channels.

If customer loyalty, experience and satisfaction are important to your company, look at new ways for enabling self-service, providing quality information across languages, and empowering the global community as you make plans for the New Year.


Mark Tapling is CEO of Language Weaver, a provider of automated translation solutions.


When using a search engine, how often do you look beyond the first page of results?
Never -- There's always enough information on the first page to meet my needs.
Rarely -- There's usually enough on the first page, but sometimes I want to see more.
Occasionally -- If there are too many paid-for results, or if I don't find an answer on the first page.
Often -- Even if there's enough information on the first page, I like to know what else is available.
Always -- First page search results are rigged; I don't want to be limited to what an algorithm highlights.