Connecting with non-English Speaking Customers

by Michael J. Kaminski, Product Manager, Exstream Software

Through the use of sophisticated CRM solutions and other technologies to capture more demographic data, many organizations claim they are communicating with customers at a more personal level than ever before.   

But are you really? Are you sending your customer's statements, invoices, and other "critical" correspondence in their native language? Can you incorporate multi-lingual, relevant cross-sell and up-sell marketing messages into documents? 

Changing Demographics

According to figures from the 2000 U.S. Census, 17.9 percent of the U.S. population (47 million people) speak a language other than English at home. From 1980 to 2000, the number of people in the U.S. who speak a language other than English at home doubled. And according to U.S. Census projections issued in 2004, these numbers will continue to trend upward. The percentage of Asian persons currently in the U.S. is at 3.6 percent. In California, this jumps to 10.9 percent. And, the 2004 U.S. Census projections predict the percentage of Asian persons in the U.S. to grow over time.

From 1980 to 2000, the number of people in the U.S. who speak a language other than English at home doubled. And these numbers will continue to trend upward.

In addition to demographic and market pressures nudging you to think about how to better communicate with non-English speaking customers, legislation may soon force you to do so. In 2004, California passed SB 853, a bill that requires health care insurers to assess the linguistic needs of their enrollee population and, based on population criteria, provide translation of vital documents such as consent forms, letters regarding eligibility and participation criteria, and notices pertaining to the denial, reduction, modification, or termination of services and benefits. A key point of the legislation is that it does not require translation to a specific language but to the most prevalent languages after English within a given population group.

Connecting with multi-lingual customers

California SB 853 may be the first of many such bills to be proposed in legislatures across the U.S., but it won't be the last. Organizations across a number of vertical markets, including the service providers that process data and create documents on behalf of these organizations, will need to implement strategies that meet these market and legislative demands.

The more diverse the population base and languages spoken, the greater the challenge becomes. Languages such as English, Spanish and French are known to computers as single byte languages. That means that software supporting these languages utilizes single byte character sets (SBCS) to represent one character. With most software solutions, there are up to 256 different characters that may be represented at any time. SBCS solutions work for a large percentage of the population; however, there is a growing population segment that may not be reached by SBCS-based software solutions.

Businesses across a number of vertical markets, including print providers, will need to implement strategies that meet market --and legislative-- demands surrounding language.

Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages have more than 256 characters. In addition, many of these characters are too complex to be represented by a single byte of data and require two bytes of information for representation--referred to as double-byte character set (DBCS).  These languages also require special keyboards or a language emulator to allow end users to create text in a document.

Finding the right technology

To meet this challenge, organizations must have an enterprise document creation solution that can create multi-lingual documents for both single-byte and double-byte languages. Some software providers tout their Unicode enablement and use this as "proof" of the ability to support Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages (CJK). However, Unicode is simply an industry standard that provides a single method for all languages to be encoded for use by computers. Both single and double byte data use Unicode. A solution that is "Unicode-enabled" is not necessarily capable of handling double-byte characters when it comes to text entry and printing.

A single platform approach to enterprise personalization can reduce document production costs as much as 80 percent and get to market with critical communications up to 85 percent faster.

The ideal solution for connecting with all of your customers, regardless of language requirement, is enterprise personalization software that supports both SBCS and DBCS requirements. The optimal solution will allow you to create personalized, language-relevant documents using a single design; easily integrate with your existing data sources and systems; allow marketing and business users to maintain documents and create rules-driven messages that are dynamically incorporated into communications at run time; and supports multi-channel delivery according to business or customer preferences. With this single platform approach, you can reduce document production costs as much as 80 percent, get to market with critical communications up to 85 percent faster, and as much as triple customer response rates.

When evaluating enterprise document creation software solutions, find one that provides: 

  • A single document design template for all languages
  • Support for all Latin-based languages, plus double-byte languages
  • Interfaces with keyboards supporting Chinese, Japanese, and Korean language emulation 
  • The ability to generate documents in multiple languages, in a single pass
  • The ability to link marketing campaigns so that appropriate follow-up messages are automatically sent depending on response, or lack of, to previous campaigns
  • Automated campaign prioritization and dynamic white space management based on pre-set postal weight limitations and other requirements
  • The ability to track responses to campaigns
  • The functionality to process all types of data input--simultaneously
  • Automated regulatory compliance

Enterprises have a unique opportunity to differentiate themselves and improve relationships with an expanding segment of their customers. But doing so requires having the right software and processes in place--a solution that allows you to uniquely create communications that connect with your customers, regardless of language or delivery channel, while reducing costs.