Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Localization Tech Stack Evolution

 As the world moves increasingly to a “digital-first” approach across the business and government spectrum, it has become increasingly clear to any enterprise interested in reaching a larger digital population, that providing more multilingual content matters, and that the demand for more translated content will only grow, which also means that enterprise translation capabilities will need to be pervasive and scalable.

The challenge for globalization managers is further complicated by the increasing focus on customer experience (CX) which means that the content can vary greatly, in volume, velocity, and value to customers and internal stakeholders. All content does not need to go through traditional localization production and quality validation processes.

Content that is focused on understanding, communication, and listening does not require the same linguistic quality assurance, and in the digital space, user-generated and other external content is now often the most impactful content to consider.

Modern-era globalization managers need to understand what matters most to customers and balance their focus on the “mandatory” legally required content that localization has typically focused on, against the non-corporate content customers find most useful.

Though the value and business benefit of large-scale translation and localization are now well understood, globalization and localization managers tasked with making the global customer outreach happen, struggle with this objective.

They are faced with a fragmented, inconsistent, and fractured technology landscape and many sub-optimal tools currently exist in the language technology marketplace shown in the graphic below.

These tools are needed both to perform the many specific tasks involved in any globalization effort and to help establish structured processes that enable ongoing and emerging global customer-focused needs to be efficiently serviced.

Given the wide variety of tools and the diversity of the people needed to effectively execute the multiple globalization processes involved, straightforward and efficient data flow from sub-system to sub-system is desirable.

Successful globalization outcomes are often directly linked to enabling fast-flowing, unhindered data flows through a variety of translation-related processes. This is a necessary condition for success in a digital-first world.

However, what many Loc Buyers find is that some of the systems and tools they use impede and obstruct this smooth data flow, and thus the digital globalization initiative is often undermined and overly focused on repairing broken and problematic data flows.

If we look at the TMS part of the tech stack more closely, we can understand the challenge that globalization managers have when making long-term decisions on what their tech stack should look like. There are many choices, and identifying the specific characteristics of a superior system is not so clear.

We have learned that the best AI outcomes are driven by high-quality data above all else, and thus selecting technology that facilitates ongoing data access as technology changes, should be a prime concern and strategy for any forward-thinking globalization manager.

The critical technology components for most localization managers include the following categories:

1.      CAT Tools used by translators

2.      Translation Management Systems

3.      Language Quality Assurance (LQA) Tools

4.      Enterprise-capable MT

5.      Audiovisual Translation tools are growing in importance

In general, it can be said that the better the integration between these key components is, the more successful the globalization outcomes and the more efficient the enterprise will be in providing a high-quality global customer experience.

Unfortunately, the reality for many localization teams is focused on repairing broken or non-existent connections between sub-systems, and building better data sharing between the various components in their back-end localization tech stack to power the customer-pleasing expanded multilingual CX.

Avoiding Lock-In with Proprietary Systems

As the enterprise matures in localization and globalization sophistication, it will likely develop and build valuable linguistic assets over time. These linguistic assets need to be easily accessed and available to be shared with emerging new tools and platforms that provide business leverage, powered by new AI capabilities, as customer needs and CX imperatives dictate.

The tech stack complexity challenge for globalization managers is further exacerbated by the fact that much of the technology is still evolving.

Thus, any technology component that creates lock-in and prevents the straightforward transfer of linguistic assets to new superior language technology tools or platforms as they become available IS TO BE AVOIDED.

These siloed systems create what is called Tech Debt. This refers to the off-balance-sheet accumulation of all the technology work a company needs to do in the future. Tech debt results from software entropy and a lack of integration between different systems and data.

And it’s not just a minor inconvenience. A majority of businesses say that tech debt is slowing their pace of development, and resulting in real-world losses in sales and productivity.

Tech debt can produce several negative consequences for businesses:

The benefits of reducing tech debt are also significant and include:

Buyers should demand that enabling straightforward API access to client linguistic data without restriction or restraint should be a basic and critical requirement for any modern enterprise software solution or TMS.

Sophisticated new capabilities emerging from NLP research in Large Language Models, Responsive MT, and other emerging Language AI research will be almost useless to those companies that cannot quickly move relevant enterprise linguistic data to these new applications. They will be unable to properly explore possibilities of providing better CX with emerging linguistic AI capabilities.

This data lock-in is especially true for some of the current TMS systems that create multiple layers of technical, and even legal obstacles to straightforward data sharing. These obstacles invariably trap some Loc Buyers into sub-optimal workflows and solutions.

It is surprising that more Loc Buyers do not understand the importance of free and easy access to all linguistic data over the long-term, and suggests that Loc Buyers are extremely naïve in terms of making technology evaluations and selections that stand the test of time.

Sub-optimal initial choices will require regular overhauls in the technology stack to overcome obstacles created by proprietary lock-in technology.

Data is the lifeblood of any organization and the backbone that supports the creation of market-leading CX. The AI-driven world of tomorrow will be increasingly data-driven.

However, it is nearly impossible to make this data actionable in marketing activations and other business processes without data centrality and shareability. To avoid this, globalization managers should look for partners who can help them democratize their data sets so that they’re integrated and accessible by all.

The Growing Importance of Integration with Enterprise IT

Translation technology has reached an inflection point, as translation connects to the major trends affecting every industry: big data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence (AI). Language platforms that can scale from millions to billions of words of translated content per month are being created as enterprise buyers and innovative language service providers seek to align their language systems with the technology stacks of globally focused enterprises.

Implementing many different systems and sources that don’t speak to each other will make it harder for the business to enact data-backed decisions and integrate with core IT functionality. Straightforward integration with core enterprise IT is a key requirement to enable successful global CX outcomes.

The ability to quickly import, clean, and use data from countless sources is critical to marketers and globalization managers, but rarely easy.

One of the barriers to realizing this data actionability stems from rigid data structures that can’t onboard, transport, and unify both structured and unstructured data from different sources. Flexible data architecture and a scalable hygiene framework can speed up the timeline for data activation and value creation.

The chart above shows the relationship between translation quality and content volume. It also shows that the highest returns on investments in translation technology will come from those areas focused on global CX and eCommerce.

The collaboration between localization teams and enterprise IT teams are growing in sophistication and now increasingly both internal corporate data and external data from social media and customer reviews are being mingled and merged to provide better CX.

This often requires handling large volumes of user-generated content (UGC) and monitoring social media brand impressions which are so voluminous that traditional localization workflows are not valid.

UGC is a dominant element of the eCommerce content landscape and even presents special challenges for MT technology. UGC content is often written by non-native speakers and, most likely, by non-professional content writers and thus needs specialized treatment and a different approach from typical localization content. But we see today that global market leaders learn to do this at scale, with new techniques that assume and drive evolutionary quality improvements.

Tech-savvy localization managers who understand this “start now and improve gradually approach“ on massive content volumes are now being seen as vital partners in global growth strategies. Best practices suggest that the most effective strategy is to have MT and Human translators working together to build a continuous improvement cycle.

The strategy to translate a billion new words across multiple use cases every month has to be different than a typical localization translate-edit-proof (TEP) process. This is made difficult or even impossible with TMS systems that do not allow easy access to ALL linguistic assets.

Airbnb is an example of emerging localization leadership where the localization team is seen as a vital partner in enabling global growth and works closely with IT, Legal, and Product teams to deliver better global customer experiences.

The Airbnb localization team oversees both typical localization content and user-generated content (UGC), across the organization, which means they oversee billions of words a month being translated across 60+ languages using a combined human plus continuously improving MT translation model. The localization team enables Airbnb to translate customer-related content across the organization at scale. High-value external content is often given the same attention as internally produced marketing content.

When dealing with CX-focused translation scenarios, the business requirements direct globalization managers to focus on optimizing the translation production mode to the volume, speed, quality requirements, and the value of the content to customers.

This is a clear shift away from the traditional LQA-focused localization workflows where TMS systems have traditionally been useful.

TMS systems have been most useful in relatively low-volume, complex workflows that involve multiple levels of human touch on the translated content. This is the top left-hand corner of the chart above. TMS systems add little to no value in scenarios with high volume fast flowing CX data where data flow straight from MT to dissemination.

Dated monolithic translation management systems (TMS) are giving way to micro-service and cloud-based architectures, with machine learning driving systems toward enterprise-scale automation where speed, scale, and the value of the content to the global customer matter more than achieving perfect linguistic quality.

Thus, increasingly we see that TMS systems are completely bypassed or irrelevant, and there is greater use of “raw MT” or carefully pre-tuned MT rather than fully post-edited MT.

The Emerging Requirements for a Language Platform

As more senior executives in the global enterprise ask questions like:

  • How do we integrate our international strategy with our overall corporate strategy?
  • What will this take in terms of people, process, and technology?

We should expect a shift to language as a feature at the platform level wherein language is designed, delivered, and optimized as a feature of a product and/or service from the beginning.

Language accessibility is integrated into content and procedural workflows that affect almost everyone within the organization at some point. Something that analysts call a "language platform."

Rebecca Ray of CSA describes the impact of producing relevant content for modern eCommerce marketplaces at scale and touches upon the key requirements of a Language Platform.

The success of globalization leaders like Airbnb demonstrates the value of developing comprehensive and collaborative capabilities with a more globally embedded and pervasive translation-focused ecosystem. The Airbnb deployment is a pioneering example in global CX best practice that shows how extensive and deep-reaching translation workflows can be integrated into corporate IT when the value is understood at executive levels.

A CX-focused and capable Language Platform that is ready for digital-first globalization and localization challenges would need all of the following key components working together in a highly integrated and seamless manner.

  • Essential TMS capabilities to monitor translation projects, and linguistic quality, and generate and manage critical translation workflows for different content types as needed.
  • An adaptive and continuously improving MT system that automates personalization and performance optimization for each enterprise customer and manages the collection of corrective feedback across dozens of enterprise use cases. This element is increasingly becoming the most important element of the back-end tech stack and the heart of the Translation Engine to provide superior global CX.
  • Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools to enhance translator productivity, simplify project management, and share corporate linguistic assets like translation memories (TMs), glossaries, and terminology. In the modern era, CAT tools would also need to handle video, audio, and other social media-focused multimedia data.
  • Open and service-based architecture to allow continuing evolution of translation processes and addition of new core functions powered by machine learning with speed and agility. Linguistic assets are maintained in a continuously leverageable state so that these assets can be connected to emerging linguistic AI technology without hindrance or restraint.
  • Connectors: As the need for an Enterprise Translation Engine becomes more apparent the Language Platform will need to connect to CMS, Marketing Automation, Customer Data Platforms (CDP), CRM, ERP, Messaging, and Customer Support & CX platforms, in addition to leading social media to listen to and monitor customer conversations.

Look for a partner rather than a vendor, that can help you simplify and rationalize your tech stack and the increasing amounts of data you’re ingesting. Instead of logging in to different systems repeatedly according to content type and purpose, look for a vendor who can consolidate these into one simplified view. Additionally, ensure that data can be shared across vendors in this centralized hub so that you can leverage the power of these insights across the scope of your audience.

The Translated Tech Stack

TranslationOS is a hyper-scalable translation platform, that directly connects clients with translators that also provides management access to translation-related KPIs. It also provides the technical foundations to build a next-generation Language Platform.  It provides customizable dashboards that give globalization managers access to KPIs, project status, quality performance, and linguist profiles.

TranslationOS is a technology platform that allows straightforward access to client data whenever it is required for other downstream applications, or just for internal archival purposes. Client linguistic assets always remain within easy reach of the client's developers to support other valued added processes that can arise over time.

TranslationOS is also the overarching technology that tightly ties together enterprise translation memory, adaptive MT and corrective feedback management, CAT, and multimedia data management tools.

TranslationOS has a growing set of content connectors enabling external data ingestion and export to enterprise IT infrastructure.

TranslationOS includes an AI-driven translator matching tool (T-Rank) to ensure optimal selection from a qualified, and continuously verified pool of 400,000 translators for different projects using 30+ factors (e.g., availability, historical performance, subject matter experience, qualifications) to drive objective rankings to ensure the identification of the best-suited resources.

ModernMT is an adaptive MT system that is highly flexible, responsive, easy to manage and maintain, continuously learning, and able to incorporate ongoing human corrective feedback to ensure better MT output.

It consistently shows up as a top-performing MT system in independent third-party MT quality evaluations even before it has been adapted and tuned to specific enterprise content. It seamlessly integrates into TranslationOS and leading CAT tools like MateCat, Trados, and MemoQ.

In 2022 it has also been integrated with MateSub and MateDub to enable the automated translation of corporate multimedia content.

MateCat is a free, open-source, performance-oriented online CAT tool that allows translators to easily share TMs, and glossaries and interact dynamically with ModernMT to ensure continuously improving MT suggestions. It is integrated with MyMemory, a massive, yet clean TM gathered over 20 years, to augment and increase TM matching possibilities.

MateSub is a CAT tool optimized for subtitling tasks. It combines state-of-the-art AI (auto-spotting, auto-transcription, auto-translation) with a powerful and easy-to-use editor to let you create higher quality subtitles, dramatically faster.

MateDub is an AI-powered tool to assist in voice-over dubbing projects which can add digital voices synthesized from human voice-actor sampling. It allows users to dub videos by simply editing text.

As we move more deeply into the "digital-first" age, we will also move beyond the reach of traditional language technology like TM and TMS systems for more of our translation needs.

We are going to see much more focus and discussion on Language Platforms, Translation Layers, and Translation Operating Systems for fast-flowing CX-related data that are also built on much more open, new integrations-friendly, and transparent technology stacks.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Translation Engine Supporting Global CX

What do we mean when we use the term “customer experience” or CX?

CX is the sum of impressions associated with a brand for a particular customer. CX is built over different stages of the customer journey and encompasses all the interactions the customer has with the brand. It may include both positive and negative feelings, incidents, and expectations.

Customer experience can be linked with the direct experience and overall perceptions of:

  • Convenience
  • Responsiveness
  • Speed
  • Quality
  • Aesthetics
  • Value alignment
  • Pleasure
  • Ease of access
  • Omnichannel capabilities

While CX is sometimes equated with making more information available online, with customer surveys, or increasing digitization of customer interactions, it is more. Much more.

Commonly used snapshot measurements of CX like CSAT (Customer satisfaction) and NPS (Net promoter score) give executives a sense of it, but we should understand that true CX "goodwill" is not so easily measured and put on KPI dashboards.

CX is a continuous journey that begins with the first contact or impression from a brand or enterprise and continues for the life of the customer engagement.  

Why CX Matters

As more of the world gets more accustomed to a digital-first buyer journey, especially with the challenges created by the pandemic, companies have focused on more engagement with their customers via digital channels. In an increasingly digital world where products and services are scrutinized in the court of public opinion, customer experience (CX) is king.

What truly makes for a good experience? Speed. Convenience. Consistency. Friendliness. And one big connector: human touch - that is, creating real connections by making technology feel more human, and also giving employees what they need to create better customer experiences.

People are increasingly more loyal to the retailers, products, brands, and devices that consistently provide exceptional value with minimum friction or stress. Value is created from the complete CX.

Every interaction is a direct reflection of the company’s brand. Convenience—seamless transition from tablet to smartphone to desktop to human—is a baseline expectation.

The benefits of providing superior CX are increasingly clear:

  • Consumers will pay a 16% price premium for a great customer experience AND are more likely to be loyal to the brand. – PwC
  • Among US consumers, 63% say they’d share more information with a company that offers a great experience. - PwC
  • Customer Experience leaders grow revenue faster than CX laggards, drive higher brand preference, and can charge more for their products.” – Forrester’s Rick Parish.
  • #1 – By 2021, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiatorWalker
  • Consumers are 3.7x more likely to recommend an organization after a positive customer experience. - Qualtrics
  • Maximizing satisfaction in the customer journey can lift revenues by up to 15% and lower the cost of serving customers by up to 20%. - McKinsey

The consequences of providing what is regarded as inferior CX are also quite clear:

  • One in three consumers says they will walk away from a brand they love after just one bad experience. This figure is even higher in Latin America, at 49%. – PwC
  • 92% would completely abandon a company after 2 or 3 negative experiences. - PwC

Thus, we see increased attention on what it means to get CX right. Done right, technology can help companies create phenomenal customer experiences and reap the resulting benefits: however, a large majority of the top-performing companies report paying close attention to the human experience around digital and tech.

Companies won’t be able to solve their customer experience problems with technology alone—it’s just the enabler. Employees also need to be empowered, supported, and allowed to make mistakes, and a majority of customers around the world report that a positive experience with a brand is more important than advertising.

Nearly 80% of American consumers point to speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service as the most important elements of a positive customer experience. It is important to note that it is the combination of technology working together with competent, friendly humans that matters.

According to a PwC survey, only 49% of US consumers say companies provide a good customer experience today. So, there is much room for improvement.

Cultivating a customer-centric culture is a critical component of building the brand CX. This calls for targeted efforts to build employee capabilities across the enterprise. Truly customer-centric companies train employees at every level of the organization and in every function, from sales to accounting, to make sure they understand the role they play in maximizing the customer’s experience.

The Pandemic Impact

The pandemic has accelerated the steady growth trend in digital interactions with customers, and many believe that the opportunities and paradigm shifts that have emerged will persevere postcrisis.

The increase in digitization has affected both the B2C and the B2B market. Consumers who grow accustomed to superior B2C digital CX also expect the same kind of user experience in B2B scenarios. The rate of change in digitization was dramatically influenced by the pandemic. McKinsey estimates that the pandemic impact across the globe was to accelerate digitization by an average of seven years.

The pandemic drove B2B customer behaviors to begin to shift dramatically, favoring video conference interactions with sales reps over in-person meetings. eCommerce marketplaces have emerged as a preferred mode of interaction over direct sales rep interactions in many B2B settings in the last year (2021).

The Key Requirements to Enhance CX

Much of the customer journey today involves a buyer interacting independently with content related to the product of interest. CX leaders today increasingly understand that on digital platforms, useful, and relevant content is how this journey is enhanced and improved.

Understanding and providing relevant content that matters to the customer is a prerequisite for providing superior DX and CX and enabling customer success.

Customers want personalized, relevant information to guide their purchase decisions, and also want self-service support content to be able to be as independent as possible after they buy a product.

Thus, brands need to provide much more content, both in terms of ongoing volume and relevance, than they traditionally have provided.

Gartner and other analysts have identified that the ability of a buyer to access and gather relevant information related to a purchase decision independently is a critical requirement of the modern buyer in both B2C and B2B scenarios.

There is now also an acknowledgment that customer reviews of unique and personal CX experiences of previous customers are very important to new customers who are in the final stages of their purchase evaluations.

Customers across industries have shown a strong preference to see authentic, validated reviews of shared independent customer experiences that may inform a buyer of potential problems before purchase, and also identify possible support issues after the purchase.

In many eCommerce marketplaces, customer reviews can be THE most influential driver of purchase behavior.

The transparency and trustworthiness of these reviews are often more impactful to a buyer than much of the organization’s own product marketing content.

“Customers spend much more time doing research online -- 27% of the overall purchase evaluation and research [time]. Independent online learning represents the single largest category of time-spend across the entire purchase journey.”
-- Gartner

 Developing better CX also involves building better collaboration and knowledge and data sharing models across the organization.

Customer problems are not merely sales issues. The root cause of customer problems often runs across departments, and developing structural solutions, and improving the CX requires collaboration, cooperation, and knowledge sharing across the organization.

Experts have noted that leaders develop “digital agility”, that enables cross-function collaboration focused on mapping and optimizing customer journeys which in turn leads to gathering the right data to drive predictive analytics to enhance and improve CX.

While technology is a critical enabling tool for improving CX at a structural level, delivering better CX also requires a significant investment in the employee experience, empowerment, training, and a cultural reset to develop customer-centric and customer-friendly solutions. Alert, motivated employees are needed to identify and reduce the many friction points that exist in most organizations.

Some experts say that the human development efforts are as critical as the core-technology foundations, and the understanding of the buyer journey.

Reducing friction for customers requires that the organization empower employees to focus on higher customer satisfaction, which can only happen in a supportive, and empowered culture of forgiveness that encourages learning.

This may require new ways of working, with more focus on the employee experience, and a sophisticated view of the human-machine interactions, to ensure that the foundational technology supports and enhances BOTH the customer and the employee experience.

Good customer experience leaves consumers feeling heard, seen, and appreciated, and this is most often based on human interactions.

Automation matters, but making sure customers can reach a human when one is needed is often critical. Additionally, automated solutions should “learn” from human interactions so the automated experiences also improve.

The Translation Implications of CX for the Global Enterprise

In a nutshell, the implications include:

  • New types of content
  • Both internal and external content
  • More volume at varying levels of quality
  • Use of new tools beyond the capabilities of current TMS systems and generic MT
  • More dynamic, real-time, and integrated into core IT infrastructure.

Language translation in the enterprise is most often managed by localization departments that focus on relatively static content.

Even though most localization departments have been seeing a steady increase in demand for translation, traditionally this department has focused on getting critical customer-facing documentation, marketing materials, and surface-level web content translated into the languages relevant to target international markets.

Much of the focus of localization has been on what is deemed mandatory content. This includes packaging material, user documentation, marketing collateral, and software interfaces and manuals. The top-level content of the website might also be translated, but much of the product, support, and deep marketing content is beyond the scope and budget of most. Even for the largest organizations, the translation volumes rarely exceed a million source words a month.

With a CX focus, the picture changes drastically. CX is much more focused on dynamic, fast-flowing, continuously changing, real-time content. It is also broader and deeper in terms of content coverage than is typical for localization. To provide the global customer the same CX as a US customer, significantly more volumes of content need to be translated.

Much of this content is unstructured and related to communication, broader, deeper customer support, listening to customer feedback, customer reviews, internal communications, knowledge sharing between globally dispersed internal workgroups, social media analysis, and much more.

Thus, in terms of monthly word volume, this can often mean that hundreds of millions of words or even billions of words need to be translated to provide the same buyer journey to global customers.

Given the sheer volume of content that has to be translated by machine, also requires that it is increasingly served to customers without comprehensive PEMT or even any editing.

The translation production mode used for a million words a month does not make sense for the production scenario which requires a billion words a month.

Localization processes often use a Translate-Edit-Proof (TEP) approach where all the translated content goes through one or more levels of human processing and refinement. Research shows that there is limited use of MT by localization-focused teams, and on average, in 2021, the top 170 LSPs use MT in less than 15% of their customer translation production workload.

Also, generally, the use of MT post-editing (PEMT) focuses on virtually all the MT content, and the motivation for any limited use of MT is primarily for efficiency reasons (cheaper and faster).

Global CX cannot be improved without using much more MT. MT acceptance is increasing because of the combined impact of the following:

  • Market leaders show the benefit of translating CX-related content with sophisticated and expert use of MT,
  • Human linguist evaluations show that MT output is often indiscernible from human translation,
  • Direct customer feedback on the usefulness of MT content suggests that customers are willing to accept “imperfect” MT to get broader content access and faster response,
  • To ensure that the global CX is equal across languages to minimize revenue loss,
  • The increasing importance of community and customer-created content (UGC),
  • The growing importance of self-service for most digital-first customers,
  • Emerging fast-growing markets in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia will need more MT.

The inconsistent translation practices across languages result in sub-optimal CX for customers of less-translated languages who prefer to see content in their own language.  This in turn can dramatically affect revenue from underserved global markets. 

Since CX content volumes involve a steady flow of hundreds of millions of new words, not only is specialized MT technology necessary but there also needs to be a close and tightly integrated feedback loop with linguists who provide corrective feedback to enable continuous improvement of the MT output quality.

The optimal translation production mode for CX scenarios needs highly responsive MT that continues to evolve in quality with ongoing feedback. As it is simply impossible to deliver a billion words at TEP quality, organizations must analyze the content and determine what the right mix of MT and human input is for different kinds of content. The higher the volumes the greater the need for automated translation.  

Thus, MT output for internal communications, user reviews (UGC), or social media analysis will have less human oversight, but customer support content can get more human input to ensure the MT output quality is higher for knowledge base and technical FAQ material.

The translation production process in the current "digital-first" reality means that digital content and software interfaces are in continuous update and evolution cycles.  Thus, the translation production process frequently involves tens of thousands of small (50 -100 words) translation tasks per month and is often called “continuous localization”. The two most widely used tools are translation memory (TM) and translation management systems (TMS) which are important to enable this kind of localization at the required scale.

However, while TM is valuable to the MT development process and is “AI-ready”, the same cannot be said for TMS systems in the CX translation-needs context.

TMS systems are instrumental in working within the structured localization context, which needs the translation workflow and project management, and monitoring capabilities that typical localization content requires.

Current TMS systems, however, are not the optimal tool for the less structured, more varied, faster-flowing, CX content. TMS systems are optimized for relatively low-volume high-touch, project-management-heavy, localization workflows. They were simply not designed to handle the sheer volume of UGC, and real-time dynamic communications-related content around CX, that needs little or none of the core TMS functionality.

As translation focus moves to service high-volume, fast-flowing social media, UGC, real-time chat, email, and collaboration around knowledge content, it makes much more sense for the systems containing this content to connect directly into adaptive MT with integrated corrective feedback (learn-fast, improve quickly) systems, or data interchange layers that are built for 100X+ the scale of most current TMS systems.

Both automated and human translation services need to connect to Enterprise CX infrastructure much more seamlessly, dynamically & directly to deliver purpose-ready translation where needed.

This explains the increasing interest in concepts like “LanguageOps”, “TranslationOS”,  "Language Platforms" and the notion of a Translation Layer for the Enterprise OS.

As translation penetrates deeper into the core IT infrastructure of the enterprise, there are a growing set of use-cases that have little or no need for the core functionality of TMS systems, especially for CX and eCommerce-related content.

Adaptive MT-connected TM tools are still valuable in this greatly expanded translation context, as they provide a means to input linguistic feedback and drive improvements in MT output quality over time. It can only be done over time because there is too much content.

This is easily understood in the context of content seen on a multilingual eCommerce site. The content on any given page is not treated the same way when considering translation production options. Many eCommerce sites will have millions of such listings. There is always a small volume of critical content that needs to go through the standard localization process, but the large bulk of the volume is better handled by different human-machine mixes that aim to produce translations that are fit for purpose and enhance the CX, and facilitate customer evaluation and understanding.

Translation in the Age of CX is different because it is more dynamic, more varied in quality, and more real-time and instantaneous. The key attributes can be summarized below:
  • Scales from millions to billions of words a month
  • Integrated into critical communication, collaboration, and customer data platform infrastructure
  • Able to vary production modes for varying translation quality needs
  • Enables pervasive but differently optimized translation capabilities across the enterprise
  • Goes beyond the capabilities of any of the currently available TMS systems

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

MT as an Enabling Technology for Global eCommerce

 We regularly hear about the digital disruption caused by online eCommerce to the retail industry, and there are many examples of the retail giants of yesteryear who have been all but obliterated by the power shift to online stores.

This is not just true for B2C markets but is now increasingly a factor in B2B markets as well.

The pandemic has accelerated this trend, requiring that more firms establish an agile and comprehensive digital presence, even though, there was already evidence that a substantial online presence was critical to delivering superior CX and building brand relevance.

As lockdowns became the new normal, businesses and consumers increasingly “went digital”, providing and purchasing more goods and services online, raising e-commerce’s share of global retail trade dramatically in a single year.

Source: Digital 2022 Global Overview

The preference for a customer-managed, online, self-service shopping experience has been a trend for over a decade.  This is very clear to digitally-savvy executives who understand the building blocks to deliver superior CX and digital transformation strategies. Few customers are willing to trade a more time-consuming, less transparent, in-store-only experience for a less time-consuming, more transparent, online experience.

Digitally-savvy executives understand that providing content relevant to the buyer journey matters, and is a key element of enabling digital online success.

Source: Shopify

The Pandemic Impact and eCommerce Megatrends

The pandemic restrictions forced consumers and workers around the globe to stay at home and thus dramatically accelerated the shift to online for both B2C and B2B markets.

COVID-19 essentially forced the trial of new behaviors, and consumers had no choice in the early part of the pandemic but to trial e-commerce as a shopping channel. And surprisingly—or not—they liked it.

The pandemic has accelerated the use of digital, and many believe that the opportunities and paradigm shifts that have emerged will persevere postcrisis.

Companies will have to communicate, engage, and interact with customers in new ways because customer behavior has changed.

McKinsey described the pandemic impact as a “perfect storm for fashion marketplaces.” Fast-fashion brand Shein saw its valuation double to $30 billion and saw a revenue growth rate of over 170% during this period making it the world’s largest online-only fashion retailer. Twenty other online retailers (mostly fashion) saw revenue growth of over 150%.

At the same time, consumer behavior is changing. Because consumers are looking for purpose and sustainability from brands that they support, and are willing to switch brands quickly if they do not see this.

Research shows that peer purchasing insights (customer and user reviews) seem to have more influence on consumers than any marketing strategy. Estimates say that global reviews doubled in the year after COVID-19 began, on top of an already very steady long-term growth trend.

The pandemic also drove B2B customer behaviors to begin to shift dramatically, favoring video conference interactions with sales reps and eCommerce.

B2B sales are now resolutely omnichannel, with eCommerce, face-to-face, and remote videoconference sales all a necessary part of the buyers’ experience.

Omnichannel is a path to market share growth, analysts say. The more channels a sales organization deploys, the bigger the expected market share gains, and there is clear evidence that B2B customers also prefer online shopping, especially in the early phases of the buyer journey.

As Millennials rise in seniority in business settings, they’re questioning why the B2B buyer experience should be different, citing a disconnect between an archaic spreadsheet-driven B2B buying experience and the CX-friendly personal B2C experience they prefer. A recent study by Demand Gen found that 44 percent of Millennial respondents indicated they are primary decision-makers at their companies for purchases of $10,000 or more.

The B2B eCommerce Opportunity

While much of the focus is on the B2C progress, McKinsey states: “We now see a tipping point, with [B2B] eCommerce surpassing in-person selling as a sales channel, at 65 percent, versus 53 percent earlier this year (2021). Videoconferencing and online chat also rose during the year.”

In 2021, online sales on US B2B eCommerce sites, log-in portals, and marketplaces increased 17.8% to $1.63 trillion from $1.39 trillion in 2020. B2B eCommerce in 2021 grew 1.17 times faster than the growth of all U.S. manufacturing and distributor sales.

B2B eCommerce sales accelerated in 2021 in large measure because more business buyers and sellers now see digital commerce as a more efficient and effective way to research and purchase corporate goods and services, according to analysts.

  • B2B buyers are increasingly choosing to buy online rather than through phone and other offline channels. B2B buyers prefer digital, self-guided experiences because they can explore, research, and purchase on their own terms. According to TrustRadius, “87% of buyers want [the ability] to self-serve part or all of their buying journey.”
  • Forrester data shows that nearly 75% of B2B buyers prefer to buy online when purchasing products for work, yet just 25% of B2B companies actively sell online. McKinsey research shows that only 20% of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales. This proves to be especially true in sectors where field sales have long dominated, including pharma and medical products.
  • According to McKinsey, customers want an always-on, personalized, omnichannel experience, and, ALL B2B customers prefer omnichannel, no matter their industry, country, size, or customer relationship stage. Customers are more willing than ever to switch suppliers to gain exceptional omnichannel experiences.
  • 51% of business buyers come to a B2B eCommerce site attracted by an excellent user experience.
  • Buyers are more willing than ever before to spend substantial amounts through remote or online sales channels. Globally, 62% of B2B decision-makers are now willing to spend $50,000 or more in online purchases—and one in five would spend more than $500,000.
  • Other benefits of B2B eCommerce according to Forrester include substantially (as much as 90%) lower selling and service costs. Additionally, they say that 52% of B2B executives say they have reduced their customer-support costs by migrating offline customers online.
  • The new B2B buyer will only be loyal if customer needs are met: for example, eight in ten B2B decision-makers say they will actively look for a new supplier if performance guarantees (e.g., a full refund if a certain level of performance is not met) are not offered.
  • The number of channels needed to service customers effectively has increased over the last five years.

The Global Opportunity Outlook

At the start of 2020, 1.35 billion people were in the global “middle class” with the majority of the middle-class growth happening in the Asia Pacific region.

While the middle-class growth in Asia has slowed with the arrival of COVID-19, eCommerce’s center of gravity has already moved East and will continue to do so as large population centers continue to generate more disposable income.

For the first time in history, the world is within reach.

For example, Patrick Coddou, founder and CEO of Supply said: “Early last year [2021], we decided to duplicate our domestic ads, change the targeting from [the] US to worldwide, set language to English, and hit go,” Coddou says. “The end result was 30% of revenue coming from international markets.”

This kind of success justifies further investment and improvement in the global outreach process. However, there is much evidence that sustaining global success needs investment, which starts with providing growing volumes of content in the local languages of the target markets.

Early SEO-based success can quickly flounder if the larger buyer and customer journey information needs are not addressed, which means substantially more content translation is needed.

The success of early-mover eCommerce marketplaces has also bred increasing competition, and suppliers have to continue to improve their global digital footprint and DX to be noticed or even to maintain gains.

Providing local language content means more than quickly passing content through Google Translate. Raw MT without proper refinement and optimization can undermine global sales efforts and build a negative brand reputation that is difficult to remedy.

Research from CSA states that there is “a strong preference for local language and localization, even if it costs the buyer more. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of business users told us they’d pay up to 30% more for a localized product (2020 survey), and just a bit more than one-third (34%) of consumers said they would also be willing to dig deeper into their wallets for products adapted to their language and market.”

Source: CSA Research

CSA also found that 65% of consumers prefer content in their native language, even if it’s poor quality in a previous survey. Moreover, 40% will not buy from websites in other languages.

In another survey by, over 67% of global consumers surveyed said they’d made a cross-border purchase in their lives. Almost one in five respondents stated that lack of language translation was a big barrier to purchasing on a foreign site.

Shopify data shows a 13% relative increase in conversion when buyers were shown a store translated into their language compared to the same one in the default language. Best practice shows that “properly localized content” creates a good customer experience from first impression to checkout.

In fact, in terms of the website content, the majority of shoppers in the’s survey agreed that the following pages which include both corporate and user-created content, needed to be in their local language:

  • Product descriptions (67%)
  • Product reviews (63%)
  • Checkout process (63%)

Where do we buy from?

The USA, China, and the UK consistently ranked among the top 3 countries purchased from in most markets. Japan and Korea are markets where the translation is even more critical to success, as cultural reluctance to cross-border purchases is significantly higher.


There have never been as many opportunities in the eCommerce space, nor has there been as much competition. Plummeting return on ad spend is pushing brands to prioritize customer lifetime value and promote brand loyalty. High-quality multilingual content is essential to this effort.

Global customers care about the content that brands share with them, and brands committed to being international need ongoing translation strategies that go beyond “MT-once and forget” approaches. They need to be listening, sharing, and actively communicating multilingually on an ongoing basis to understand changing needs and concerns.

Sales through social media channels around the world are expected to nearly triple by 2025. Customer reviews in social media are recognized as key influencers of brand perception.

Bad CX will be shared vigorously, and can rapidly undermine business success and revenue. Customer reviews influence consumers to try competing products. 

In many eCommerce markets, customer reviews are THE primary driver of purchase behavior.

Being aware of these dynamic perceptions will be critical to long-term success and being able to listen, understand, and respond to problems with agility and speed is crucial.

As more of the world gets more accustomed to a digital-first buyer journey, companies must adapt to stay relevant. As brands face unmatched logistical and communication challenges in the new millennium, they have focused on more engagement with their customers via digital channels.

Success in eCommerce means building ongoing relationships with customers, which in turn requires increasing volumes of content sharing and more localized infrastructure.

“I believe we'll see more local brands branching out and offering customized shopping experiences for international customers to remain competitive. This will include things like geo-targeted domain names, pricing in local currency, and local product shipping, with the help of third-party distribution or company-owned warehouses.”

Leanne Lee, Marketer at Blue Bungalow

The Content Focus

Success in online businesses is increasingly driven by careful and continued attention to providing a good overall customer experience throughout the buyer journey.

Customers want personalized, relevant information to guide their purchase decisions, and also want the self-service support content to be able to be as independent as possible after they buy a product. Thus sellers need to provide much more content, both in terms of volume and relevance, than they traditionally have provided.

Much of the customer journey today involves a buyer interacting independently with content related to the product of interest, and digital leaders now increasingly understand that on digital platforms, useful, and relevant content is how this journey is enhanced and improved.

Understanding and providing content that matters to the customer is a prerequisite for providing superior DX and CX and enabling customer success.

In a recent study, focused on B2B digital buying behavior presented at a recent Gartner conference, Brent Adamson pointed out some interesting research findings that clearly show the increasing value of content in the buyer journey. Some of the highlights:

“Customers spend much more time doing research online -- 27% of the overall purchase evaluation and research [time]. Independent online learning represents the single largest category of time-spend across the entire purchase journey.”

In surveying 750 customers making a large B2B purchase, it was found that the proportion of time they spent working directly with salespeople -- both in-person and online -- was just 17% of the total purchase research and evaluation process time spent.

This fractional time is further diluted when you spread this total salesperson contact time across 3 or more vendors that are typically involved in a B2B purchase evaluation. In a typical, large B2B transaction, it is clear that an individual seller sales representative gets a very small fraction of the total time that a buyer spends in the purchase and evaluation process.

This research also points out that a huge proportion of a sellers’ total access to a customer happens through digital content means, rather than in-person, channels. This means that any B2B supplier without a coherent digital marketing strategy specifically designed to help buyers through the buyer journey will fall rapidly behind those who do.

Digital leaders also understand that because in-person contact begins, it doesn’t mean that online exploration ends, and even long after engaging supplier sales reps in direct in-person conversations, customers simultaneously continue their digital buying journey, making use of both human and digital buying channels. This is why B2B eCommerce in particular, is so omnichannel-focused.

Forrester suggests that product information is more important to customer experience than any other source or type of information including all sales or marketing content.

A digital online platform enables an enterprise to quickly establish a global presence. However, the global customer requires all the same content that a US customer does in the buying journey. This requirement for voluminous multilingual content presents a significant translation challenge for any enterprise that seeks to build momentum in new international markets and thus the right translation technology is critical.

Thus, we see eCommerce giants like eBay, Amazon, and Alibaba are amongst the largest users of machine translation technology in the world today. There is simply too much content that is needed to be multilingual to do this any other way.

However, the translation challenge even with MT is significant and requires deep expertise and competence to do well. The skills needed to do this efficiently and cost-effectively are not easily developed and many B2B sellers are beginning to realize that they do not have the in-house competence to do this and could not effectively develop them in time. Working with comprehensive language translation platforms, or translation engine experts is wise.

Providing local language content means more than quickly passing your content through Google Translate

To participate in new global opportunities, digital leaders should be preparing the following elements in their expanding online digital footprint:

  • Making substantial amounts of relevant content available to support the buyer journey in both B2C, and especially in B2B markets.
  • Make this content available in all the markets and languages that they wish to participate in to maximize their global presence.

Technology alone, or human translation alone, is not enough. Competitive advantage comes from working with experts who provide comprehensive man-machine-translation process collaboration at scale.

The MT Strategy Beyond Google Translate

Given the increasing volumes of content required, suppliers must use machine translation (MT). And while MT does not replace humans, it enables suppliers to make 100X+ more content available to support international customers cost-effectively.

Today, there is a need for growing volumes of both corporate and customer-created content (UGC). The benefit of making more relevant content available outweighs the limitations of imperfect machine translation. This is especially true for suppliers with large catalogs, extensive customer support needs, and high-impact UGC that global customers find useful.

Fundamentally, eCommerce marketplaces must understand the importance of the content in enabling customers to achieve their goals (e.g., what content is critical in their path to purchase) considering the volume, necessary translation turnaround, and languages needed.

And then build translation production models directly related to the value, criticality, and longevity of the information. The emerging best practices model use human-machine collaboration mixes that can be adapted to content type and value.  Also, rapidly improving MT technology like ModernMT assures successful outcomes.

This can sometimes mean that in the initial stages, MT output may be more imperfect, but, with the right technology and process, it is possible to quickly establish a beachhead that evolves continuously.

UGC is a dominant element of the eCommerce content landscape and presents special challenges for MT technology. UGC content is often written by non-native speakers and, most likely, by non-professional content writers. Marco Trombetti, CEO of Translated said: “there is a lot of flexibility that the AI [MT] needs to learn to translate UGC content well. It is not like training a custom model on a very narrow terminology.”

Tech-savvy localization managers who understand this “start now and improve gradually approach“ are now being seen as vital partners in global growth strategies. Best practices suggest that the most effective strategy is to have MT and Human translators working together to build a continuous improvement cycle. 

The strategy to translate a billion new words every month has to be different from the typical localization translation production TEP (translate-edit-proof)  process.

Airbnb is an example where the localization team is seen as a vital partner in enabling global growth. The Airbnb localization team oversees both typical localization content and user-generated content (UGC), across the organization, which means they oversee billions of words a month being translated across 60+ languages using a combined human plus continuously improving MT translation model. The localization team enables Airbnb to translate customer-related content across the organization at scale. High-value external content is often accorded the same attention as internally produced marketing content.

Airbnb runs on ModernMT, the Translated-led, open-source project, co-founded by Fondazione Bruno Kessler, the University of Edinburgh, and the European Commission. ModernMT is an adaptive neural machine translation system with a degree of flexibility that allows it to be used for hundreds of different use-cases, including IP and life sciences translations.

Trombetti added, “The indirect challenge with UGC is scale. Often UGC scale can be a million times bigger in volume than content produced by localization teams, and the volume spikes are much more unpredictable.”

Continuously improving responsive MT is a critical foundation to building better global CX in eCommerce settings. With ModernMT, the use of optimized raw MT output can be delivered at scale to the customer without additional human intervention even though ongoing MT quality monitoring is recommended.

The linguistic human oversight process and approach will likely change over time.

Often, upfront human feedback investments are needed, in addition to selective pre-emptive translation, to make MT engines perform optimally on a range of unique and specialized enterprise content.

It is possible to post-edit 1M words a month with a team, but it is not easy to do this for a billion words a month.

Rebecca Ray of CSA eloquently describes the impact of producing relevant content for the modern eCommerce marketplaces.
“The [most] significant implications revolve around the recognition given to the business value of multilingual content by a high-tech company such as Airbnb through its financial investment in a cross-functional collaboration initiative to greatly expand language accessibility. They must recognize that, in many cases, their products and services do not function independently of information about them and that the most valuable content and code are often generated by third parties [UGC].
Both Airbnb and Expedia recognize that they are not lodging companies, but rather high-tech (multilingual) content companies. And Chesky [Airbnb CEO] certainly understands this very well as he touts Translation Engine [powered by ModernMT] availability, which will deliver five million listings in 62 languages and 500 million reviews without customers having to tap on a translate button.”

Any eCommerce marketplace with global ambitions will need to have a comprehensive language strategy that is flexible and sophisticated as digital leaders like Airbnb change and raise customer expectations.

As more senior executives in the global enterprise ask questions like:

  • How do we integrate our international strategy with our overall corporate strategy?
  • What will this take in terms of people, process, and technology?

We should expect a shift to language as a feature at the platform level wherein language is designed, delivered, and optimized as a feature of a product and/or service from the beginning.

Language accessibility is no longer relegated to a lowly translation task outside the bounds of product or service development and delivery. Rather, it is integrated into content and procedural workflows that affect almost everyone within the organization at some point. Something that analysts call a "language platform."

Perhaps some of the recent interest in language operations and translation operating systems are all steps in the same direction, pointing to a more globally embedded and pervasive translation-focused ecosystem.

The Airbnb deployment is a pioneering example that shows how extensive and deep-reaching translation workflows can be when the value is understood at executive levels.

ModernMT is uniquely positioned to be THE optimal platform-level MT element of such a comprehensive vision. It has flexibility, scalability, straightforward adaptability to scores of use-cases, and low overhead management and maintenance features that allow it to be a “translation engine” at scale.

This is in stark contrast to typical MT systems built by customizing generically focused public MT engines requiring specialized MT expertise, having costly, cumbersome management and maintenance requirements, yet not having the dynamic, real-time learning and adaptation capabilities that ModernMT has.

For more detailed information on ModernMT including white papers, technical product overviews, case studies, best practices, quality comparisons, and presentation material, please contact us here or at