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The Cost of Bad Translation

By Heather Shoemaker, founder and CEO of Language I/O

From the proliferation of the internet to the rapid digital transformation of the past few years, the world is more interconnected than ever, and the bar for multilingual brand experiences continues to rise. High-quality language translation capabilities play a critical role in global success. 

Regardless of where they are, customers expect to be able to connect fluently with a brand in their own language. But sometimes that connection proves to be a little fuzzier than we’d like and leads to bad translations and misunderstandings. Beyond the immediate linguistic issues, bad translations trigger a domino effect of cultural missteps, reputational damage and brand dilution — all of which will cost your organization.

Cultural missteps

A risk that goes hand-in-hand with poor translations is the possibility of mistranslating a word or phrase into something offensive or inappropriately informal. Some languages and cultures, such as Japanese, are much more formal than others, so an overly casual encounter may put some people off. 

A single offensive translation error can undo a years-long customer relationship in moments, and losing established customers is expensive — it costs up to five times as much to acquire a new customer compared to retaining an old one. Mistranslations can cast your company as ignorant, negligent or prejudiced rather than competent and caring, breeding negative brand associations that are hard to overcome. Linguistic and cultural precision in your translations are non-negotiable table stakes.

Reputational damage

Online shopping has gone global. According to a PayPal study, 57% of online shoppers have made international purchases. In fact, two out of five survey participants have made a cross-border purchase in the past three months. The implications of this influx in international shopping are huge — if people are shopping without borders, think of the potential global audience for your business!

However, a glaring risk accompanies this opportunity: the potential impact of bad translations. A poor quality translation can erode brand-customer relationships because customers may interpret a bad translation as a lack of effort and, frankly, that looks bad for your brand. If a customer reaches out wanting to return an item but, due to poor translation quality, the rep instead re-sends the shipment to them instead, not only is the customer left unsatisfied with an unresolved issue, but that additional shipment costs your company on top of damaging its reputation. 

Furthermore, that unsatisfied customer will have to call back again, increasing call volumes and hold times, and longer hold times lead to lower customer satisfaction scores. This longer response time means bad translations impact not only the experience of the customer who is getting the bad translation but also the experiences of all the customers in the queue behind them.

If the customer thinks your organization doesn’t care enough to invest in the customer experience, they’re less likely to buy. Nearly three-quarters of people identified their customer experience as a key factor influencing whether or not they buy from a brand. One in three customers will walk away from a brand — even a brand they love — after just one bad experience. 

Additionally, a bad translation has the potential to go viral on social media for being egregiously incorrect, or worse, offensive. As the old adage states, once it’s on the internet, it’s out there forever, and your brand going viral for the wrong reasons can quickly turn into a company-wide fiasco. Providing best-in-class translation to your global customers is critical to protecting your brand’s reputation among your customers.

Brand dilution

Bad translations can also dilute your brand, diminishing your brand equity. If your company is trying to expand into new markets but customers aren’t able to get proper support because of poor translation quality, that expansion will end up costing your business. No matter how exceptional your product or service is, your amazing offerings will take a backseat if customers can’t communicate with your agents to resolve a problem or answer a question. Do you really want a reputation as the brand with bad translations?

Free translation providers like Google Translate are often rife with translation issues. Keep these consequences of bad translation at bay by investing in a highly accurate translation tool like Language I/O that uses a self-improving glossary and AI-powered translation engine selection. Request a demo today and start capitalizing on global opportunities that drive business success.