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At the end of April, iContact, an email service provider and marketing automation company, launched iContact en Español.

When the folks from iContact reached out to me to ask if I would be interested in interviewing iContact’s president, Geoffrey Alexander, they included this paragraph in their inquiry:

With about 440 million Internet users (56% of the total population), a growing economy and an emerging middle class, Latin America represents a major opportunity for email marketers. Add to that the nearly 52.6 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. and it’s clear this is a priority audience.

Naturally, when I finally spoke to Geoff, I led with a question about the size of the Spanish-speaking market and what motivated iContact to create a Spanish version of their product. His response surprised me.

“What motivated us,” he said, “was, in part the market opportunity. But really, more than that, it was also the customer opportunity. We already had customers in Latin America, and we were getting a lot of requests for a translated application.”

But, as it turned out, Geoff and iContact didn’t just want to create a translated app. “That’s where many companies get it wrong,” he told me.

That is, rather than just creating a “pull-down experience,” whereby a customer would choose the language for the interface, iContact want to create a “cohesive, end-to-end experience.”

Customer experience is about the whole experience

Nowadays, a lot of people pay lip service to the notion of customer experience. In iContact’s case, they took a truly customer-centric approach to product iteration. This meant, for starters, focusing less on the size of the market and more on whether or not iContact could really solve the problems of people in the market.

Convinced that the company did indeed have something to offer potential customers, they began to think about all the aspects of the experience they would need to address.

The user interface, obviously, was one place to start. For example, they needed to figure out how to translate key elements of the application into Spanish. Aside from the UX issues this raised – words in different languages can often take up more or less real estate, which will effect button sizes and menus, for example – iContact had to address different uses of language. As Geoff explained, “The use of language in an app is different from its use in marketing or on-boarding.”

To get the language right, they worked with a professional translation and localization service as well as internal, Spanish-speaking resources. Then, once they had made some progress, they shared their translations with customers. But even then, Geoff said, there were differences of opinion about what constituted “neutral Spanish” in the different use cases.

In the end, Geoff said, “We were confident that we weren’t going to do something that was culturally insensitive. We were not confident, however, around outcomes.”

Focus on the customer’s desired outcome

This latter point is key and really at the heart of the overall approach that iContact took with this initiative. As mentioned, the goal here was not to simply create a Spanish-language version of the application. The goal was to create a version of the application that worked for Spanish-speaking audiences.

For that, Geoff said, “You need a 360º approach.”

To understand what that means, you need to take a step back for a second and think about everything that goes into the success of a SaaS offering. First, of course, you need software that solves real problems. Second, the software has to be relatively easy to use. Third, you need to get people to actually use it.

This third step actually has a lot of moving parts. It involves marketing, initially, but ultimately depends on your customer success and customer support teams. You need an effective on-boarding process. You need training materials and content that will help users understand what the product can do (and how to do it). And, you need to support users when they run into issues.

In the case of iContact, Geoff said, “We offer a very high touch experience. We provide hands-on on-boarding. We offer dedicated customer success managers, who really act as coaches. We offer direct support. We produce webinars and content and demos to respond to user questions.

“Ultimately, we had to be able to deliver all that efficiently and effectively for Spanish-speaking users.”

By now, you should have an appreciation for the complexity of the task that the folks at iContact had set for themselves. It wasn’t just a technical challenge. It wasn’t just a linguistic challenge. It was, in the end and above all, an operational challenge.

“Going with a ‘language toggle’ solution wasn’t good enough for us,” Geoff said. “That leads to mistrust; it leads to more calls; it leads to more confusion.”

Instead, they had to be holistic about things. This approach, however, went beyond ensuring that they had demos in Spanish or a Spanish-speaking support staff. Indeed, it went beyond email, because it meant thinking about what customers were seeking to accomplish and figuring out how to facilitate that.

“We’re committed to successful outcomes for the people we have the opportunity to serve,” Geoff said. “In general, we don’t just ask customers about their email goals. We ask people about their marketing goals. And then we work with them to figure out how email and iContact can help them achieve the desired outcome. We are always trying to figure out what we need to do to make that happen.”

This mindset is part of the reason that Geoff considers it short-sighted to decide to enter a particular market simply because of its size.

“In SaaS,” he said, “growth opportunities are appealing. But, you need to ask yourself, ‘Can we actually solve our customer’s problems?’”

In my opinion, when you think about things that way, you probably can.

Image Source (Creative Commons): Joe the Goat Farmer.

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