Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How well do you know your customers?

The magazine Enterprise carries in the January 2007 issue an interesting article by Lior Yitzhaky, entitled ” How well do you know your customers” . Here is an excerpt:

“A number of years back, during my first week working in the head office of a national retailer, I was asked to produce a distribution that would allocate a special buy of bread makers to every store in the country. .. The analysis revealed that every store in the country had sold out of the bread makers with the exception of stores located in the province of Quebec. In fact, the stores in Quebec had not sold a single bread maker. While the usual suspicions of the stores not receiving the inventory – or not displaying it – were made, the reason for the discrepancy was very different. Further analysis revealed that due to the cultural differences in Quebec, they were unlikely to buy bread makers at all. You see, the culture in Quebec emphasizes home cooking and many Quebecers bake their own bread at home. The bread maker is considered a sort of insult and people would be embarrassed to have one in their home. What affected me the most from the above situation was not the realization that Quebecers did not like bread makers, but the fact that many employees at this retailer knew of the issue and yet failed to take actions that could enhance their performance. A simple misallocation such as this, lead to loss of sales, alienation of customers and unproductive inventory.”

I do not believe the employees felt that it was their call to question the decision of the head office. In our day of specialization, the product manager who ordered this item did not look at the cultural significance of the item and the possible reaction of customers to it. This falls into the same category as the Mist Stick hair curler, which an American company tried to sell in Germany, not realizing that the word Mist means “manure” in German. Or the intention of General Motors of selling the Buick Lacrosse sedan in Quebec until it was pointed out to them that lacrosse happened to be a swearword

A translator can often help a customer in pointing out these discrepancies and avoid embarrassment. In my own experience, that is what happened when a customer needed a bilingual chocolate cake package and thought that the approach would fly.

Has your translator offered this sort of help to you?

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