Larry Freed

COMMENTARY | Larry Freed, ForeSee Results

Agencies too often overlook a key step to better multilingual sites

A White House Executive Order in 2000 mandated that agencies must provide resources for individuals with limited English skills. Despite the best intentions, it has drawn mixed results. Some agencies created robust and carefully designed Web sites with additional content and services, such as’s multilingual counterpart,, or the Health and Human Services Department's Spanish version of Medline Plus. Others merely translated a Web page or two into other languages.


User feedback is important, but only part of developing a Web site

Should best practices for building a Web site in other languages be solely based on customer satisfaction? Not necessarily. As in most cases, there is more to the story.

Web developers are beyond relying on internal opinions or paid consultants to tell them how to make Web sites better, such as making them easier to access, navigate or understand. The users, no matter what language they speak, are the best resource for knowing what improvements to make.

However, collecting the voice of customer feedback from multilingual Web site visitors is a key strategic step that is skipped too often. Few government Web sites are surveying multilingual users in their own languages to find out how satisfied they are with multilingual offerings. Even fewer are customizing those surveys with different questions aimed at the specific concerns of non-English speakers, rather than just replicating existing survey questions in another language. And fewer still are using such feedback to develop better sites and services for multilingual audiences.

“Regardless of language, culture is a key driver of online user needs,” said Lee Vann, multicultural marketing expert and chief executive officer of Captura Group, a leading Hispanic online marketing agency.

If you aren’t already assessing and addressing the satisfaction of your multilingual site visitors through direct voice-of-customer feedback, here are a few reasons why you should seriously consider it. It allows you to:

  • Improve your site. You can’t know what your multilingual visitors want and need unless you ask them. For example, found that it needed to create additional content and tweak navigation for Spanish-speaking users in ways that highlighted information about visas and immigration.
  • Increase traffic and word of mouth. Customer satisfaction, when measured scientifically, has been linked to the future behaviors that everyone wants to elicit from multicultural Web site visitors: More satisfied visitors are more likely to return, recommend the site and conduct online transactions, which is relevant for the transactional e-government Web sites.
  • Learn more about your audience. Many sites assume that satisfaction issues are the same for English and non-English speakers. Our research shows that’s not the case. Non-English speakers might have entirely different issues and priorities. You need to know what those are to address them. Additionally, knowing the demographics of multilingual site visitors is critical to improving content and navigation. Surveys shed light on the age and education level of your visitors, allowing you to make your site more customized to the needs of specific segments.
  • Prioritize improvements and enhancements. The right customer satisfaction metrics help determine what enhancements and fine-tuning to tackle first, and each language group could have different needs.
  • Develop and take advantage of government multilingual benchmarks. All who work on multilingual government Web sites could benefit from understanding how they are satisfying their visitors compared to other multilingual sites in the federal government. It’s important that Web managers learn from one another.
  • Improve the perception of government. What better way to show our multilingual constituents that we care about what they think than to ask them and use that feedback to develop and refine the Web sites that serve them?

Voice-of-customer feedback should not be an afterthought. It should be an integral part of every phase of developing a multilingual government Web site, from creation and deployment to improvements and enhancements.

About the Author

Larry Freed is president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results, a customer satisfaction measurement and management firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Jan 14, 2010 Washington

I am trying to be bilingual. However, hsving one common, official language is very important for all. It saves money, time, and could prevent costly communication breakdowns. The funds used to teach english would outway the costly communication and production issues that we are facing, especially in services not being performed properly. And many non-english apeaking are being taken advantage of, or are missing out on what they could do in the U.S. One common language could help unite our country and protect all of the people.

Wed, Jan 13, 2010

Mostly only sites that deal with tourism should be multilingual. We should be encouraging people, who've come to this country to live, to learn English. We're doing them a disservice by not requiring them to learn English. Their skills won't be nearly as marketable, if they don't have to learn English, and they'll experience job discrimination.

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