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How to build a multilingual chatbot for billions of users

Multilingual posts on Facebook.

The chatbot marketplace is growing fast.

As Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, said at Microsoft’s World Partner Conference earlier this month, “Pretty much everyone today who’s building applications … will build bots as the new interface.”

Over the past year, we’ve seen a proliferation of bots, from news apps to scheduling assistants to integrations on top of Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp. It’s clear bots are here to stay.

The bots we hear about are primarily built and designed for the U.S. market or Asia, however. That’s unfortunate. If you don’t speak English, Chinese, Japanese or Korean, you’ll be pretty disappointed with the bots you find on the market.

Most people expect these bots to spread to the rest of the world in the next few months, but as any localization expert can tell you, it’s just not that easy. If spreading the proliferation or use of a bot was as easy as adding multilingual support, I could add multilingual support to a bot in dozens of languages in just five minutes using APIs from WolframAlpha, Bing, or IBM Watson.

Upgrading your bot to work in multiple languages and for multiple audiences requires the same iteration, patience, and cultural awareness necessary to grow a mobile app into an essential part of a user’s daily habits in other countries besides the U.S. We can learn a lot from the updates popular mobile apps have made over the past 10 years to grow into new markets overseas.

As you look to support languages and countries, here are a few questions to ask. These are the same questions app developers had when that market started to grow.

What input method do your users prefer?

Currently chatbots are all the rage, but some cultures prefer speaking to talking. For example, in Brazil, Whatsapp saw a surge after adding voice memos because it resonated with the Brazilian culture.

What is the most appropriate response in a chat?

It’s important to tailor your response to your audience. For example, in most of the world, automated voices are female voices, but BMW had to famously change its GPS to a male voice due to complaints in the German market.

Do you need to disable, change, or add any features to grow into a new market?

Not all cultures want a new feature. Google Street View was heralded as a fantastic update in most American cities, but faced major opposition when it tried to expand into Greece and Japan. Interestingly in Japan, it ultimately had to reshoot all its photos from a lower camera angle so that it wouldn’t infringe on private yards. To grow into the Indian market, Google had to build an entirely new way to give directions for Google Maps. Since streets and intersections were not reliably available, they built a direction system based on landmarks and casual instructions.

How does your app work with poor service?

In the U.S., we’re blessed with fast and regularly available internet service. In most countries, however, internet connections are not as fast, and not as regularly available. It is important to test your app in situations such as a 2G connection, with minor packet loss. If possible, it should also be built to fail gracefully, with partial offline support. A great example of an app that works under the most extreme circumstances is Whatsapp. In situations where most chat apps such as Google Hangouts or Slack fail miserably, Whatsapp is able to navigate inconsistent internet coverage and enable users to continue to message in poor conditions. That may be one reason it is so widely popular.

As bots continue to grow in popularity, they will only continue to proliferate our everyday lives. In fact, Gartner predicted that by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions will be managed without a human involved. When you’re ready to grow your bot into a new region, don’t think of it as a translation project and an opportunity to add new jokes — think of it as a new feature or a total redesign.

Take a step back, analyze the core traits that have made your bots most successful, and bring that experience to the new version of your bot.

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About Ms. A. C. Kennedy

Ms. A. C. Kennedy
My name is Ms A C Kennedy and I am a Health practitioner and Consultant by day and a serial blogger by night. I luv family, life and learning new things. I especially luv learning how to improve my business. I also luv helping and sharing my information with others. Don't forget to ask me anything!

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