What Are the Challenges of Mobile App Localization?

Successful Mobile App Localization Requires User Research

An International Localization Case Study: Final Part Four

What are the requirements for a mobile app to be successful in multiple languages? This is the fourth post in which we address that question as we describe UX research on localization  that TecEd and Cisco worked on together.

Cisco Systems developed a mobile application, SalesConnect, for its internal sales force of tens of thousands, as well as partners across the globe. Before investing in costly localization, the team wanted to learn:

What is most important to sales users for a localized app?
When and why do these users want materials in English versus in their local language?
When do they search using English versus their local language?

This case history, originally presented at the 2016 ACM SIGCHI conference, describes how Jennifer Lee Carlson and a multidisciplinary team at Cisco worked with TecEd on this research project to learn what constituted a good localized application for sales users’ content needs. It describes the methods we used, the challenges we overcame, and what we learned.

Part 1:  Introduction

Part 2:  Project Work Process, What We Did Steps 1-4

Part 3:  Project Work Process, What We Did Steps 5-9

Part 4: Lessons Learned and Key Takeaways

Project management for multiple-language user research is hugely complex! Maintaining consistency of methodology among the different countries was a challenge, different international holidays can impact schedules, and a project in 5 time zones spanning 15 hours means you are never off-duty.

Thinking now about how we would handle the project differently, we identified some areas to improve in both our research methodology and our work process:

  • Although the research protocol included a good balance of qualitative and quantitative topics/questions, we could also have asked participants to rank the importance of different types of localized content. Such ranking would better guide the priorities of the content development organization and help identify geographical differences in localized content needs.
  • Altogether seven separate organizations were involved in this project: Cisco, TecEd, three partner research firms, and two translation firms. We could not control everyone’s work processes, but a better understanding of the internal work processes of the two key players (Cisco and TecEd) would have helped our team work more efficiently.

Key Takeaways

Despite these challenges, we learned an enormous amount. Besides the research methods and techniques described above, key takeaways about localized apps included:

  • Cisco salespeople, who are fluent in English, nevertheless use local languages when communicating with customers and partners. Therefore the content provided in the app is far more important than the localization of the tool’s user interface.
  • The sales content should be a complete and accurate translation of the English version. Several participants mentioned that they often choose to read content in English because it provides more information.
  • More importantly, when providing localized content, solutions and case study examples should not only be translated, but also be adapted to the local market and environment.
  • Three-quarters of the participants preferred to search using English, both because many technical terms are English ones, and for perceived better search results. The quarter who preferred searching in their local language did so because “I want to use the same words as my customer.” Users prefer seeing search results in their own language and English, rather than in all available languages or their own language only.

The research findings emphasized the importance of quality and richness in localized content. The team realized that translating the user interface and having a strategy for listing search results were only small steps towards successful localization. Therefore, we did not release the localized app when the tool (the user interface) was ready to release. Instead, we decided to wait until the localized content became more up-to-date and met the content quality threshold.

The findings from this localization research will not only be valuable for the localized versions of Cisco’s sales enablement tool. They will also have a broader application for future Cisco localization efforts, because the insights about what makes localization successful can be applied to other Cisco tools, products, and services.

The case study “What Makes a Successful Localized Mobile App” that is presented in four separate blog posts was written by Stephanie Rosenbaum, CEO of  TecEd, Inc. and Jennifer Lee Carlson,  User Experience Manager,  Cisco Systems, Inc..  For more information on localization or other user research project needs you may have please Contact Us.

About the Author

TecEd’s Vice President of Business Development, Cynthia Zimber, has more than thirty years of experience in Fortune 1000 technology and software channel sales management, as well as marketing and business development for both established and startup companies.