January 28, 2014 | Silvina Diaz

Tailoring the Customer Experience to Spanish Speakers in the U.S.


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With cultural differences come differences in needs, wants and expectations, and it’s up to organizations that cater to large international groups to ensure they are providing the right experience to the right audience.

An August 2013 study published by the Pew Research Center found that the number of Spanish speakers in the U.S. has grown rapidly in the last few years and continues to grow. According to an analysis of the 2011 American Community Survey, a record of 37.6 million people ages five years and older speak Spanish at home. In addition, Spanish is the most spoken non-English language in the U.S. (37.6 million compared to the next non-English group who speaks Chinese, 2.8 million)

Tailoring the Customer Experience to Spanish SpeakersIt is important to note that not all of those who speak Spanish at home are Hispanics. The same study shows that 2.8 million of those who speak Spanish at home are non-Hispanics.

With this high (and increasing) number of people who speak Spanish at home, organizations continue to face the challenge of meeting and exceeding this group’s expectations. In particular, organizations who provide a significant amount of information online (government and non-profit organizations, among others) need to take into consideration the needs and expectations of those who speak Spanish.

To make things more complicated, there is another reality to keep in mind. A big proportion of Spanish speakers in the U.S. also speak English with different levels of proficiency. Depending on many variables (i.e. immigrant and length in the U.S., born in the U.S, level of education, income, etc.), this group may feel very comfortable accessing information in English but prefer information in Spanish. Why? While they are comfortable with the English language, they may be looking for information for others (i.e. parents who do not speak English fluently or at all, friends, etc.) in Spanish. Therefore, this group may browse for information in both languages with the goal of finding information in Spanish that they can share with others.

With this complex reality, it is crucial for organizations to be prepared to service this diverse group of Spanish speakers.

Many informational organizations that attempt to provide information in Spanish typically take one of these three approaches:

1.) Provide a literal translation of the information from English.

2.) Provide some of the information not only translated but also ‘acculturated.’

3.) Provide a different website that not only provides content in Spanish but also takes into consideration the cultural needs and wants.

One of the challenges with the first approach is that the literal translation of content does not take into consideration the type of information this group needs or wants. Sometimes the content selected for translation is not the main content Spanish speakers want since they may have different needs compared to their English-speaking counterpart. Approach 2 gets closer to providing a better online experience; however, some of the key information may be missing since not all the content is provided in Spanish.

Some sites, on the other hand, have understood the needs of this Spanish-speaking community and not only provide the information in Spanish but they also provide ‘acculturated’ information as described in Approach 3. On these sites the information is organized in a way that ‘makes sense’ to this group with the most sought after information displayed more prominently on the site.

ForeSee has had the opportunity to see all of these approaches among our clients. In an interesting analysis we compared two versions of the same U.S. federal government informational site; one website in English (let’s call this site EnglishSite.gov) and the other one in Spanish that followed Approach 3 (SpanishSite.gov).

This is what we found:

  • While EnglishSite.gov receives a high proportion of visitors who identify themselves as citizens/general public, government employee and senior citizens, SpanishSite.gov receives a high proportion of immigrants, citizens of another country who are thinking about immigrating to the U.S., college students and tourists.
  • Visitors to these sites have different goals regarding what they want to find on the site. Visitors to EnglishSite.gov were more likely to look for information related to benefits and grants, government agencies or programs, or government jobs. On the other hand, visitors to SpanishSite.gov were more likely to look for information related to immigration, employment, government services, or general information about the U.S.
  • In terms of how successful visitors were in finding what they were looking for, it was observed that only 46% of EnglishSite.gov’s visitors found what they were looking for compared to 59% of SpanishSite.gov’s visitors. Note that among those who found what they were looking for, visitors to SpanishSite.gov were more satisfied (89 vs. 83 on our 100-point scale).
  • Interestingly enough, visitors were referred to these sites in a very different way. Visitors to EnglishSite.gov were more often referred by another website or link (36%), while visitors to SpanishSite.gov were more likely to be referred by some type of media (29%).

SpanishSite.gov was successful in understanding the needs of Spanish speakers and creating a strategy to meet and exceed their expectations. As a result, visitors’ satisfaction with SpanishSite.gov was 81 (among the top sites on the ForeSee Spanish benchmark at the time) while visitors’ satisfaction for EnglishSite.gov was 70.

This is one example of how an organization was able to understand the need of servicing this different group of visitors who speak Spanish at home and take this into consideration when strategizing the website design, and the benefits of doing so.

The implications of this example is for website managers to keep in mind the importance of understanding this group and plan a specific web design strategy according to what this group needs, instead of creating a standard design for these two very different groups (Spanish speakers and English speakers in the U.S.). One of the reasons SpanishSite.gov was successful is because they used a system of metrics that helped them prioritize and implement changes that met the visitors’ expectations. We know that with better experience comes higher customer satisfaction. And with higher satisfaction comes a higher likelihood to return to the site, use the site as a main resource, and trust the entity.

It is also worth noting that this line of thinking isn’t (or shouldn’t be) restricted to just informational or governmental sites. It remains crucial for any site, public of private, attempting to provide experiences for the growing Spanish-speaking population.

Categories: ForeSee Products

About the Author

Silvina Diaz is a Director of Client Services at ForeSee. She started working with ForeSee in 2006 as a Satisfaction Research Analyst, working primarily with Public Sector and International organizations. During the past eight years at ForeSee, Silvina has developed an expertise on International markets, one of her passions. In her current role, Silvina oversees the Client Services team in our London office, works closely with our ForeSee Brazil office and manages the Public Sector team. Before joining ForeSee, Silvina worked in market research for more than five years and has also been a college Algebra and Math teacher. Silvina holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina, and a Master of Science in Statistics from Colorado State University.

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