"If something is wrong, our customers will tell us."The question is, what venues do you give them to tell you? And how do you know that the reason they didn't buy your product is because of certain internationalization (or other) problems? those are the two main stumbling blocks to overcome, but there are undertones as well.
Starting with the venues, have you provided your customer with easy ways to tell you about problems? That is:
- Do they know what URL to go to, what email address to mail to, and what number to call?
- Is the text at the URL translated into their language?
- Does the form at the URL accept text in their language?
- Is the person who answers the phone the person who helps them throughout the problem reporting process (regardless of who has the correct solution for the problem)?
- Does the person on the phone speak their language?
- Are emails in their language?
- Is there a discussion forum in their language, and is someone from your company monitoring it?
- Can your bug tracking system handle data in other languages (which your software processes)?
- Do you conduct seminars and conferences on your products in different parts of the world, and are there interpreters and translations of slides and papers into the local language(s)?
This brings me to the second point, do you ever find out exactly why a potential customer never became an actual customer? Does your company do follow-up? Have you listened carefully to your potential customer's requirements - in their language, using their cultural conventions - and verified that your product fulfills them? Are you approaching potential customers in a culturally appropriate way? Are you advertising in the right fora (forums)?
It may sound like a lot of work, but the payback is huge. If you think your company does OK in this area, take a closer look. Talk to the people who live and work in other countries and get the real story. Most recently I heard from someone who worked in the support area in China. He knew of several cases where customers reported problems with the product running in the Chinese environment. Because the people trying to reproduce the problem didn't try it in a Chinese environment, they couldn't reproduce the problem, and closed the bug report! (Yes, this happened in 2004.)
Do you think those customers ever reported another bug? They may not even be customers anymore. This actually points to a future myth, that is, that internationalization is only necessary for software development. Until then.