When "wicked" means "good"

Pop quiz! The definition of the word “wicked” is:

  1. evil or morally wrong
  2. really, very
  3. great
  4. all of the above
  5. none of the above

If you answered “4,” you just earned yourself a virtual high five. Congratulations! For the rest of us, this is a great chance to think about how regional dialects and even cultural differences can affect how we understand and analyze text-based feedback.

(It’s also an excellent opportunity to make fun of Boston slang – “wicked” is synonymous with “really” or “very” here. Our friends across the pond use the same word to say “good” or “great.” Heck, while you’re at it, make fun of our accents too. Go ahead; we’ll wait.)

Understanding dialects and different cultures are “wicked” important

As companies expand their global reach, understanding their customers – no matter what language or dialect they speak, or to which culture they belong – becomes increasingly important. These differences might seem relatively small, such as the varying definitions of the word “wicked”… but they might have a huge impact on your ability to understand your customers.

Finding nuances in the English language

One of our clients, a multinational e-commerce company, sells consumer goods all over the world. The customer experience team was receiving more negative feedback than usual from customers in India, so the team partnered with Luminoso to analyze survey feedback and determine the root cause of these issues. We found that customers were complaining about “duplicate” items. For instance, customers said, “Sells duplicate product in the name of original,” and “I contacted the store and they told me that it was a duplicate product.”

This baffled the customer experience team. What did their customers mean by “duplicate” and “original”? These words were clearly being used differently than in American English. In this case, Luminoso’s software applied natural language understanding and artificial intelligence to help the team understand that the word “duplicate” was synonymous with “counterfeit,” and “original” was being used instead of “genuine.” Once the customer experience team understood the issue, they were able to immediately take steps to rectify the situation.

Accounting for cultural differences

Regional dialects aren’t the only potential stumbling blocks in customer feedback analysis. Cultural differences can also play a big part in collecting and understanding customer or employee comments.

Another client was analyzing internal surveys across different company offices to improve their employees’ satisfaction and engagement. In the American and German datasets, determining how employees felt about specific issues was straightforward, as their employees were very honest and gave detailed feedback. However, within their offices in the Asia-Pacific region, determining what employees felt positively or negatively about was far more difficult, since providing direct or negative feedback is less culturally acceptable. Once they realized this, our client adjusted the survey to make it easier for their employees in APAC to provide more straightforward feedback.

Meet your customers and employees where they are

Too many companies analyze feedback with the assumption that their customers and employees are using the same jargon and dialects, or are coming from the same cultural background. This is a critical mistake, and can result in missing potential issues or opportunities for improvement. We must look at feedback with open eyes and be ready to learn.