SpeechTEK 2018: SMS Chat On a Global Scale

Is texting its own language? That’s a question the Performance Technology Partners (PTP) team had to answer when working on project for a large global personal tech company which asked Martha Senturia, senior VUI designer, and her team at PTP to design a survey via SMS and chat that mirrored an existing email survey. Oh…and, it would be deployed it in China.

Senturia tried to convey the complexity of a project like this in her SpeechTEK session, “Talking, Texting, and Chatting in China.” There’s a lot to take into consideration when you’re deploying a survey—or any SMS campaign—in another country. There are different carrier concerns and regulations in every locale. When you add the complexity of operating in a country with as many dialects and regional differences as China—not to mention the challenge of a completely different alphabet—things get even more complicated that your typical chat implementation.

All “localization requires cultural and political sensitivity” according to Senturia, but this is critical in China. So her team had to get it right. That meant answering a few unusual questions, like the aforementioned “Is texting its own language?” Grab the nearest teenager and ask to see their texts and you’ll see a lot of abbreviation, and a lack of punctuation or capitalization. Ask that same teenager—as Senturia did—if they would want a brand to text to them this way, and they’ll probably tell you “No, they would be trying too hard.”

So, how do you balance user expectations with the restrictions of the format (screen size) and the particular rules and regulations of the locale you’re operating in. Very carefully…and with the help of actual humans. Senturia is the first to admit that automated translation has its place, but when you want to truly localize content—whether it’s about double-checking translations, or making sure you aren’t inadvertently offending anyone—you need a real person.

Ultimately, the PTP team came up with a few guidelines to help reach a “happy medium” that wasn’t overly formal for the text/chat environment, work within the constraints of the format, but also allowed the survey to remain professional.

• Use line breaks
• Think visual
• Capitalize
• Punctuate
• Spell correctly
• Be brief
• Symbols are OK
• Fit with brand
• Single spacing

Answering these questions was only the beginning, but it’s a good place to start when designing a SMS chat experience.

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