Best Practices: Using Mobile Communications to reach Hispanic Customers

We conducted an interview with Larry Upton, Founder and President of Edioma, a provider of mobile phone and Internet-based language instruction products designed to help companies communicate more effectively with customers, employees and partners. Edioma’s clients include 7-Eleven.
Portada: How does Edioma teach major brands to learn the Spanish-language and cater to Hispanic customers?
Larry Upton: “As you may already know, US Hispanics are the fastest growing retail customer segment for many large CPG's (Consumer Packaged Goods Companies). However, traditional out-of-home marketing programs (e.g., print, broadcast, online) don't effectively target Spanish-dominant consumers. The resulting "language differences" often lead to a cross-cultural communications gap:

• Most 1st generation, Spanish-speaking customers don't read US publications (e.g., USA Today, WSJ, NYT) and often prefer Spanish-language programming (e.g., Univision, Telemundo) to traditional broadcast TV.

• English speaking service staffs often encounter problems communicating and doing business with Spanish speaking customers, not only from a language perspective, but likewise from a lack of "cultural understanding," i.e., the highly familiar, word-of-mouth based reference shared among Hispanics. Typically, the Hispanic consumer enters the US retailer hoping to be greeted, informed, and sold to based on a recommendation from a trusted friend/family member... not simply from an ad touting the virtues of one product/service over another.

•Traditional language training programs (e.g., Rosetta Stone, Berlitz) are often costly and don’t scale well for multi-location, geographically disparate retail operations.”

Portada: How do you try to remedy this?
“First, targeting US Hispanics with culturally relevant, compelling offers over an easily accessible, ever-present platform, their mobile phone. Second, the platform trains US retail staffs in how to better engage, service, and sell to Spanish-speaking clients via contextual language instruction (e.g., greetings, courtesy phrases, problem-solving). We utilize the "lowest common denominator" of SMS (text messaging), coupled with embedded IVR (interactive voice response) and microsite links to deliver mobile marketing promotions and language instruction content directly to the customer/associate's mobile phone. Thus we "connect" the Hispanic consumer to the retailer by providing a compelling promotion which drives foot traffic to the retailer, then prepares the retailer to actively engage/up-sell the consumer in Spanish once in-the-door.”

Portada: You work with 7-Eleven can you share and explain the data you got from your work with them?

Larry Upton: “7-Eleven recognizes that Hispanics are their fastest growing consumer segment, representing over 23% of their gross business. However, many of their franchisees are of non-US origins, hence not typically educated in the Spanish language, most speak Hindi, Urdu, or Arabic as their native language. 7-Eleven chose to work with edioma, as our mobile phone based language instruction platform represents a cost-effective, scalable, easily-deployed means by which they might educate their counter staff in Spanish language greetings, courtesy phrases, and up-sell terminology. We've been working with a number of Chicago-based 7-Eleven locations over the past 14 months and have achieved notable results including:

- over 80% proficiency gains in spoken Spanish
- over 23% increase in Hispanic customer satisfaction
- over 50% close rates on Spanish language up-sell programs.”

Portada: How do you measure these results?

Larry Upton: “As a means to demonstrate ROI for 7-Eleven's investment, edioma contracted a 3rd party consumer polling group (PMG, San Antonio, previous work with P&G, J&J, etc.) to conduct "customer intercepts" among Spanish-dominant 7-Eleven customers as they entered/exited 7-Eleven retail locations. This consumer research group polled nearly 800 customers over a one-year period, compiled their feedback, and extrapolated the results as detailed above. For instance, one 7-Eleven retail franchisee elected to use the edioma system to conduct a Spanish-language up-sell campaign on breakfast biscuits. In one day, this franchise went from selling an average of 11 biscuits per day to over 88. This was  simply achieved through teaching their associates to recommend customers try a breakfast biscuit in Spanish!!”

Portada:  You say that English -speaking retail staff has difficulties in engaging and up-selling in Spanish. Do you mean that the retail staff targeting Hispanic customers should be Spanish-dominant (at least)? If so, why? Cant they bilingual?

Larry Upton:
“No, we do not necessarily believe that US retail staff should be "Spanish dominant" before they can adequately service Hispanic customers; simply that they should be able to meet, greet, thank, and sell products in Spanish.  We are not so naive as to believe that one can learn fluent Spanish over a mobile phone based language instruction system; however, one can learn 15-20 basic phrases, whereby a Hispanic customer can be made to feel welcome and appreciated in a retail establishment.”

Portada: Can you provide data about the way advertising/particularly direct response advertising should relate to a Spanish-language sales force?

“Typical direct response advertising campaigns strive to achieve a 2-3% response rate from target customers. We believe this should be much higher, particularly for the highly mobile-centric Hispanic population. We therefore strive to achieve a minimum 6% response rate on our programs, coupled with a 40%-plus "click-thru" rate on retail promotions. However, high direct response rates are only the first half of the equation: if Hispanic customers come into a retail location to take advantage of a compelling offer only to find themselves unable to communicate with retail staff, the promotion will fall on deaf ears (no pun intended). Thus the out-of-home mobile campaign needs to be closely tied to an in-house Spanish language training program designed to improve the retailers' ability to engage and then actively up-sell the promotion to Hispanic consumers.”


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