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Gambling on Machine Translation
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on May 22, 2014  in the following blogs: Best Practices, Business Globalization, Global Marketing, Technology
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We recently caught up with Russell Gowlett, an executive at PKR Technologies, to talk about PKR.com, a gaming website based in the Channel Islands. The site offers an immersive experience in online poker in a 3D environment with enough character customization to meet the needs of any aspiring Kenny Rogers. While the majority of PKR’s gamblers reside in the United Kingdom, the site also draws virtual tables full of French and German online players plus poker fans from other European countries such as Denmark, Italy, and Russia. 

Gowlett’s job is to make sure that members of this polyglot community get the information they need when they need it, in a language they can understand. PKR’s multilingual customer care is driven by two mandates: 
  • National regulation. PKR is obligated by law to offer customer support in the languages of the countries where it has been licensed by the gaming authorities – that is, in Denmark, France, and Italy. In all other countries, the company either operates under less stringent Channel Islands laws or cannot accept players from those countries. For example, Spanish residents cannot wager, but Spanish-speaking South Americans can play poker at the site – and require support.

  • International marketing and customer care. Our research consistently shows a strong preference for interacting in one’s mother tongue, even among those with solid proficiency in another. PKR.com regularly draws non-English-speakers who want customer support in a language they can understand.
In the past, PKR hired bilingual customer service representatives (CSRs) to staff its online chat lines. For example, it employed a lot of French agents and a few Italians. However, as the company’s international business and demand for more non-English chats grew, Gowlett said that the expense and logistics of scheduling CSRs who could answer a non-Anglophone player’s questions got out of hand. At any given time, some bilingual agents were overloaded with requests while others were idle. 

Gowlett realized that if he could remove the language factor, he could hire anyone with poker knowledge. Enter machine translation (MT) in the form of Lionbridge’s GeoFluent. Lionbridge trained its software for PKR using sample chats in various languages, and harvested translation memories, translated knowledge base articles, and a gaming industry glossary. Within a few months, PKR launched its MT-enabled chat in French, Italian a few weeks later, and then dealt Danish, German, and Russian. 

Today, English-speaking CSRs use MT to interact with players in all those languages. The system is set up so that if a French agent happens to be online and not engaged, it routes chats to them first. If there are no French-speaking CSRs working at that time or there’s more demand than they can handle, chat requests are routed to the GeoFluent-enabled English speakers.

How did the site’s international customers react to the MT interaction? They’re nearly as satisfied as they were with purely human sessions. Before MT, anyone wanting to chat in French would often have to wait for an agent to become available, but now, any CSR can take the call. For PKR, the benefits were clear. Gowlett was able to remove the bilingual requirement for CSRs, thus eliminating the need for most French agents and all Italian reps. It now employs only one French agent per day for more complex interactions, one CSR each for Dutch and German. It no longer requires bilingual customer care staff for other languages. 

What drove PKR to gamble on machine translation were two major requirements – regulatory compliance and consumer demand – and the reality of limited bilingual personnel. Combined with poker-playing English-speaking CSRs, the site’s MT software satisfies the legal and marketing requirements while also meeting the immediate needs of its international customers. 


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