AT&T: Going Global Awkwardly

AT&T boldly announced today that it had launched a seven-language Web site at www.att.com/global.

I’ll give AT&T and ‘A’ for effort and a ‘D-‘ for execution.

The major problems have to do with navigation, or lack thereof. If you visit the “global” home page URL, you will arrive at the page below:

att_global_en.gif

It is quite easy to locate your language here. However, who is going to instinctively know to input that “global” URL? It is safe to assume that a great many people will arrive via the more popular addressL www.att.com. However, if they arrive in this way, they will see this:

att_home.gif

I looked and looked but could not find a link to the global home page. This is a problem, a big problem. But it is also a common problem among major corporate Web sites, particularly those in the early years of globalization.

Time and again I’ve heard from managing Web globalization projects who find they must fight and fight to get a “global gateway” added to their corporate home pages. Very often, the person managing the home page doesn’t want to have to rethink the navigation scheme yet also does not want to add a new button somewhere at the top of the page, where it is most useful. Instead, we typically find links to the localized Web pages buried at the bottom of the home pages. Over time, as the localized Web sites become more important to the organization as a whole, the links tend to bubble up to the top of the page. It’s funny how these things work.

Now let’s look at my second major problem with the AT&T site: the addresses of the localized Web sites. Here are the URLs to each of the localized sites:

  • English: www.att.com/global
  • Spanish: www.att.com/espanol
  • Chinese: www.att.com/chinese
  • Japanese: www.att.com/japanese
  • Korean: www.att.com/korean
  • Russian: www.att.com/russian
  • Polish: www.att.com/polski

These addresses are longer than they need to be. AT&T probably should have used the international languages abbreviations instead, such as JP for Japanese, RU for Russian. After all, if you assume that a Web user has great difficulty with the English language, why expect that person to type in needless additional English characters?

To complicate matters, the URLs are not consistently used. Notice below how the URL for the Spanish site redirects to www.consumer.att.com/global/spanish rather than espanol.

att_es.gif

So Where’s the Global Gateway?

AT&T, like most companies, needs to develop a “global gateway” strategy. A global gateway is an umbrella term for the visual and technical devices you employ to direct users to their locale- and language-specific Web sites. AT&T does use language-specific URLs, but fails to build in any global navigation scheme. You can read about Byte Level’s gateway recommendations here.

The need for a gateway won’t go away. Additional languages I expect to see on the AT&T site include:

  • Portuguese
  • Tagalog (Filipino)
  • Vietnamese
  • Hindi

And now some good news

AT&T offers language-specific support phone lines for all of these languages and also contracts out real-time translation support for any additional languages to a company called Language Line.

Phone support is more expensive than Web support. So it is in the best interest of AT&T that customers go to the Web first before calling. As it stands now, non-English speaking customers are still far better off picking up the phone.

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