How PayPal Speaks to Global Customers

The (quite literally) far-reaching task of globalization in most companies is neither driven by key enterprise-level business indicators nor with an eye on total ROI. This is the assessment of Salvatore “Salvo” Giammarresi, Head of Content and Globalization at multilingual online payment firm PayPal, which posted USD 9.24bn in 2015 revenues having spun off from eBay last year.

Localization and globalization are still not generally regarded as revenue drivers because, according to Giammarresi, they are not considered business assets. However, “at PayPal, globalization is considered a business asset and a competitive advantage,” Giammarresi told Slator.

The industry veteran has been a go-to expert at several fora since his days as Senior Director of Localization Engineering at Yahoo! (He joined PayPal at the start of 2013.) Giammarresi’s current team is “responsible for all product source content ideation,” strategy, authoring, and anything related to globalization at PayPal across all business functions.

“In essence, we shape how PayPal ‘speaks’ to our customers,” Giammarresi said.

What follows is Slator’s interview with PayPal’s Head of Content and Globalization Salvo Giammarresi.

Slator: How many staff work in some localization or globalization capacity at PayPal?

Giammarresi: We have a hybrid and, therefore, variable workforce made up of full-time employees and vendors.

All our customer-facing content is translated and reviewed by humans

Slator: What kind of human translation is done at PayPal?

Giammarresi: PayPal uses machine translation (MT) as one of the intermediary steps during our localization process. All our customer-facing content is translated and reviewed by humans. In some cases, for some content that is used only internally, we might use raw MT.

Slator: From which part of the business do the biggest translation volumes, MT or human, come from?

Giammarresi: Our biggest volumes come from product, followed by customer support.

Slator: Which volumes do you pass on to your localization partners and which are handled in-house?

Giammarresi: We use a hybrid model using both full-time employees and vendors. We also have a hybrid model using vendors on-site and remotely. We recognize that [no single] approach fulfills all our business needs; therefore, we have a flexible setup.

Slator: How is translation quality measured at PayPal?

Giammarresi: We measure translation quality along a variety of parameters such as non-translated words, tone, style, punctuation, terminology, clarity, comprehension, inconsistencies, misspellings, duplication, casing, whitespace, etc.

Salvo Giammarresi
Salvo Giammarresi

Slator: When translation quality falls, how is the impact felt?

Giammarresi: PayPal’s business is fundamentally built on trust. Because of all this and the very personal nature of money, we have a very high bar for quality. If you cannot trust that we will fix our translation bugs, how can you trust that we will safely manage your money?

Slator: What are the top languages at Paypal and what drives them?

Giammarresi: We support over 30 languages and a variety of language variants. Some languages—like UK English, German, French, Italian, EU Spanish, Chinese, and Australian English—carry a bigger financial impact based on the maturity of those markets and PayPal’s transaction volume and market penetration. Financial impact, while important, is only one of the drivers for adding and supporting a language. Our goal is to be available in all the languages of our customers.

Slator: Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of translation productivity tool and translation management system (TMS) PayPal deploys?

Giammarresi: We have been a long time user of [SDL] WorldServer. Over the years we have built a globalization platform called Merlion, which uses WorldServer as our main TMS, and allows a wider set of functionality and automation.

Slator: Many years ago, you said a big mission when you were at Yahoo! was consolidating all localization resources into a single, central unit. Was this a challenge for you as well when you joined PayPal?

Giammarresi: At PayPal, we have a centralized globalization team. I think every company is different and therefore there is no one organization construct that is ideal for all companies. Having said that, based on what I see in the industry, many companies could generally achieve a higher degree of velocity, scalability, quality and cost reductions if they adopted a centralized model.

Many companies could generally achieve a higher degree of velocity, scalability, quality and cost reductions if they adopted a centralized model

Slator: Speaking at Palo Alto in 2011, you said it was hard to find globalization people who had end-to-end expertise. How are things today?

Giammarresi: Hiring great talent is still very hard. As more companies grasp the business value of great content and globalization, the demand for experts outweighs the current supply. I always tell our people managers to find time in their busy schedules to meet with potential candidates, even if they don’t have job openings at the time. It’s important to create a pipeline and create a network that you are ready to tap into when you need to hire.

Slator: What trends in the broad translation and localization industry excite you most?

Giammarresi: All the work around “contextualization” is very interesting to me. For too many years, localization has been a string-based effort. But, ultimately, we don’t show strings to our customers. We display full experiences that include content, graphics, colors, etc. The more localizers can work in contextual environments where they are localizing “the experience” versus “strings,” the better we serve our customers.