For an industry whose essential role is to help companies connect with their global customers in any language, it seems to me we can make it really hard to purchase translation services. The reasons behind what at times must seem like an unnecessarily overcomplicated process are largely genuine and reasonable. Still, thinking about the ease with which I purchase other goods and services online or in person tells me that we, as an industry have an opportunity to improve.
Without a doubt there are an astonishing variety of inputs, or source materials, that we encounter on a day by day, or even an hour-by-hour basis. Project size varies from a few sentences to millions of words. The language combinations, subject matters, output formats, and so on are indeed head spinning. But is that so different than the rest of the world? Arguably the tax code is geometrically more complex today than a decade ago, yet working with our accounting firm to file our various tax returns is no more difficult. In fact, since they send us a PDF and we file electronically, the process on our side of the transaction is actually much easier than years ago.
We use a lot of really cool tools combined with decades of experience to help us accurately estimate projects, avoid potholes, and generally do a really good job. But being candid, when I look at both the volume and detail in the back and forth between our team and our client when working on some proposals, I can’t help but shake my head. 20 emails. 50? A bunch of IM’s, a short conference call. At what point does the client get worn out and say, “Just tell me how much so I can place the order and get my translations!”
Today, we are seeing a definite partition among certain groups of customers – those for whom translation is still a bit of an afterthought and those who make it an integral part of a larger production process. For the former, getting the final materials together, building advance trust in language quality, and establishing reasonable timelines continues to be challenging. For the latter, the conversation quickly shifts away from word counts towards integration and flow.
For this second group of customers, getting things done quickly (first to market) is taking precedence over perfection. One of our clients does weekly updates to their web and smartphone applications. Need to adjust or refine a translation? Take care of it on the next update. Better glossary term suggested by an end-user in Brazil? Take care of it on the next update. Oh, one critical string needs to be changed right now – in 43 languages? Upload and go, done in hours.
Driven by historical reasons, we get caught up in trying to define perfection in advance. Avoid surprises. Make sure our margins are safe. Prevent mutual pain. No question these are good business practices. We just need to make this much more transparent – painless – for our customers. We’ve always been fast and accurate. Now let’s get the work underway quicker, and adapt/fix/resolve in real-time. That’s been our mission for the last few years – to make buying translation more seamless and more automatic. The mind-shift is not to treat the continuous flow clients with the old pedantic approach. We stop thinking of ourselves as an end step function, but as a plug and play part of an ongoing, never-ending, continuously iterating production process.
What do you think? Post a comment - I’d enjoy sharing a few words with you.