Picture the scene, it’s the weekend, the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky, a perfect day for a leisurely drive. About an hour into your jaunt around the local country roads, you notice a strange clunking sound coming from under the bonnet. It looks like a trip to the garage is in order. Once you get home you call the guy (or girl) you always call when your car needs attention. You drop it off at the garage and wait for the workshop to call, what are the first three things you want to learn from that call?… Most people would likely answer along the lines of “can they fix it, what is it going to cost and how long is it going to take”, probably in that order.
Now you are probably wondering what going for a drive and suffering an impending breakdown has to do with anything, well I’ll get to that. About a year ago I was talking to a chap in a pub, the best stories always start with that line right? His name is Dave, you wouldn’t say he was anything out of the ordinary, casually dressed, glasses, drives a van, all very run of the mill, he wouldn’t mind me saying that he’d probably agree. Anyway, I sat at the bar waiting for my friends to finally show up and just happened to strike up a conversation with him. He told me about how he works in a garage and has done probably longer than I’ve been alive, another classic line from the book of pub stories huh. Dave’s customers go through exactly the same ritual as I had you imagine at the beginning, but when it comes to that phone call, his customers have slightly different expectations.
The priorities of a great many customers are cost, turnaround and if the service will provide a solution to their problem
I know I know, “what’s this story got to do with the translation industry?” well, as well as driving me to drink occasionally, actually it’s quite relevant. It’s like this, the majority of language service companies, and to an extent, a lot of translators are like the garage you imagined. The priorities of a great many of their customers are cost, turnaround and that the service will provide a solution to their problem, that problem being “I have this much budget and need these words in that language”.
The big issue is that many language providers have been competing against each other in a race to the bottom on cost and deadlines for so long that many of their clients believe that price and speed are the only differentiating factors in the industry. In much the same way as when you need to change the exhaust on your car, you take for granted that all mechanics will be able to do it, it’s just the cost and time it takes that differs. It may sound unrealistic, but if you’ve ever had to justify to a client why they should use your language services over Google Translate, then you know it’s not so farfetched.
It’s now quite common for clients with some experience of the language industry to expect a generic rate for translation, £90, £100, £150 etc. per thousand words, translators can do about 2000 words a day on average say. So when a client comes to you with a 3000 document translation they expect it to be ready in 2-3 days and cost about £300, simple maths, easy transaction, this is how the language industry has conditioned its clients to approach language provision. The big players in the Industry develop or employ software that can handle a portion of the translation load, leveraging machines to do the bulk of the heavy lifting and then finally get translators to check the results, this lets them squeeze their suppliers on price and ramp up efficiency with the priority goal of moving large amounts of translation at minimum cost in a tiny timeframe, all the while driving big profit margins for their company.
It’s quite common for clients with some experience of the language industry to expect a generic rate for translation, £90, £100, £150 etc. per thousand words
Now there is a portion of translation that will always be administered in this fashion, low importance, base value, high volume work that may be best served by this kind of process (depending on your point of view). To go back to the garage analogy again, there is nothing wrong with the service a chain like Kwik-fit provide, in fact, often they supply exactly what their customers require, they get the job done, it’s relatively cost efficient and it’s quick, simple & serves its purpose. What’s vitally important though is that you are aware of clear distinctions within the industry & that not all things are created equal, like Dave for instance…
You see the thing about Dave and more specifically, his customers, is that when they get the ‘quote call’ they aren’t thinking about time and cost as much as they are about quality & expertise. The only constant between Dave’s customers and the ones you were imagining is that a problem existed that needed to be addressed. So how do you make this switch and get your clients to think differently about your services? Well, maybe I should tell you a little bit more about the chap I met in the pub…
Picture the scene, it’s the weekend, the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky. It’s a perfect day for a drive in your classic 1950’s Jaguar C-type, the actual car that won Le Mans, twice. Your one of a kind £5,000,000+ pride and joy that you spent more than a decade trying to acquire, starts misfiring. It looks like a trip to the garage is in order. Once you finally get home after the long walk (you can’t risk damaging that bespoke engine after all) you call Dave, you always call him when your cars need attention. You drop it round on the trailer and wait for his workshop to call, what are the first three things you want to learn from that call?… I’d wager they are not quite the same things you were thinking at the beginning of the article.
You see, calling Dave a mechanic is a huge disservice; he is a master craftsman, one of only a handful of people in the world with the necessary experience and skill set to work on such historically important vehicles, painstakingly restoring them and often crafting bespoke parts where originals simply no longer exist. If you are taking a car to Dave for work, your priorities are craftsmanship, passion and the knowledge that the job will be done flawlessly, not just enough work to get you off the forecourt for a year or so. His customers know the value he brings to the job far outweighs the potential cost… taking an engineering marvel such as this to Kwik-fit simply isn’t an option.
In a similar vein, you could argue your company brand is like that Jaguar. You’ve spent years building your reputation, put countless hours and large sums of money into moulding & developing your company message, it’s your livelihood. So when you decide the time has come to branch out and start offering your products or services to customers abroad, where do you begin? A good place to start might be to translate your strapline, the piece of text that defines your company values, ambitions and helps you communicate with your customers, do you think of it as just seven words that should cost you pence to translate? Or do you think about what those seven words represent and everything that involves, it would be unforgivable to assign the translation of such fundamentally important information based simply on price and a 1 hour turnaround. While your strapline is an extreme example (unbelievably it does actually happen), any good marketeer will tell you it’s vitally important to remember that your brand and message shine through in anything destined for consumption by your customers, whether its leaflets, posters, packaging, editorial, press, absolutely anything. There’s a high probability that you have invested generously in the original material for your home region, triple checking every sentence for the right tone and message, adjusting the design so it really speaks to your audience, after all you don’t want your customers to think you have a slapdash approach to your services, you mean business and have an unfaltering belief that your services are a match for any of those of your competitors.
Strangely, many companies seem to completely forget the importance they placed on making sure the original was correct by the time it comes to requesting translation. It is common to allot the minimum amount of time, tacked on to the end of the project, after all, it’s just swapping words around right? We’ve seen first-hand how clients with stratospheric brand value & multi-million pound luxury products will outsource their brochure translation to the lowest bidder irrespective of any potential impact that a mistake will have on their brand reputation amongst their customers. Apple, KFC, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, General Motors, HSBC & Ford to name only a few have all fallen foul of this disconnect in recent history. While some of these errors have been relatively innocuous and others much more damaging, the overriding message this type of failure generates is that the companies involved simply do not believe their overseas customers are as important as those from their home region, PR suicide if you are hoping to build business abroad.
The moral of this story is, if your brand, values, ideas and international customers are important to you, don’t take your classic Jag to Kwik-fit, speak to Dave.