At the recent conference in Budapest where I had the pleasure of attending and presenting, the first conference morning included a panel discussion with the representatives of LSPs and freelance translators. One of the claims made, to which I opposed, was that LSPs (no matter if large of single freelancers) should offer their clients “fit for purpose” translation, thus of different levels of quality depending on the intended use. Quite on purpose, I played the devil’s advocate and asked the proponent of this claim to consider whether a doctor should be advising his or her patient to use lower quality medications or surgical appliances, for whatever reason. Of course this metaphor is out of place and you should never compare issues so drastically different (or are they?). Yet the doctor and medicine metaphor caught on.
Voicing her opinion from the audience, Tess Whitty from Swedish Translation Services suggested that, while administering different quality of translation may be out of place, perhaps translators should use their expertise to discern which medication to apply, and in some cases even act as one.
I’ve been playing with this idea for a couple of weeks now and asked myself whether we actually can (and should) sell the same translation to all clients? In the end I have to admit that I do agree with Tess, hence I even thought of writing about customer segmentation.
Let me tell you another anecdote. Recently, I have visited a new accountant who spent an hour talking to me about my business to understand it properly (even was curious about my book!), wrote down all that my business activity consisted of and based on that offered a tailored service that I know I’ll be happy with (and I’m prepared to pay). I’m quickly becoming their biggest fan, mostly because they took the time to analyse my needs and offer something that will work best for me. Yet still, all they’re doing is selling accountancy services.
Again, this made me wonder about how the majority of us is selling translation. With some exceptions, we tend to offer just one service, manifesting itself in the words translated. We hardly ever use our expertise to advise the client on what should be translated and how, and even more rarely we discuss additional services or indeed the purpose of their translation.
Perhaps this is wrong. Perhaps this is the source of commoditisation of translation services. Perhaps this leads to the conviction that anybody can translate because it’s just replacing words in one language with another. A part of being an expert is admitting that you have the expertise to advise your client on the best translation services needed in their case. And acknowledging that translation is a tailored-made service is the first step to customer segmentation.
This week I offer a rather simple list of points for you to consider, especially when working with direct clients.
1. Acknowledge translation as a tailored-made service.
It’s not about churning out words, it’s about putting your intellectual powers, experience and expertise into a piece of text that has to serve a certain purpose for your client.
2. Accept your responsibility as an expert.
When I visited my accountant, I trusted his expertise and relied on his best advice. This is what I’m paying for, not going through my receipts every month.
3. Discuss the text with your client.
One of the first questions I always ask is: what do you want to achieve with this translation? I need to know that to be able to deliver texts that really work for my clients (help where it hurts, solve a problem, whatever you call it).
4. Make suggestions.
As I said at a recent workshop in Madrid, some of my clients rely on my expertise to translate but also to suggest how they could improve their message for its target audience and purpose. I’m not hesitating to tell my clients that this font/colour/image/metaphor/slogan/campaign may not work in Poland.
5. Offer additional services.
I’m never afraid to tell my client that yes of course, I can translate this press release for them, and if they want me to, I can also look for places where they can publish it and contact the relevant people on their behalf, for a fee of course. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure that my translation is as effective as it could be?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about that. Do you have any other ideas how we could turn translation into a more tailored-made service? Like I said, this is the first step towards customer segmentation, so you’ll see why this is so important.