Focusing on price can be risky

Recently we had a sales meeting, followed by a post mortem for a project that went a little haywire. As we dissected the numbers and then the glitches, I was impressed by the degree of passion my co-workers demonstrated for their profession and their reputation. I say ‘their’, rather ‘our’ because it is individual pride in being professionals and being appreciated as such, that stood out, even when looking at something that didn’t work out as well as we typically expect. There was no finger-pointing, though as we talked it became increasingly obvious what had caused the problem (no excuses, but it was not us, it was cost-cutting). We simply wanted to understand how we might head off a similar situation in the future.

Beware of hiring a commodity

Translation and localization is viewed as a commodity by many- with thousands of language service providers (LSPs) worldwide, there is a market-driven pricing model in place, and it is understandable that choosing a vendor based on price is not uncommon. Unfortunately, simply comparing word and hourly rates (the commodity approach) can end up costing you money in the long run. The situation we were evaluating was a case in point. An outside resource was used for a critical aspect of the project, basically to save money. They didn’t really understand the nature of the project (it was quite specialized) and their work made things worse because of this. As a result, quite a lot of reverse-engineering was required, which in turn killed the timeline and bulked up costs unnecessarily. The commodity approach had backfired.

Hire the people

As marketing guy, I watch the traffic to our website on a daily basis, and it tells me things. But let me digress a bit. Before joining Language Intelligence, I worked in growth mode enterprise software companies. In these businesses I also watched the web traffic and there was a notable difference: In our business one of our most visited pages is our team page. In the software realm, this was fairly rare. This is understandable given that software is a product and translation is a service- services are delivered by people.

There is an irony at work here: The people-focused service business is viewed as a commodity while the product business is not. Yet in our business the people are our principal asset. They’re the ones who get the work done. Linguists, project managers, account managers, freelance translators who are also subject matter experts, editors, programmers, and designers. Those are what you’re hiring when you choose an LSP, and our most savvy customers understand that.

How we compete

Nevertheless, we have to compete on price and we do, but…(here it comes) you get what you pay for. That’s a cliche but cliches are typically driven by truths. One of our claims to fame is integration. We specialize in handling complex projects from end to end: translation, reviewing, editing, specialized requirements like voiceovers and video editing, working with industry-specific software (survey software, DITA, eLearning courseware, etc.), and desktop publishing. We take pride in delivering work that is ready to go, if that is what the customer wants.

This integrated approach takes us beyond commodity status, even if our pricing is still in commodity range. It gives us the ability to manage quality control, which, in turn, helps eliminate those commodity- based glitches we encountered in that project that went south.

Yes, this could be seen as self-serving…

In fact, it is. But for a very good reason. Quality is the only way we rise above being a commodity, and the best way we know to assure a quality translation and localization project is to own it. Finger-pointing and post mortems in our world are only useful if we learn from them. For our customers this means a better experience, the only real measurement out there. It is the quality of the people that determines the quality of the experience. So, check out the team when you check out an LSP.

A note about Machine Translation (MT)

We use machine translation as part of our normal workflow. It saves our customers both money and time, however there is a caveat: For many applications (most) MT cannot substitute for human translation and review. A possible exception, depending on the target language, may be technical writing like documentation. However, all of our machine translations are reviewed and edited by a qualified translator and reviewed again by a second native-speaking translator.

Read our Overview on Entering Global Markets
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