Working with your translation

Face to face with the customer: a boon to localisation

Recently, a few of my translator colleagues and I were invited by one of our customers to spend a week at their offices. This customer localises their content into four languages for local markets across the globe, and we provide English to German translations for their blog posts, help resources and legal content. This meeting was part of the customer’s overarching strategy to optimise their localisation process. As it turned out, this was also an exciting opportunity to experience first-hand thought leadership in localisation. This customer approaches localisation not just in a successful, but in an exemplary manner. In this post, I want to share with you how this customer addresses four crucial aspects of the localisation process.

What can we as the customer do to make localisation a success?

That was the first question our host asked me and my fellow translators when we arrived at their offices. It is an important question to ask, as there are indeed several crucial things translators need from their customers. Many translators out there will probably give the same answers we gave that day:

  1. Understand the purpose and value of localisation.
  2. Give the translators as much context as you can.
  3. Provide translators with a direct point of contact (or several).
  4. Provide translators with feedback on their translations.

Up until this point, this particular customer had always been extremely diligent in fulfilling these requirements: We had several points of contact, and we could communicate with these individuals via different platforms. We received very detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement (via feedback sheets and online meetings), and had access to all the Q&As from other translators. Also, we had access to a vast pool of contextual information, including the customer’s product. So I asked myself:

How much more could this customer do to make localisation a success?

Well, during our week at the customer’s offices, they did go a couple steps further. Let’s look at the four points from above and see how our customer rocks every single one of them. To give you some additional context, I will introduce each point with an explanation of our requirements and/or the general status quo we’re experiencing in this area.

Context

Context comes in many shapes and forms. As translators, more often than not, we piece together the context ourselves. We read up on customers, their products/services and their industry, we look for parallel texts (i.e. how do competitors phrase this?), we try to get access to the products/services and we ask questions. But there is only so much we can find out that way. The real goodies are the bits of information the customers provide. Again, this could be anything: pictures/screenshots, videos, style guides, access to the products/services, previous translations, etc.

There are two reasons why context is vital for a successful translation. Generally speaking, it allows us to write a text from the perspective of the customer. If we can’t put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, it’s not very likely that we can get the tone of voice right. For example, if we don’t know which audience we’re writing for or where our translations will be published, we might translate too colloquially or too “techy”, thereby deterring potential customers in the local market. On the word level, context is important, simply because words can have different meanings. Just look up the word “set” in your dictionary and you’ll find that its various definitions take up several pages. Now imagine you receive the brief: “translate set”. Without context, it’s impossible to work with this. The same problem can arise when we’re asked to translate isolated sentences. There is a lot of room for misunderstanding, as anyone knows who’s ever tried out the Google translation feature. A lack of context inevitably results in poor-quality translation, which instead of attracting potential customers in local markets, can deter them from even considering a purchase. So it is crucial to invest the extra time and effort at the beginning of the localisation process to provide translators with enough context.

How our customer rocks this: As I mentioned before, we’ve always had as much context as we could ever wish for from this customer, such as regular updates to the style guide and glossary, job-specific reference material, past translations, etc. However, spending several days at the customer’s offices and interacting with their team brought in a new context factor: transparency. Everybody was absolutely frank, direct and transparent in talking about the company, about its processes, its strategies, its lessons learned from the past, and its hopes for the future. This direct experience of the company culture was an invaluable part of our context-building efforts.

All this information gave us an unprecedented degree of context. Personally, I had one lightbulb moment after the other, as the dots connected and I felt like I had gotten to know the company as a “person”. I now have a much better idea of how the customer thinks, why they do what they do and how I can get this across to the (potential) customers in the German market.

Point of contact

I have experience working with a variety of different points of contact. This could be the owner of a business, a project manager, a Multilingual Vendor (MLV) who liaises between us and a customer, an internal reviewer, and so on. The ideal point of contact understands the localisation challenges, knows all about the translation task at hand, and is available to answer any questions that may come up.

Unfortunately, such a point of contact is often missing. It then feels as if you are working in a vacuum. If this is combined with a lack of context, the translation process moves at a snail’s pace. You lose time deciphering and making guesses. And you will inevitably feel very dissatisfied with the result of your work, as you can never be sure whether you got it right, got it sort of right or completely missed the mark.

How our customer rocks this: During our week with the customer, the translators got to meet many team members with different roles at the company. Some of these we had already been communicating with on a regular basis. So this was the perfect opportunity to open up the communication channels even further. As a German translator, I now was able to work directly with the people who review my translations. Again and again, they would stress the importance of communication and assure us that we should never hesitate to ask questions. And indeed, whenever we do ask questions, we can be sure that within a very short time period, we receive a comprehensive answer.

Feedback

When you work with a client on a regular basis, it’s important that they tell you what you’re doing right or how you could change your translations to align them with what’s required. Otherwise, there is the potential for frustration on both sides. Unfortunately, even if everyone approaches localisation with the best of intentions, there’s just not always enough time for regular feedback.

How our customer rocks this: Our customer is constantly optimising the feedback process. The aim is to make it as easy as possible for the reviewers to suggest changes without interrupting the flow of their work. And the key to that is automation, for example through tracking changes in the CAT tool (Computer Assisted Translation tool) or using a program that calculates a translation quality score.

Besides the individual feedback, our customer also regularly provides general feedback to all translators, either via a file sharing platform or in online meetings. This is ideal for discussing stylistic preferences and commonly seen errors, and to get everyone on the same page.

The value of localisation

Unfortunately, localisation has been an afterthought for some companies attempting to promote their products or services in different markets across the world. Maybe the thinking is that companies that want to go global just have to “walk the walk” (i.e. offer a product that does the job) and don’t need to “talk the talk” locally. So not everyone approaches this task with a dedicated localisation team or understands why this would be important. As a consequence of translation being considered as not very important, translators struggle with lack of context, lack of contacts and lack of feedback.

How our customer rocks this: Our customer’s localisation department really does a fantastic job. Not only are they fully aware of the importance of localisation, they have even developed their own internal strategy for promoting this as a value across the whole company. The localisation department enthusiastically coaches other departments on how successful localisation works and what the individual can do to help streamline these processes. This includes making the right decisions as to what content one actually needs to have translated, knowing which information needs to be included when submitting a translation request, and reviewing the localisation product after its completion.

Interestingly enough, the localisation department is considered to be central in the company. All departments liaise with this team in order to create a unified experience for customers in different markets across the world. The localisation department plays an important role in this company—and as a result they very successfully attract new customers through their localised content. Put two and two together and you see how important a dedicated localisation team really is.

A final thought

Translators don’t often get the chance to spend a whole week with a customer. Luckily, our customer made this decision to try something quite daring and allow us to get to know them in a completely new and more personal way. This experience was hugely beneficial to the relationship between the customer and us as translators. And I think it doesn’t stop there. We experienced a new relationship model for translators, their MLVs (multi-lingual vendors) and the companies they translate for, and can use this as a blueprint for promoting transparency and open communication channels in future relationships. I hope that by sharing my experience in this post, I was able to convey some of the real benefits of this approach to localisation.