What do you want from your translation/interpretation company?
The world of translation and interpretation is changing. Machine translation in particular has made considerable strides. Globalisation has meant there is an increasing demand for translation services for business and the demands of immigration have also driven up the need for the public sector to have interpretation and translation experts readily available to work with people from all over the world as they engage with our public authorities and, sadly, the criminal justice system. Global Connects is a major translation and interpretation company, working with a wide range of private and public sector clients, including the Scottish Courts Service, for whom we are contracted to supply interpretation and translation services across the entire country.
This research, conducted by a third party during September and October 2015, was designed to investigate what clients want from a translation/interpretation company. To that end, the questions posed – and the answers received – are not specific to Global Connects but are, we believe, applicable to the industry as a whole.
We surveyed over 600 different businesses, using both our own client base and also using social media to garner responses from other companies. The results are fascinating and we are happy to share them with anyone interested in this subject. The headline results are as follows:
- High quality translation/interpretation is most important to users of the industry’s services.
- Most (68%) of clients only use translation/interpretation services 6 or fewer times a year: 22% use them at least twice a month.
- Speed of response is the second most important thing customers want after high quality work
- Customers want an “average price” to go with high quality translation.
- Machine translation is not well regarded at present, with less than 7% of respondents saying it provides a “good” service, as opposed to 40% who believe it provides a “poor” service.
- Most customers believe that the translation/interpretation industry in Scotland can be summed up as “Efficient, Professional and Responsive”.
In more detail, the responses to each question are shown on the following pages:
Question 1: what type of company do you work for?
58% of the response came from the public sector and 42% from the private sector. This is broadly what we expected, reflecting our own client base and also the demands of the public sector for translation/ interpretation services. The detail of each area of the private sector is shown on the graph above. “Other” areas included “charity”, “oil and gas”, “voluntary” and “social work”.
Question 2: how many times a year do you use interpretation/translation services?
The majority of respondents (nearly two-thirds – 64%) use translation/interpretation services less than 6 times a year. Just over one fifth (22%) use these services over 24 times a year.
For any business or public sector organisation, the number of times they make use of translation/interpretation services is irrelevant. What they want is a quality service each time they do have a need. However, for those who only need such services a couple of times a year, we wonder if they will probably be more inclined to use the same provider (it being too much hassle to research different providers) so long as the service is of the necessary quality. This makes it incumbent on firms like Global Connects to ensure that every single customer is treated to the same – preferably high quality – service.
Question 3: What are the most important things your language (i.e. translation/interpretation) company must do for you?
We offered a range of options for respondents, but they could tick all they believe apply. These were:
- Produce high quality translation/interpreting
- Be able to produce technical translation/interpreting on a wide range of subjects
- Be able to meet urgent timescales consistently
- Respond quickly to my ad hoc requests
- Have people working on my account who understand my business
- Produce detailed proposals that describe in full how the language company’s experience meets my exact requirements
- Produce shorter, concise proposals that answer my brief
- Be able to work outside normal hours to turn a job around
- Be based in the same country as I am
- Have official accreditation
- Other (please specify).
As the chart below shows, unsurprisingly, “produces high quality interpreting/translating” was clearly the most important (93% citing it as such), followed by the ability “to meet urgent timescales consistently” (57%) and, related to the latter, the ability to “respond quickly to my ad hoc requests”. This suggests that speed of response generally is very important and that translation companies need to be able to react, consistently, to urgent demands.
Interestingly, and contrary to what we expected, the ability to produce technical translation on a wide range of subjects was only a priority for one third of the respondents. This mirrors a very similar percentage (36%) who think it important that a translation/interpretation company has “people who understand my business”. We were not able to differentiate between private and public sector in these two questions: it would be interesting to do so as some may think the private sector (especially exporters?) has more interest in having a translation/interpretation company that is on the same wavelength and understand the technical issues involved. Against that, there is a real need for the public sector, especially in matters of criminal justice, to have interpreters who understand the nuances of foreign languages and also the regular requirement to debate legal matters that impinge on an individual’s private, sometimes intimate, life.
Finally in this section, we wanted to investigate whether cllents want long, detailed proposals or are happy with short, more concise proposals. The results are inconclusive: there seems little interest in either as a priority – what matters most if, of course, the quality of the final work. However, when we consider this against the perceived need of respondents to have a quick response, it does suggest that translation/interpretation companies should ensure that their proposals are indeed concise and do not require the potential client to spend a long time evaluating them. We would be interested in carrying out more research in this area as it does make a big difference to us. The more time we spend on writing detailed proposals, the less time we have to deal with the actual business of organising translation/interpretation projects. Any further information or comments from respondents (or others) would be welcome.
Question 4: Is there any other factor that affects your decision on which translation/interpreting company to use other than price and quality – (e.g. recommendation, specialisation within a particular field, the translation company being local, etc.?
This question was aimed at discovering what factors other than the obvious ones of price and quality matter for clients. Only a few people responded to this question. A summary of their responses is shown below:
- Availability of interpreters
- At (client name) we tend to use one translation company if material is to be made available online and another would be used for material that is to be printed
- Design capability
- Industry knowledge
- Amenable and personable qualities of the interpreter are important
- Recommendation – our charity works with some harrowing and very personal stories and it is important that the interpreters we use can deal with the issues raised and respect the importance of the confidentiality issues involved
- Sensitivity to medical and personal issues
- Quality and competence
- Understanding of medical/psychotherapeutic terminology
- Able to offer me the same reliable interpreter for work with the same client
- Respect for confidentiality and cultural sensitivity
- Able to respond quickly to ad hoc requests
- No, price and quality are the two most significant factors
- No (implication again that price and quality are most important)
- Specialisation helpful, but quality of language paramount
- Be able to provide face-to-face translators consistently at short notice.
Question 5: How important is price compared to quality of translation (interpretation)?
The options offered to respondents were:
- I will sacrifice quality for a cheaper price
- I understand that quality will cost me more
- I want both quality and a cheap price
- I want an average price and high quality work.
The results are pretty conclusive! The majority of clients (61%) want an average price and high quality work. No-one was prepared to sacrifice quality for a cheap price (reflecting the results of question 3 above) and only 14% want to have their cake and eat it via a cheap price and high quality work. Exactly a quarter appreciate that quality costs, but overall it’s clear that translation/interpretation companies have to price their market in line with the mean (in its statistical sense!) expectation that a high quality service will also be delivered. This is as we’d expect.
Question 6: Have you ever used machine translation and, if so, what has your experience of it been?
This is a question of fundamental importance to the translation industry. There is no doubt that the quality of machine translation is improving and will, in time, probably be of sufficient quality that it threatens the jobs of translators worldwide. This is part of the seemingly unstoppable flow of automation/robotics that will transform business in the coming decades, but at present it seems, at least based on the response to this question, that translation software does not generally impress its customers.
Less than 7% believe machine translation is “good”, while 40% believe it is “poor”, with 53% stating it is of “average” quality. Bearing in mind the rest of this survey shows a huge majority demanding “high quality”, this does indeed suggest that there is some way to go before the machines take over.
Question 7: Would an incentive (discount or recommend a friend) encourage you to use a translation company?
This question sought to discover whether translation companies can profit by offering their customers incentives to use their services (and by implication whether this might override other considerations). Interestingly, there were a considerable number (36%) who thought an incentive/discount would attract them, but the majority (64%) believes otherwise. This tends to confirm the overall tenor of the results here: that quality is paramount and price, while important, is not the be-all and end-all.
Question 8: Is there any element of your requirements that language companies simply fail to understand?
Here, we were interested in finding out more about what clients want from their translation/interpretation providers. Only a few people responded, and the vast majority of these said “No” or “None I can think of”. The three others had specific issues and their answers are shown below:
- Essential that interpreters understand sensitive issues and range of problems, some of which may be upsetting to interpreter (e.g. if patient is asylum seeker or traumatised)
- Cultural sensitivity and the need to have an interpreter from a particular cultural background/dialect can be a real issue
- In the field of Gaelic, it simply isn’t enough to be a Gaelic speaker. Translator must have a deep understanding of how language works as well as grammar. They must also be aware of the target audience.
Question 9: And finally, if you think back to your experience of using language services, how would you sum them up in three words?
In this question, we were seeking to see if there were any common themes that all users of translation/interpretation companies share. Again, the majority did not answer this question, but we have all the responses below and listed them in order.
|4||Efficient||Professional||Very user friendly|
|7||Efficient||Generally reliable||Meet all requirements|
|10||Professional||Timely manner||No hassles|
|12||Quick to respond||Arrangements are easily met||Good service|
|16||Assured quality||Good communications||Flexibility|
For the First Word, the majority plumped for “Efficiency”. For the Second Word, “professional” is most commonly chosen and for the Third Word “Responsive” is the clear favourite. Interestingly, only one respondent had anything bad to say (see line 18), which, we trust, reflects a generally favourable attitude to the translation/interpretation industry in Scotland as a whole.
DAVID ORR, Director, Global Connnects.