Welcome to Client Talk, a column where we chat with people who buy (or should buy) language services: When do they say professional translation is worth it? By talking with clients outside the sales environment, we seek to uncover what’s really important to them. Each column offers a complete profile to learn from separately. But the challenge as we move from one issue to the next is to look for patterns: What do these interviews tell us about how our industry is seen as a whole?
Jack Wright is general manager at IRD Balancing, a Louisville, Kentucky-based manufacturer. The company sells balancing machines to clients on every continent, exporting to more than 50 countries. “Sales are split 60% direct to users and 40% through authorized agents and distributors,” Wright says. IRD is currently adding new agents in Asia and South America.
In 2017, Wright visited Dubai, Abu Dhabi, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Canada.
At IRD, a lot gets left in English. “Surprisingly, few of the documents we [receive] are not in English,” Wright explains. Spanish is “the most common non-English language we see. There are occasions where the documents are printed in both a local language and English, but that is pretty rare. The places I regularly see documents in the native language only is Italy and France. But those customers will accept my responses in English.”
That’s standard for IRD’s other outbound content as well. “Most of our customers will accept English for documentation, at least commercial documents. Our newest balancing instrument, the Model 295+, was released with both Spanish and French as alternate languages.”
So what does get
“Mainly product documentation that we supply with our equipment,” Wright says — specifically, manuals that run around 100 pages each. These are translated “to comply with EU safety requirements” and go to professional translators.
The machines’ user interfaces (UIs) are also translated, but only into Spanish and French. Bilingual employees or distributors translate UI strings “so that we can control the screen text layout and terminology which sometimes is truncated for space. We have to make sure that not only the text, but also the context of how it is delivered is understood by the user. For larger documentation, we will contract that out to a translator.” The cost is then passed on to the client as part of the equipment sale price.
When IRD doesn’t translate, Wright says customers “either utilize the English documents or translate parts themselves. Our equipment is pretty user friendly, so the manuals are really only for backup support, etc.”
The problem with the solution is that bilingual employees serve as translators, but IRD hired them for sales. “I can only get a limited amount of translation through them without affecting their other work,” Wright explains.
How important does the client think professional language services are?
On a scale of 1 to 5, “If 1 is the highest,” Wright says, “then I would say a 2. Our customers want the perception of quality that comes with a US-made product, but they also want their employees to be able to use the equipment safely; therefore, it is important to supply the product information in a language that is accepted within their production environment.”
What helps Wright make his final decision?
“We need to control the text and context that the user will see to control our product (i.e. the operational screens).” This, Wright says, is why the UI is translated either in-house or by distributors. But, he adds, “on the longer form documentation (such as product manuals), it is more cost-effective and professional to contract this work to an outside translator. Since we do release annual updates to our equipment, a translator who is willing to make small updates when needed is important to us.”
An emerging pattern
For years, our industry’s marketing focus has been on differentiation. But from one month’s profile to the next, responses show that clients don’t need messaging on what makes translation companies different from each other. They need to better understand what translators can do that bilingual employees can’t.
There are two reasons IRD translates certain content in-house. And both reasons have a well-established industry solution: Translators who specialize in a technical terminology set and translation management software (TMS).
Granted, not all TMSs can extract source copy from its native format and replace it with the translation as seamlessly as others. If the one you use doesn’t, what value can you provide a company like Wright’s? And if you do work with advanced TMS, do your clients know it?