Quality, you are always on my mind.
This week, as the President of the Association of Finnish Translation Companies (SKTOL), I had the pleasure of participating in the realisation of #Laatu2017, a unique translation industry seminar organised in cooperation with the European Commission, Translation Industry Professionals (KAJ), the Finnish Association of Translators and Interpreters (SKTL), and the multilingual communication and content management association Kites ry. The seminar showcased various perspectives on quality assessment questions that I often find myself thinking about.
At Delingua, we want to provide our customers with high-quality translation services and, in turn, we expect quality from our partners and service providers. However, do we all understand quality in the same way? How can we manage quality better and offer our customers services with an even higher use value?
As our offering consists specifically of language services, we don’t sell translations off the shelf. A service is an intangible commodity that is produced or at least designed together with the customer. The clearer the customer’s specifications for the service and the resulting translation, the better we can meet the customer’s quality expectations.
In high-quality translation services, the basic assumption is that the service ordered is delivered in the agreed manner and by the agreed deadline. It is expected that the language used is flawless, idiomatic and coherent. In addition, customers often set requirements for the style and terminology of the translation and provide reference material. Knowing the intended use and the target audience of the translation helps the translator provide the desired outcome.
A high-quality translation communicates the content without distortion. Numbers and figures are correct and no unnecessary additions have been made to the text. The text flows smoothly and is written in a suitable register. Paul Lillrank, Professor at the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management at Aalto University, calls the relationship between specifications and performance ‘small quality’, and in the example above, small quality is in order.
However, small quality does not create customer loyalty. It’s a waste of time dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s if the deadline is exceeded or the customer experience as a whole falls short of what is expected. Customers’ expectations of a high-quality translation service go beyond just receiving a translation that is formally correct.
Customers expect a service-oriented contact person, exact communications that take customer needs into account, quick response times and deliveries, knowledge of the customer’s industry, term bank creation, proofreading included in the price of the translation, an easy order process, an invoicing method that is suitable for their organisation, the use of specific technology, and the delivery of various reports. We have also taken all of this into account in our quality management system and quality culture.
Lillrank calls the relationship between customer expectations and perceived impact ‘big quality’. When purchasing quality, the customer must know what they want and be able to specify their needs. We are not very good at guessing, so we have learnt to ask the right questions to identify customer needs. When you take understanding the customer’s requirements as your starting point, quality can then be seen as consisting of understanding the customer’s needs and meeting them appropriately.
As in all production processes, variation also occurs in translation services. The difference between a good translation service and a bad one is that in a good one variation is managed and it’s not very significant for the quality perceived by the customer. You must learn from your mistakes.
Indeed, the key lesson learnt at the seminar was respect for the author as a basis for quality. Translators and editors are not machines that never make mistakes. It’s important to offer them the right tools, help them achieve higher quality and respect them as human beings. As F-Secure’s localisation department puts it: If the translator can be proud of his or her work, the result can be regarded as high quality.