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Director of Operations for US Translation Company Kathy Sprouse

Customer Service for Translation and Interpretation Clients

Customer service has always been a big deal to me. My twelve years with U.S. Translation Company, six of them directing operations, has driven home its importance. In that time, every conceivable type of translation or interpretation project has come my way. Project after project taught me what matters most to corporate localization managers and other decision makers that we serve. I believe the lessons have borne fruit and that I now have much better customer service skills. Client feedback validates my growth. As well as the larger U.S. Translation Company commitment to superb customer service.

Flexible language solutions for great customer service

My biggest customer service lesson: stay flexible. Focus on the client. My amazing technology solutions fail to impress clients. They just want their needs met. On almost every translation or interpretation project, I adjust things, sometimes a lot of things, to accommodate their whims and preferences. After so many gymnastic exercises in customer service, I now think on my feet much better than when I first began.

As I’ve gotten better and better about serving my clients, I’ve had more and more satisfaction. Having a client thrilled with my work — that’s worth everything. Often, getting to that level of customer service requires extra effort on my part. Many times, however, adjusting to client needs entails no extra effort at all. I work with customers all over the world: all nationalities, backgrounds, and industries. I can tell you that customer service and client fulfilment is a universal language. Whether serving a Korean electronics manufacturer or an Ohio pharmaceutical firm, a language job well done makes me feel good. It makes the customer satisfied. And a smile on the face of the customer translates across language and cultural barriers.

Translation: expect the unexpected

Every project is different, just as every client is different. Often, two jobs for the same client may have widely varying requirements. Consequently, delivering superb customer service looks differently from one situation to the next. Let’s look at a few of the ways in which translation and interpretation projects demand flexibility the part of translation providers such as U.S. Translation Company.

  • Choice of translator. I match the right translator to a project. For instance, if a structural engineering firm needs a request for proposal (RFP) translated from English to Pashto, I examine the backgrounds of each translator in our vendor database. Naturally, we vet them all carefully. But, say we have ten translators fluent in English and Pashto, and three of them have structural engineering backgrounds. I might interview them about this particular project, just to get a feeling for them. One might match the task slightly more than another. Even then, the client could come back, last minute, with their own list of requirements. They may insist on interviewing the translator themselves. Depending on their final decision, I may even have to switch translators in the eleventh hour. Okay. In the end, the customer feels confident in the translator that they get.
  • Choice of interpreter. Similar to the translator dynamic I just discussed, an interpretation client may insist on a change of interpreter. We provide simultaneous interpretation services for large corporate conferences. All of our interpreters are highly qualified. Of course, we choose interpreters with experience that matches the subject matter of the conference or convention. Personality matters a lot, though, for an interpreter. I might think that I have the perfect candidate for translating into Japanese, but the client may find fault with her intonation or cadence. So, there I find myself, needing to replace an interpreter mid-stream.
  • Post-translation, we run our quality control process on the finished text. This includes checking proper formatting. Sometimes a customer decides that they want a different formatting than the initial specifications. So, I make the necessary changes.
  • I’ve learned to become very creative, budget-wise. I call a client up and discuss how we can meet their budget limitations. Whether that involves utilizing our hybrid translation system (a terrific option for some projects, less ideal for others), negotiating with translation or interpretation vendors, or making other adjustments to the scope, I usually find a way to make it work for my customer. Which describes the essence of top-notch customer service, right?

These are only a few of the areas in which I need to stay flexible. Now for some real-life customer service war stories!

The aerospace translation client

A mid-sized aerospace manufacturer — long-term repeat customer — hired us to translate their service manuals. As they revised the manuals over the years, they hired us to update them, again and again. However, unfortunately for them, they never hired us to maintain the translation memory (see Austin Becker’s “Not Your Grandfather’s Translation” for more on TM). Translation memory, essentially, consists of the record of previous translations; we refer to it for making future translations more efficient).


We noticed that new terms had crept into the manuals without going through the proper process. Also, old words that had been phased out had stayed because nobody bothered to remove them. Finally, even though it fell outside our work scope, we realized that the entire translation memory needed revitalization. We used a variety of past translators to help us parse the translation memories and bring them current. By the time we finished, the client had an accurate and up-to-date translation memory of each of their manuals that reflected the latest terminology. In this situation, customer service entailed the proactive assessment and resolution of a client’s needs.

The technology interpretation client

A well-known technology firm engaged U.S. Translation Company to provide complete interpretation solutions (simultaneous interpreters for twelve languages, booths, headsets, mics, receivers, technicians — the works) for a large convention. The convention involved a number of breakout sessions that needed interpretation in addition to the large main events. However, once the convention began, the scope of work began to change. Here I was, on site with exactly the right equipment and the right interpreters, and the client’s needs were shifting from moment to moment.

Several breakout sessions were canceled, leaving some of my interpreters with nothing to do. Some new languages were added to some of the big events, causing me to scramble for additional interpreters who could fill those languages at the last minute. Some of the equipment I brought did not end up being used; even so, I had to get different equipment when new plans left me with insufficient quantities of certain items. In the end, I somehow managed to barely stay ahead of the tsunami and pull the whole thing off. The client knew that they had caused me a lot of grief, and they were extremely grateful that I’d made it work and saved them face.

In the end, I somehow managed to barely stay ahead of the tsunami and pull the whole thing off. The client knew that they had caused me a lot of grief, and they were extremely grateful that I’d made it work and saved them face. Customer service, in this event, meant keeping my cool in the midst of chaos so that I could provide the interpretation service that they needed.

The government interpretation client

In yet another interpretation contract, a government agency rented a full suite of interpretation equipment (they were providing their own interpreters) for a retreat in another city. As part of the rental, they contracted me to be on site with several technicians to set up, maintain, and take down the equipment. I flew into the city where the retreat was to be held a day in advance. The interpretation equipment was supposed to arrive by the time I did, but it was nowhere to be seen.

On inquiry, I learned that the shipping company had lost the equipment. The audiovisual tech for the hotel referred me to a local provider. I rented interpretation equipment from them and set it up in time. The government client appreciated that I had managed to execute flawlessly on the project, even though the missing equipment had thrown a real spanner in the works. For me, in this case, excellent customer service meant delivering the results for which they contracted me, regardless of the difficulty.

The U.S. Translation Company special sauce

In all of these stories, and so many more, the satisfaction of a job well done far outweighed the additional trouble I went through. I believe that this type of customer service inspires client loyalty. U.S. Translation Company tries to be one of the best translation providers in the industry. As much as we can, we give the client an easy translation experience. I think that these efforts explain our 98% client retention rate. They certainly explain why I love my job so much.

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