It is easy to fall into the habit of thinking of translations as a product, instead of a service. After all, we are paid at a rate per volume of words and are constantly racing to deliver these “goods” to deadline.
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When we think of the service aspect of translation, we usually have in mind the pre-translation consultation. This is an important part of the translation process, but cannot take the place of regular follow-up.
Refocusing on the concept of service and providing comprehensive follow-up allows us to significantly enhance the value to the client of our translations and improve our own business in the long term. All translators understand the importance of providing a quality translation each and every time, but can fail to realize that a lack of follow-up means that your translation may not be read in its best light.
Even the requisite pre-translation consultation can be insufficient. Your translation may eventually be adapted and re-used for various purposes, and you have a compelling interest in making sure that it continues to serve the client’s needs and accurately represent the level of service you provide.
A quality translation that has received the follow-up care it deserves will be appreciated as such. The translation performs its job seamlessly, and your client realizes that he/she made the right choice turning to you (becomes a repeat client).
In addition to cementing relationships with regular clients, quality follow-up increases the chance that someone who reads your translation will bring you their business when the need arises.
Furthermore, follow-up allows you to manage your portfolio more effectively. You wouldn’t want to be presented with a freshly printed copy of your client’s new brochure only to discover that the same piece of text was copied into two different text boxes.
Follow-up can be as simple as proofing the PDF of a publication before it is printed to make sure that a designer or layouter who does not speak the target language has not accidentally chopped off any words or misplaced text. Even if everyone involved realizes that you are not responsible for such mistakes, typos and printer’s errors influence how people perceive the quality of your translation.
More involved follow-up can mean monitoring a client’s site to make sure that your translations actually work in the given format. After reviewing a site for a client, I discovered that they were using the first sentence of each corporate news item in addition to the headline as a tag to be clicked on in order to access the whole story. This obviously changed how I translate their news pieces.
Websites can suffer from the “too many cooks” syndrome and benefit from a translator’s careful eye. Perhaps someone from another department added new text in your target language that needs to be edited. This is a good opportunity to establish relationships with new people in the company and ensure that all their translation work is done through you. Maybe a manager changed your translation to bring it more in line with the company’s evolving goals but inserted some basic grammatical errors in the process. Never assume that your translation will remain static, carved in stone. Bookmark your clients’ websites in a special folder in your browser’s favorites menu. Visit them monthly (or more often, if needed). Not only will you be able to head off translation disaster, you will have a clearer idea of how your clients are presenting themselves (and your translations).
You will, occasionally, meet with resistance from clients who are in a hurry to use your translation right away, are hoping to keep costs down, or whose organizational structure makes follow-up seem like an inter-departmental nightmare. In these types of situations, keep one idea in mind: be considerate – you may need to squeeze your schedule to fit in follow-up at the time your client is prepared to facilitate it; you may need to speak to several people at the client’s organization before you find the person who can facilitate follow-up; you may need to convince the person in charge of the project that a translation that has not been monitored properly may end up costing them in terms of lost opportunities. The extra effort is always worth it when you remember that your client’s success and your professional reputation is based on the result of your follow-up, not the file saved on your computer.
While your rates obviously need to reflect the value of the follow-up services you provide, it is useful to see follow-up less as an immediate source of revenue than as a long-term strategy for controlling your professional reputation and reinforcing your relationships with clients.