At times I really wish translation was a tangible product. I wish that it were actually like a car. When a customer buys a car, they buy it for its features, like design, internal space, horsepower, fuel economy, etc. They know the difference between a Mercedes and a jalopy. Unfortunately, upon hiring translation services many clients haven’t the faintest idea on what they will be getting.
Companies, especially those hiring translation services via their purchasing departments treat that like any other goods. The conversation goes something like this: “I need 20 pages of translation from Portuguese to English.” The major decision-making criterion is the lowest total price. In other words, the vendor who will land the job is the one bidding the lowest price. Yet, do they know what they will be getting? I honestly doubt it.
Since translation is an intangible service, the client has no way to compare the quality from Company A against B or C prior to purchase. If the criterion is the lowest price, I’m sure that they will be getting a lemon under the illusion of having purchased a Mercedes.
It’s unlikely that our company will bid the lowest price, however I do believe that we will be offering the best value for their money (it’s different, right?). Moreover, anyone paying the lowest possible price will probably get a lemon, and may only realize it upon receiving the finished translation.
A translation agency, or a freelance translator, should educate their clients about what they are about to purchase. If I ask for X, and another company wants only 60% of X, there must be something wrong here. One of our clients recently called, somewhat apologetically saying that “unfortunately, another company has bid 40% lower for a certain job.” Weird, isn’t it? Maybe not to this client, who might have just traded in their Mercedes for a lemon.
Translation is no commodity at all. Clients often come to realize it after they get a really bad job delivered. It is very important for us to educate companies and their purchasing departments, as some buyers have no clue on what they are purchasing. This applies not for translations alone, but for other “intangible” services as well.
The question is how can we make the client envision our excellent translation service? There are several ways: offering to take a small translation test, providing a resume of the people who will be translating for them, showing some of your success stories in the specific client’s industry (provided this entails no breach of non-disclosure agreements) or eventually offer some references from satisfied customers in the same industry (again, as long as no confidentiality issues are involved, and the clients have been duly advised, and agreed to offer their endorsement).