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In our Voice of the Customer research, Translation Accuracy was the highest rated response as to what matters in our client’s business relationship. Our business relationships are based on the trust that we have our client’s best interests in mind. Not many organizations come to a translation vendor to know how to evaluate the quality of translation like they would be able to do perhaps with some of their other vendors. When something is not designed right or doesn’t work right in your product, it can be a huge issue. Take a look at Samsung now with all their battery problems on their Note 7. How do organizations learn about translation accuracy (or inaccuracy) and how it affects their business?

What’s Expected of Translation Accuracy

Image of the Kano modelWe all learn about epic translation fails in the news. But businesses translate materials all the time. How do these companies evaluate whether or not their translations are accurate or not? How do these businesses find out when translation wasn’t accurate? If these are issues that keep you up at night, you probably already have experienced some of the pains from the results of inaccurate translations. It’s our experience that translation accuracy is almost always an (unspoken) expectation (if you are familiar with the Kano model, some may say Translation Accuracy is an expected or Must-Be Quality), but it’s not always based on proactive metrics. For instance, we don’t hear a lot of our clients come to us for translation with specific goals, like “we need to grow our market by X” or “we need to increase participation rates by X”. Many might consider translation as a necessity, but not many organizations go to the extend of evaluating translation buying decisions to directly affect their most important business metrics.

Explain what Translation Accuracy means to your Business

We had a discussion with a client recently around low participation rates in an employee engagement portal. Participation rates are easily measured these days by measuring how many people sign up, how many people log in regularly and stay engaged. If your goal is to increase participation among bilingual (say, English – Spanish) employees and you find out that this population is disproportionately engaged with the program, that may be a good indicator to start thinking about translation. Many organizations may just leave the translation buying process at that. They evaluate some vendors, look at rates, referrals, etc. and choose a vendor. This vendor may do a good job to move people to sign-up because it is translated, but what if participation rate drops after that? What’s happened between the time they sign up and the time they interact with the program? Maybe the program was good at selling the idea in Spanish and therefore generated more interest, but didn’t deliver on the promise once they went through the portal? Unless you dig deeper into this question, we don’t know whether that translation investment was a good choice or something else is going on.

Where Translation Accuracy meets the Road

Translation AccuracyInaccuracies can cause a lot of frustration. Just think of a manual that you pick up for something you have to put together and you work on it tirelessly, only to figure out you misunderstood one simple direction because it wasn’t clearly stated. If that causes you do to a lot of rework, that’s a pain (here’s a good overview on manual frustrations by iFixit). How would this relate in a translation environment? Well, what if you are instructed to log on to a Portal and keep certain data at hand and they are labeled a certain way, and the system you work in shows different labels? The labels may be translated accurately, but it’s not the label used elsewhere. How much time is it going to take you to figure out whether one label matches exactly the label you have on your data? If you look at Employee Portals; they can be extremely complex. If you are working on goals and performance data and want to make sure that the program that affects your benefits, or performance reports, correctly represents your data, how certain do you want to be that you are entering the right information?

Consistency is not only being consistent with the same information on the system or program you are working on, but also making sure it is relevant with auxiliary systems where this data may be coming from. If one label is misunderstood because it is not relevant information, the program loses is efficacy.

Images of open enrollment brochures in SpanishWe recently translated an Open Enrollment brochure into Spanish. Participants must use a portal where the system kicks out an automated password based on the date of birth. When translating the Open Enrollment brochure, it’s very easy for a translator to overlook the fact that these passwords are coming from an English-only database. If your translation vendor is unaware of the logistics, many users will be locked out of their system because they are entering the wrong information. This leads to more calls, more frustration and missed opportunities to get these employees the time they need to make the right decisions. Keeping in mind that often the English Open Enrollment brochures are just completed before Open Enrollment starts, that already puts the Spanish speaking or bilingual employee at a disadvantage as they wait to get their Spanish version to perhaps help their family out better than the English version.

Translation Accuracy is not Achieved in One Place

When you look at translation accuracy, it should matter to you to be able to understand how accuracy is being achieved. Going back to our blog about translation costs, when you simply look at translation word counts and costs, you’re not looking at the whole picture. Translators that are paid by the word, work by the word. They don’t work to spend time on research and logistics. Even when you have the best translators on board, they can be blind sighted by corporate terminology that they simply don’t have access to or complex logistics that is relevant to the translation work. There’s only so much you can do on a 15,000 word job paid by the word to go and look out for every little detail. This is where project management in translation matters in the process.

To stick with participation question, data analysis and click-thru analytics can provide you with more detail what works and what pages may not work well for participants. We translate a lot of brochures about wellness programs that link back to apps and information that is only available in English. What’s not so clear is whether this investment in the translation of the brochure really translates to effective engagement.  If you are promoting wellness and see the need to get more Hispanic participants involved in this program, translating the brochure is a good first step but you may want to investigate further how well these programs stick.

Translation Accuracy is not just about the right words on the page, but also how well you move someone from awareness to consideration, to purchase AND then continuous engagement. As these programs evolve, consider also that your translation may evolve with it. If once you were promoting an English program and you are slowly increasing support in Spanish, that’s great. But then your information changes should be made to the Spanish as well and it needs to match the Spanish used in these other programs for consistency. If you manage all of these programs, it’s easier to manage consistency with the right technology. But it gets harder when you need to access different programs with all their own access restrictions. It can get time consuming, but it’s worth it to investigate in order to be clear and drive up engagement.

Translation Accuracy is a Continuous Process

In conclusion: Translation accuracy is a process. It start from the very beginning before translation is even considered and it’s affected by many decisions. Once your translation vendor is tasked with the duty of providing accurate translations, what processes are in place to manage this throughout the workflow to where it is not just a task of the translator paid by the word? And when you further analyze the effect of translation on your goals, what can you do with your vendor to make sure you look at relevant metrics to increase the success of your program? Especially with Employee Engagement or Open Enrollment, there is a continuous need for re-engagement and an opportunity to re-evaluate whether you can make improvements. Would you like to talk about continuous improvement? It’s part of our Quality Model for translation so let us know you’re listening…reach out. We’ll work on the metrics in partnership with you.