Vetting Vendors: 3 Places to Push For Transparency


The pilot was working on two hours of sleep. It was his first officer’s first transatlantic flight. And despite one of the engines failing 150 miles off the coast of Iceland, the passengers awoke two hours later on a London tarmac sensing nothing out of the ordinary.

We don’t always see the process that creates the product — and that’s probably for the best.

But in the case of translations, remaining blind to behind-the-scenes activities could be a business liability. Instead, you need a clear view of all the complementary parts that impact success. And that begins by demanding greater transparency from your language service providers.

The People You’ll Partner With

Translation is an exercise in trusting others to act as your own voice. Naturally, you’ll want to know as much possible about the people who will assume that responsibility.

The discovery process is relatively easy when vetting freelancers or small agencies. You can directly identify the individual translators and inquire about their industry experience, professional specialties, and expected availability.

Larger translation agencies, however, tend to have more complicated supply chains. Subcontracting is a common practice at this end of the market, meaning that the actual person who ends up performing your translation could be several layers removed from the service provider you pay. In fact, larger vendors often don’t know which translator they’ll assign until after the client’s request has been submitted and analyzed.

There is nothing inherently right or wrong about this approach, but you need to definitively know whether it’s one your prospective vendor follows. If they can’t proactively confirm who will complete your translation — and whether that translator will stay on for future projects, then you’ll need to dig deeper into their recruitment policies, work capacities, and quality assurance strategies.

It’s also important to investigate the people who stand behind those linguistic experts. Project managers, systems integrators, and technical reviewers are just a few of the supporting personnel who will play a part in project success, and their roles and qualifications must be discussed with similar rigor.

The Price You’ll Pay

Ask the prospective vendor for their per-word rate, multiply that figure by the number of words you plan to translate, then confidently present that product at your next budget meeting.

Man. It’d be great if translation financing was that easy. But back here in reality, per-word rates are the beginning of a mystery some companies never solve.

First and foremost, you need to confirm the services a quote represents. Does $0.20 per word cover editing and proofreading, or translation only? And how many rounds of feedback, if any, will you get for free?

You’ll also want to outline scenarios in which the per-word rate may fluctuate. Does the vendor raise their prices in response to market trends or specialty requirements? Will they offer volume discounts? How are translation memory matches calculated and deducted?

Finally, there’s the murky matter of secondary fees. More than a few vendors depend on ambiguous charges like “engineering” to pad their profit margins, so you can’t count on them to initiate the conversation. Instead, you need to ask for itemized explanations of what each expense represents and what business value it delivers.

The Process You’ll Practice

Assuming a prospective vendor has already met your basic talent and cost criteria, the final thing to request is a preview of the full translation process.

How they propose to gather your content will immediately tell you a lot about their operations. If all of their translation jobs start with clients manually compiling and emailing spreadsheets, then you can safely assume they have room for technological advancement and productivity enhancement. Ideally, modern vendors should be able to offer several automated ways of ingesting text and publishing translations.

Next, you’ll want to see that translated content gets routed through a progression of quality assurance professionals who verify its linguistic accuracy and technical compatibility. But perhaps most importantly, you need to determine the rigidity of the vendor’s workflow. Because if you cannot strategically add or remove steps from the sequence, a certain portion of your content will likely suffer from either insufficient oversight or unnecessary expense.

Once this walkthrough is complete, the final procedural trait to test is client communications. Will the vendor assign you a dedicated point of contact? When are they available? How often will they provide progress updates? What is the best way to escalate emergency requests?

Proceeding without a clear consensus on these core issues would put any translation project in jeopardy.

Finding Transparency Through Technology

There are only some many questions you can ask and references you can request. At a certain point, every vendor selection process requires faith in the assumption that past behavior will predict future performance. But where faith ends, technology now begins.

Centralizing all activity on a cloud-based translation management system will give you a real-time window into exactly how projects are progressing.

You’ll see where a translation job currently sits in the workflow sequence, which individual contributor is responsible for moving it forward, and whether there’s any reason to believe a deadline is in doubt.

You can also leverage the technology for a retrospective look at average turnaround times, average time spent on various workflow steps, and average accuracy for each translator.

Thanks to this unparalleled transparency, you’ll finally have the data to know whether vendors are living up to their promises and where to push for further progress.

Learn More

Need to know the full story behind every translation? Explore our resources and see how our customers create a trail of transparency.