Does Translation Quality Even Matter Anymore?

Does Translation Quality Even Matter Anymore? Not really, but let me explain.

After 11+ years in the localization industry, working for three different localization firms, I can tell you firsthand: quality is not a key differentiator. Well, localization firms have to provide accurate translations so their clients can release their products and succeed in-market, but quality is one criteria you should be able to take for granted.

Quality is Taken Care Of

We all hire to the same qualifications, we all test our linguists and call their references, we all insist that they be bilingual, native-speaking linguists. We all do three-part translations, aka TEP (translation, edit and proof). We all promise a boatload of quality processes: checklists, automated tools that can check nearly anything you want, language quality forms that slice and dice the errors and give the translation a score. We all offer third-party review services where a linguist other than the translator reviews and comments on the work.

So we all better have pretty darn good linguistic quality. (That said, quality benchmarks can still be missed: we are talking about humans here).

If a localization vendor can’t understand, define, measure and deliver quality then maybe they’d better think about their role in the industry.

But because all firms claim this, it is not a differentiator.

What are the Differentiators?

So, that aside, why do you choose to work with one firm over another? This can apply to choosing any business service, whether it is getting your lawn mowed or hiring a consultant to figure out your HR benefits.

I think there are only three differentiators that matter.

  1. Customer service. Are they nice to you? Do they return your calls? Do they try to get you answers within a reasonable amount of time? Do they respect your communication style (email versus phone)? Do you feel like they care?  Customer service is simple: be available, responsive and nice.  (To the guy at the Verizon store:, I’m talking to YOU!)
  2. Integrity. Do they do what they say? Do they follow through? Are they honest and hard-working? Do they admit when they make a mistake or when they don’t know something? These are the kind of vendors you trust to jerk you around. They will always do the right thing.  
  3. Flexibility. We all know that if anything is certain at all, it is that nothing will ever remain the same. This is true for the moods of a toddler, weather and localization programs. Does your vendor change with you? Is she calm when change happens? Does your vendor come to your table with creative ideas? Does he like solving problems? Solutions have to have a certain amount of elasticity: the needs can change as soon as the ink dries on that first proposal.

There are firms that hold tight to these values at a corporate level – attitude of service, integrity and flexibility – and certainly individuals within each firm who guide their professional lives by these principles. (Moravia, I’m happy to say, is among those.)

Final Words: You Still Get What You Pay For

So there you go; only three differentiators really matter. Did you notice I didn’t put price as one?

If you are buying words only, like you would buy paperclips or cans of beans, then price is your only differentiator. The other stuff can’t matter when you choose to focus on low price. Are you willing to give up 1, 2 and 3 above?

Discuss! By what criteria do you choose a vendor?

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