Expert talks on quality


Quality time: Talk with the RisikoScouts about complaints and how to avoid them

It’s “quality time”! We’re launching our new series of expert talks on topics related to translation quality and quality management in the language services sector. To kick things off, Eva-Maria Tillmann, Head of Quality Management at oneword, spoke with Dr. Carmen Canfora and Angelika Ottmann from RisikoScouts, who advise companies on the risks involved in translations. The conversation was about complaints and order specifications.

Eva-Maria Tillmann (EMT): Welcome, Angelika and Carmen. As RisikoScouts, you deal with risk management for translations. So, for example, you talk about what can happen if translations have not been planned properly or contain errors, which can sometimes have catastrophic effects, and how to deal with this. So let’s talk about complaints.

Angelika Ottmann (AO): A fitting introduction. After all, everyone’s afraid of complaints, but they’re also always an opportunity to improve. Over the years, I’ve noticed that a lack of communication in the run-up to a translation project was very often the cause.

EMT: Can you give an example?

AO: Once, for example, a client’s employee complained because he didn’t think a marketing text translated into English would be understood by the target group. His colleague from the American West Coast would have criticised it. However, the company – a regular client – wanted British English translations as a general rule, meaning that some idiomatic expressions, especially in marketing texts, wouldn’t be understood by an American audience. After consulting with the project management team, it turned out that the texts were usually used internationally, so the translations should avoid containing idiomatic or regional expressions as far as possible. The specifications for all English translations were then changed accordingly and this type of complaint no longer occurred.

EMT: Yes, of course, mistakes can always happen. Products, whether radios, packaging machines or translations, are made by people and people make mistakes every now and then. Errors can therefore also occur during translation. oneword translates, edits, revises and post-edits over 30 million words a year. It’s unfortunately unrealistic to have zero errors, even if I wish it weren’t.

Dr Carmen Canfora (CC): Exactly. Even if you know you can’t prevent it, it’s still always a challenge to look at complaints professionally and not emotionally and to learn from them if there really is a mistake. Any kind of feedback, even negative, is worth its weight in gold.

AO: You just have to talk to each other. After all, where people work, mistakes are always made. And then it’s important to identify and admit the mistakes in order to learn from them and take measures to prevent these mistakes in the future.

EMT: In any case, you can always learn something from it. Usually both sides can. Often complaints aren’t justified, but are nevertheless important, because we then have a better idea of what’s important to the customer or what requirements we weren’t yet aware of. Only then can we take action, for example in selecting translators, in project documentation or in communication.

CC: There you mention something very important, namely translation requirements. We’re all aware of the issue that clients sometimes don’t think enough about the desired end product of translation, so they don’t really ask themselves: “What purpose does the translation have to serve and what needs to be considered in the translation process to achieve this?”

AO: Yes, that’s very important. But we also have to be aware that sometimes clients don’t even know what requirements they can or should have. We have to be there to advise. Perhaps an analogy from everyday life will help clarify the importance of a clear translation job. If I order a steak but don’t say I want it “well done”, I might get it “medium”.

CC: We have to distinguish between implicit and explicit expectations. No one will doubt that a good translation does not spelling mistakes, but when it comes to correct specialised terminology, ideas certainly differ.

EMT: You’re absolutely right, even if it’s not always that easy. Translation requirements sometimes only appear in hindsight. In many cases, they only become clear after a few projects have been completed, because from this experience it’s easier to know what you don’t want than to know in advance what you do want.

AO: This is precisely why clients should give feedback as often and in as much detail as possible. We know this all too well from our consulting work.

EMT: How do you deal with it?

AO: Let me also tie this into an example: A client complained that the translation service provider didn’t use the same terminology as was used internally at the client’s company. However, the client hadn’t communicated in advance that there was specialised terminology to use. The researched terminology had been used correctly and consistently – there wasn’t a single error in the translation – but the client was still totally dissatisfied. This is, of course, frustrating for both sides.

EMT: And so easy to sort out! Customers just have to provide their terminology, then a customer-specific terminology database can be created and the terminology that the company prefers will be used in all projects. But when it comes to complaints, it’s often not at all clear to customers where the fault lies.

CC: That’s how it often is: specific examples are not given, just the comment “our colleague says the translation is bad, please revise”. Of course, this doesn’t provide a point of reference for the review.

EMT: This also applies to us, of course, when we pass on feedback to translators or evaluate translations. This must also be specific and comprehensible, with specific information about which errors were made or which requirements weren’t observed. And here too, it has to be documented and communicated in writing in advance.

AO: This is a good link back to the complaints we talked about at the beginning. What both clients and service providers need to understand and implement is that all requirements for a translation job need to be formulated and briefed so that they’re understood and implemented by all parties involved. In as much detail as possible. This may seem a little time-consuming to many. However, if I spend a little more time gaining a common understanding of the job, this ultimately saves a lot more time in dealing with potential complaints, and probably even spares the complaints themselves.

EMT: A beautiful conclusion. Thank you both for a great conversation.

Angelika Ottmann has a degree in translation and was the managing director of a translation service provider for over 25 years. Together with Dr. Carmen Canfora, she is a risk management advisor for RisikoScouts, publishes articles and organises seminars on relevant topics such as revision and evaluation. She is also an active member of the DIN subcommittee for translation services.

Dr Carmen Canfora has a degree in translation and is a lecturer at the FTSK Germersheim. She teaches specialised translation, terminology work, quality and risk management as well as revision and post-editing. Together with Angelika Ottmann, she advises clients on translation risks at RisikoScouts.

Eva-Maria Tillmann holds a degree in translation and is head of the Quality Management department at oneword GmbH. She is responsible for the translation service provider’s certifications to ISO 17100 and ISO 18587 and also works actively on standardisation with Angelika Ottmann, among others, as a member of the DIN subcommittee for translation services.

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