Of course most of us have heard and have even used the common expression “The customer is always right”. Well, it isn’t necessarily so, especially in the world of translations. This is a difficult and delicate subject to talk about, but it must be addressed in a professional manner.
To begin, let’s look at a typical translation project.
Several years ago we translated a 62-page operation and maintenance manual for a complex mechanical system into French for one of our long term clients. In the five prior years working for this client, we had never received a negative review of our work. However this time, they sent back the translation with several pages of changes, all dealing with terminology and style. I shared the revised document with our translator, a retired mechanical engineer who was born, raised, educated and employed for 35 years in France. His first indication was to laugh, because the changes, according to him, “were nothing short of childish”. Whoever performed the review had no background in mechanical terminology. In addition, the changes in style were strictly preferential, quite “flowery” and not suitable for a technical manual. I then sent the original translation and the revised version to another technical translator on our team. He made the same comments as the original translator. But there was a very important issue that both translators pointed out that could have caused major technical damage or personal harm if the revised version was to be used. In one section, the reader was instructed to turn a compressor valve 90 degrees counterclockwise to stop the flow of high-pressure gas through the system. The person who reviewed the original translation apparently did not know the difference between clockwise and counterclockwise and instead changed the meaning to “turn the valve to the right”. We are not in a position to speculate what would have happened if those instructions were followed, but I immediately called our client in France and pointed out the obvious mistake made by the proofreader. Of course, he was grateful and relieved to find out that we had found the mistake.
As I later discovered, the company had recently hired a new divisional supervisor who brought along his personal team, including his receptionist. He instructed her to proofread the manual and make changes as needed. She was told that a company in the USA did the translation and he wanted to make sure that the French was correct. After discussing the situation with my direct client, I found out that the receptionist was not fluent in English and hence unable to make a valid comparison of the two languages, but that she also had no experience in manufacturing and technical terminology.
Fortunately the head of the facility readily understood the situation and approved the translation that we originally submitted. We have since created a formal procedure for reviewing future translation projects.
We encourage all our clients, both new and old to establish an independent review process, especially when we are in the initial stages of developing a working relationship. This creates a solid business bond that is mutually beneficial. At TSI, we take a great deal of pride in bonds like this. Maintaining long term connections with our clients is tantamount to both their success as well as ours. We truly believe it’s a symbiotic relationship. Throughout every step of a job, we are here to answer questions to clients should there be any curiosity or confusion in our standard operating procedures; who thought an industry as mundane as translations could necessitate so much human interaction? It’s a good reminder of the power of the written word. If you are a previous client or a potential new client, you are always welcome to reach out for a consultation, quote or just to inquire more about our process, because remember, the customer is always right… right?
Francis Semmens is the founder of TSI and author of all blog posts with a focus on translation for clients and translators alike.