A peek in the "machine room" of a multilingual communications agency

JelleMy guest: Jelle de Leeuw, Senior Communications Manager at Presence.

The interviewer: Maaike Villavicencio Fernandez, Senior Event Manager.

Jelle, in a nutshell: what does your job entail?

I am a Communications Manager at Presence, and I focus on written translations. I am responsible for the Belgian and Dutch markets. In practice this means that I stay in touch with our existing customers in these markets, I explore new market opportunities and I lead a team of project managers and sales reps.

What part of your job do you find most challenging?

Let me start by replacing ‘challenging’ by ‘interesting’. Handling feedback from our clients is something I learn from a lot, whether the feedback is positive or negative. And I find listening to clients particularly interesting.

Getting positive feedback is something we all like, that’s a no-brainer. But what do you like about negative feedback?

Well, you have to look at it this way: when a customer complains, they are giving you an opportunity to enter into dialogue with them and to work together towards a perfect translation. Also, you get to prove that you put everything at work to solve the issue as quickly and effectively as possible. When you consider things from this angle, you see that every complaint is also an opportunity to turn a negative feeling into a positive experience. An added bonus is that customers learn about the internal processes underlying the translation work, and that these processes can be tweaked to perfectly match the ones the customer has in place. Sometimes we find out that the mistake happened in the part of the process that they manage, but I am getting ahead of myself now.

So how do you handle complaints at Presence?

We follow strict procedures when we handle complaints. This is required for companies who have ISO9001 and ISO17100 certifications. And since we deliver about 50 translations per day, it is good to have a structured approach, even if the number of complaints we get is very limited.

After a complaint, we ask the customer to highlight the exact text fragments that they are not pleased with. Usually we are provided with a document with some remarks. We go through these remarks with the translator and the proofreader who have worked on the document and we determine what the nature is of the ‘mistake(s)’. Are we talking about grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, has the translator failed to use the terminology provided by the client or are the remarks more to do with style preferences? Depending on this analysis, we determine the subsequent approach.

Do tell me more…

Well, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes are grave errors in our view. They go against our strict quality demands, but on rare occasions they do happen. You should not forget that translating is done by human beings, and humans sometimes make mistakes. These mistakes are usually filtered out by the spelling checks, translation memories, and all types of systems we have in place to avoid them, but there is the occasional mistake that escapes our attention.

When the comments are about style, the solution is usually a bit more tricky. In this case our translators and proofreaders have not really made a mistake, and yet the customer is inclined towards a different translation. When this happens, we try to get as much information from customers as we can. Do they expect a literal translation or a translation that is localised? What is the target group? And is the source text accurate enough? In some cases it  may be that the customer is actually quite displeased with the source text to start with. Also, sometimes the person on the customer’s side who proofreads the translation is not a native speaker of the target language, so they come back with erroneous corrections. Non-linguists are known to get caught in false friend traps.

From what you said earlier, I gather that this is a standard procedure for certified companies. What makes Presence different from all the other ISO-certified translation agencies?

Our customers have one dedicated contact person who handles translations for them. This same person supports them if ever they have a complaint. Usually this is the account or project manager. In difficult processes like complaint handling, this is something that our customers really appreciate. That is actually what they tell us after all is said and done, and their problem has been solved. And that is how we turn a situation that starts out being dire, into an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our customers.

The more information we get from them, the better we can handle the complaint, and the more intimate we are with what they want for the future. That is how we like to co-create with our customers. And our customers are the happier for it!