I think we’ve all been there – you receive a request from a new customer and the project is more complicated than just file A translated from language X to language Y. It’s human nature that we want to show off our best sides and demonstrate our competence from day one. We understand that our customers are busy people, and that translation is our job, not theirs. They want to pass the translation request to their chosen supplier and receive back their requested translations.

Should we ask questions at all?

For this reason, we sometimes feel uncomfortable asking questions in case they give the customer a negative impression. Maybe the customer will think that we don’t have the expertise, or maybe they will think that we’re too much hassle to deal with. However, I come at this from a different angle – maybe the customer will see our questions as confirmation of our commitment to delivering the best service. We are demonstrating that we are paying close attention to their material and are invested in delivering high-quality translations first time. I would even go so far as to say that a sensible question will never reflect badly on the person that asked it.

We are often contacted by potential customers with requests. Some come from our colleagues across the global network of STAR offices. Some are based in the UK and deal directly with us in Guildford. Regardless of which office they contact first, they receive the same service from us, and part of this involves being asked questions.

Saving time and money

In some cases, our questions allow the customer to simplify their workflow. By working in the files in a different format, we might save DTP time. Or, by offering an extra service, they reduce the need for multiple suppliers. In other cases, our questions relate to the translations themselves, whether it is a terminology point, relating to the writing style, or even clarifying some unclear text.

Working with existing documentation

One new customer came to STAR via a recommendation from a colleague in a different department. They had previously been translating training documentation using in-house staff, but were finding that the increased volumes were putting them under too much pressure. Thanks to their in-house team and their existing bank of multilingual documentation, re-use of translation memory was an important consideration. It was important from a financial point of view to keep costs low, but also in order to maintain the tone of voice and preferred terminology. With this in mind, the team were diligent in using the concordance function and checking fuzzy matches. We were also asked to check the existing material for consistency and any errors. So far, so good.

In the case of this customer, it was inevitable that questions would arise. Some related to minor terminology points; such as the difference between a participant handbook or notebook, while some related to the writing style and the use of the active or passive voice. Liaising with our colleagues in Switzerland, we sent these questions to the customer and found that they appreciated our efforts.

These initial questions and answers formed the basis of an updated terminology list and a comprehensive style guide. We know that our customers appreciate our collaborative approach. They are the experts in the material they send us but might not be experts in the translation process. They know that they can trust STAR to ask the right questions.

Trust me on this one, questions don’t make you a nuisance – they show that you care about what you do.