Paul Simpson with Big Ass Fans, an In Every Language client, discusses the importance of translation to success in international sales. Paul gave this speech at a Global Business Forum hosted by the Ky World Trade Center and Greater Louisville, International (GLI), Louisville, Ky’s chamber of commerce. Because of its length, GLI has broken Paul’s speech down into two videos.
According to a Sunday Times report, only 27% of Americans got their news from written sources, like newspapers or magazines.Since the survey was conducted in 2008, The Times’ source, the Pew Research Centre, shows a biannual trending down for all news sources except cable television and the internet, which are both going up. In 2009, the American newspaper industry suffered 15,114 layoffs (News-Cycle). Video has not only killed the radio star, but it’s killed your daily newspaper as well.
If newspapers are dead, it’s logical that white papers and text-heavy presentations will follow. I personally pray daily for a world where PowerPoints have gone to die. Instead, I see sales staff whipping out mobile phones that are wired to show a client a pre-produced video illustrating the insert-your-company-name-here advantage right on the spot. Want to learn more about our interpreters’ quality? Watch one in action right here. Want to know how pleased our customers really are? Take a look at this video we taped during post-project review last week.
In fact, in a June 2010 interview with Entrepreneur, Nextel CEO Dan Hesse infers that video will soon be the preferred medium for business presentations. “Video applications are going to be more common, particularly as you get into a 4G network environment. There will be a lot more video, TV and movie downloads. You’ll see this in both entertainment and business applications.”
A land of video sales presentations would be a heck more impressive than those hideous, bullet-point lists clients are often trapped into looking at, as the points are read aloud by sales staff who are just as bored as they are. Of course, I have a personal distaste for PowerPoints, being a Gen X-er with a textbook case of can’t-sit-still. PowerPoint or no, I just don’t do boring. I know I soon won’t be the only one, though, as an even younger, can’t-sit-still generation graduates from college and becomes employed, translation’s traditional decision makers eventually retiring, then being replaced by what Meg Ryan’s character on You’ve Got Mail calls “a whole generation of young people without last names.”
If problem number one is that people don’t understand what we do, then problem number two is that we must change the way we reach them. I’m no soothsayer, so I can’t tell you the exact date, but soon — and very soon — the old ways of reaching people will stop working. In fact, the way we communicate has already changed so much that, as a species, we’ve changed how we process information we’re given. To quote Psychology Today columnist Pamela Rutledge, “A picture is worth a thousand words but a video says it all… Humans process information from images far more efficiently than words alone. Video is an image on speed — it engages different sensory inputs and delivers an image stream.” Rutledge goes on to discuss how “[s]ocial media [such as YouTube] allows for the distribution of videos to be immediate, targeted, personal, and accessible on-demand.”
Attention spans are shorter, a whole group of under-educated clients misunderstands what we do, and the translation industry’s most traditional way of reaching people—the written word—is dying a slow, online death. Not only are we now in a tower of our own creation, but Rapunzel’s running out of hair to lower for our escape.
We have reached the moment, in many ways, as an industry, to decide what our future will hold. The Buggles song warns of us being “rewritten by machine and new technology.” Sound familiar, anyone?
Just as there are two problems, there are two answers: either our industry associations fix it or we do.
There’s why reason that our tower was constructed: it’s simply not economically-sustainable for the individual LSP to carry the burden of client education. This is where our associations come into play. As an industry we are working hard — harder than ever before — to develop recognition as a profession. New trade associations and industry events, particularly in the realm of interpreting, pop up every day. But the amount of turning outward — the number of these efforts geared toward client education instead of self-edification—is remarkably low. We are continuing to invite only ourselves to the party.
I do not mean to undervalue efforts that have been made; I am appreciative of the efforts our trade associations are currently making. In medical interpreting, the National Council of Interpreting in Health Care (NCIHC) and others involved with the Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters (CCHI) are truly doing their best to make proverbial waves the moat. We’ve all seen copies of the American Translators Association’s (ATA) “Translation: Getting It Right” brochure and an “Interpreting: Getting It Right,” as well as client outreach newsletters, are on their way. The Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) promotes its conferences as being for both localization seller and buyer.
But the trades are in the unique position of being able to do what the LSP cannot: the trades can educate the under-educated. Whereas an LSP must economically and structurally guard itself, the trades guard our profession. It is their job and duty to invite everyone to the party. While LSP’s are the in position of being able to change their clients’ perception, the associations can change public perception.
A change in public perception is what’s required to tear down the tower and drain the moat. First-time and intermittent buyers may not believe an LSP that says the secretary shouldn’t translate. The LSP is, after all, trying to sell them something they don’t even realize they need. But they are much more likely to believe the trades. If you think beef is what’s for dinner, it’s not because the grocery said so, but because the National Cattleman’s Beef Association did. Our industry associations are the third-party gateway to bridging the divide.
Some associations have already stepped up. The Health Care Interpreter Network, the International Medical Interpreters Association, ATA, and GALA all have a current presence on YouTube, Vimeo, or both.
The first two use their channels primarily for education. Health Care Interpreter Network has informative videos on the essential role of interpreters in healthcare. IMIA’s videos focus on the organization’s recent certification efforts with Language Line Services, encouraging interpreters and healthcare professionals to join together. The most educational videos on the market, though, are out of Monterey, where the Institute for International Studies has posted videos like “A Day in the Life of an Interpreter” and “5 Questions for a French Translator.” ATA’s videos are much more intrinsic, using its YouTube channel to advertise annual conferences, and GALA’s channel is a mix, including both conference promotion and presentations.
The Association of Language Companies (ALC) is also joining the game. While no videos were yet online when this article was written, the ALC appointed a video task force in January and the task force recorded video for future use at the association’s conference in May.
Together, these organizations have done the early work necessary to implement video as the powerful client education tool it can be; now they just need to finish.
It is important, though, for us to realize that the associations cannot do it all. In case you haven’t noticed, most of our associations are volunteer-led. Even those with paid staff — like NCIHC, ATA, and ALC — still rely on volunteer labor for PR initiatives. If it’s not sustainable for a single LSP to fully take on this burden, then the average industry volunteer, though well-intending, isn’t able to do it for her association either.
This is what I mean when I say we are the second solution. The associations represent us and are made up of us. We are their main source of ideas and strength. To bastardize John F Kennedy, ask not what your association can do for you. No one knows your target market better than you do. If you’re the only LSP in Huntsville, Alabama, it’s easy to say you’re isolated, fighting your own battles, and that the association should do more to help you. But they don’t know Huntsville. They’re not in Huntsville. And if you don’t help them, their efforts won’t work. You know your market’s needs and if you don’t, there’s not an educational video out there that will keep you in business.
Regardless of who acts, the time to act is now. A whole group of new clients is out there, and if they don’t understand why they should get translation from professionals, then they will get it from amateurs. Clearly, video isn’t the only thing that could kill translation. But video may be the best thing to save it. Educational video changes public perception. Changing perception knocks down the tower. Knocking down the tower brings everyone together. Unless, of course, you want to stay trapped.
(This article initially ran in MultiLingual Magazine.)
IMDb: the Internet Movie Database. www.imdb.com
O’Shea, Dan. “The New Power of Mobility.” Entrepreneur. June 2010. p 51.
Richards, Jonathan. “More people get news from web than TV or print.” Sunday Times: London,
England, August 18, 2008. http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/
Rutledge, Pamela. “Honey, We Shrunk the Time or 5 Things to Remember about Social Media.”
Psychology Today Blog. December 1, 2009. www.psychologytoday.com/blog/positively-
Unattributed. News-Cycle. http://news-cycle.blogspot.com/p/newspaper-industry-layoff-totals.html
Foreign language translation could be your key to better customer service and to higher sales.
There’s a German saying that I love to quote: If I’m selling, I’ll speak English, but if I’m buying, Sie mussen deutsch sprecken (you have to speak German). I like that sentence because it points out the one thing that American companies seem to get right domestically, but not internationally: customer service comes first.
Here in the land of “the customer is always right,” we tend to think that the customer always speaks English. And, a lot of the time, we’re right. In Denmark, for example, English is taught from elementary school up. English is the most popular foreign language taught to grade schoolers in the EU and has quickly become a powerful language of commerce throughout all of Asia. But just because someone speaks a language doesn’t mean that they speak it well or that you should expect them to. Your customers may speak English, but when it comes to strengthening your sales, is English the language of customer service?
Papa Johns International, CNN, Wells Fargo, the American Lung Association, Lowe’s, even the IRS–across multiple industries, through online and print advertising, American business are starting to tap into the 52 million people in this country who speak a language other than English at home. These people just aren’t immigrants; they’re a target market. That’s why companies like Bank of America, DISH Network, and AT&T are offering their websites in Spanish–because they want to reach out to this market. Because if they don’t reach out to them, someone else will and their money–that sale–will go to the competition. Trick of the matter is, however, if you want to reach them, you can’t do it in English. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2005, over 29 percent of all Spanish speakers, 22 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander speakers, and more than 13 percent of Indo-European speakers in the US today speak English “not well” or “not at all.” This is in a country where English is the spoken vernacular, the language of education and commerce, the main language used for publishing and broadcasting news, as well as the language used in the medical field. This is the United States of America, where there is a higher concentration of English speakers than anywhere else in the world. Yet even here, you can not assume that your customer speaks English.
This is only if you do business domestically. If you want to do business on an international scale, you must also think and act internationally. You may not speak French, but if you are selling to the French, you need to at least learn how to say “Bonjour.” Like the German saying I quoted earlier, a German business man looking to buy will buy from the salesman who uses German.
American companies are known worldwide for their superb capabilities for customer service. And while many might argue that it is harder to get waited on in a store than it used to be, that is still the mantra of sales in America today. The customer comes first. The customer is always right. The customer is our top priority. This is why I find it shocking that many companies doing business in non-English speaking countries fail to see the practicality of foreign language use. It’s simply good customer service–communicating with them, marketing to them, and making deals with them in a language they can understand.
So, in a nation where many of our top execs and graduating talent pool do not speak a foreign language, where does this leave us? The world changes quickly. One minute, the popular business country is Japan. Then it’s India. Then it’s China, then it’s India again. And not everyone is good at learning languages. Some people, no matter how hard they try, just can’t get past lesson six. And it may not be cost or time effective to become fluent in the language of every company you have dealings with.
This is where translation comes in. This is why the translation industry exists–because someone has to be there to break the communication barrier. My company, In Every Language, for example, offers services in 155 different languages. There is no way any single employee could become fluent in 155 different languages. Translation companies therefore save businesses time and money by doing the linguistic legwork for them. It’s why we’re here. It’s our job. We speak those languages so you don’t have to. For a just a few cents per word, translators can get your material in front your buyers in a language they can understand.
Yes, translation costs money. But how much money could a good translation make you? If you made one dollar from every non-English speaking American, the US Census Bureau says you’d make 12 million bucks. 12 million. You may or may not see the benefits of reaching out to the non-English speaking market, but you can bet your competition does. And once they already have that market, there may not be much room in it left for you. We all know the power of brand loyalty. If your competition achieves brand loyalty before you do, you may one day have to spend money on translation just to stay alive. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on making a profit?
Translation services are therefore not just a way to provide customer service, but they’re a way to increase your sales. Customer service does come first, but in this case, customer service goes out before you, paving your way to profits and sales success.