Like any other company, a translation agency depends on its clients for survival, which means its primary concern should be to have the human resources, equipment, routines and processes in place that enable it to serve its clients as best it can.
The first priority of course is to attract clients. Promotional and acquisition issues are the subject of a different article by the same author. Suffice it here to say that, broadly speaking, there is a choice of two strategies. A translation agency can attract clients through active promotion based on the distribution of company brochures and the like among a pre-selected target group of relevant business, and through a strong and dynamic presence on the Internet via a website that should both be easy to find and rewarding for those who visit it.
Our main concern in this article is the question of how to retain clients once they have found your company and used its services. The whole idea of client retention is based on the assumption that clients will have a recurrent need for your product or service. This is why your first concern should be to determine whether a client is likely to need translations on more than an incidental basis.
This can be a tricky issue. In terms of account management, you may be inclined to neglect apparently insignificant orders from apparently insignificant clients. When a small company asks you to translate a letter to a foreign customer, this does not immediately offer the prospect of a steady flow of recurrent orders. Even so, you should bear in mind that a company that does business abroad usually does so with more than one customer, and usually within the framework of a deliberate foreign expansion strategy which, in the longer run, may well lead to a greater need for translation services than you would have imagined at first.
The type of client that offers the greatest potential, however, is the category of big companies with regular and established contacts abroad, and with a wide variety of translation needs – not just for correspondence or company brochures, but also in all sorts of other business-related domains, such as legal affairs, tax and compliance issues. This is the type of client that can make an important contribution to your translation agency’s continuity, provided that your account management approach is optimally geared to its needs.
Account management essentially concerns effective communication with your client about the measures you take to meet their requirements. You will find that many companies with translation needs tend to have a highly fragmented approach towards filling them. As companies grow, so their contacts expand; over time, huge enterprises may end up doing business with a host of translation agencies. However, sooner or later they will find that this is no longer consistent with their need for a uniform and professional verbal market presence. They will be very happy to do business with you if you are able to meet and coordinate all of their translation needs effectively.
Your ability to serve any client, and particularly your larger clients, hinges on the two mainstays of your operational management: quality and capacity. The issue of quality management is beyond the scope of this article. While quality tends to be the main focus of any starting translation business, it does not usually take long for capacity management to emerge as an equally urgent concern for your company’s ability to meet your regular clients’ needs. A large company will only select you as its preferred supplier of translation services if you are able to guarantee availability for all regular and urgent translation jobs that present themselves. This should not be an issue in the relationship with your client. Rather than having to negotiate a deal for each individual translation, your regular clients are best served by an arrangement which, ideally, enables them to send you a text plus the desired deadline and instantly receive a confirmation stating the costs based on a regular, standard word rate.
Your clients’ capacity requirements are a major factor that determines the structure of your organisation. Ideally, and for obvious reasons, all translations from a single client should be done by a single team of translators, which can be either in-house staff or freelancers. Whatever arrangements you make, its is imperative that you discuss quality-related issues with your client (such as those relating to tone of voice, terminology and the like) and use these as a basis for a set of instructions to share with your translators. Always try to convince your client that ongoing terminology management has your constant attention. This will gradually make them feel that you are the expert, and it suggests a kind of intimacy with their inner processes and concerns that will strengthen their bond with your business.
Another important aspect of account management in the translation business is damage control when, for some reason or other, your client is not happy with a particular service you have provided. There is a host of potential issues that explain instances of substandard performance. Operational constraints may have forced you to use a translator outside the regular team, there may have been a communication problem, or a text may prove to be more complicated than was originally thought. Whatever the case may be, it is up to you to explain the issue to your client and indicate what measures you have taken to prevent similar incidents in the future. This may involve pledges to update your client-specific terminology database more consistently than apparently you have done so far or to introduce more thorough internal revision processes, but also far-reaching measures such as removing a particular translator from particular jobs if his work is consistently inadequate, or making a recruitment effort to find additional qualified translators so as to be able to meet your client’s capacity requirements.
An effective and practical account management approach is a wonderful tool to help potential clients unify their fragmented translation outsourcing practices by persuading them to consolidate those practices in a single translation flow towards a single agency – yours.