Where Tech Meets Human-Centric Clients
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How one of the most sophisticated TMS solutions failed with one target audience
Growth and investment are assets that usually go hand in hand with good practices and successful businesses. While we invest in people, workflows, workspace, and technology, the translation industry seems to march on a relentless pace. In addition to precious in-house and outsourced human talent, language providers looking to get ahead of the pack need to constantly monitor ever-evolving new technology, apps, tools, their upgrades, plug-ins, and associated features.
As a case study, GORR was founded in 2013, and its first investment was a laptop with standard licensed programs and features. For an LSP, even a small one, investment in tech is crucial. It was not long before we realized that a true translation business required far more than that, however. Over the following years we upgraded our equipment, reached out to the global market, and transformed from a shy Slovenian single-language vendor into a true multilanguage vendor catering to clients from 40 different countries across five continents.
We learned the hard way from the very start. Our business was growing, our workflows became more complex, the list of vendors was endless, and clients’ specific demands countless. All of this was managed and recorded in Excel tables; we were losing precious time that could have been otherwise spent on more important aspects of our work. To address this, we started looking at solutions to upscale our efficiency, cut down the volume of repetitive and redundant tasks, and provide an orderly and filterable preview of our projects, clients and vendors. In other words, we had reached the stage where we needed to deploy a sophisticated translation management system (TMS).
The idea was that this TMS would be fully utilized by all stakeholders — us, vendors, and clients. In the ideal scenario, clients would upload files for us, set the deadline and, even more ideally, list any special requirements. From there, orders would be pushed to translators “in a couple of clicks” and returned to us with the same promptness and simplicity. Everything in between would be “a click” away, and we would have plenty of time left for other tasks. We had no reason to believe it would be any different than that, since the interface was sophisticated and seemed user-friendly.
Despite our steady growth, we were still a small business and a TMS represented a massive investment. What is more, we did not want a temporary solution, but rather a tool that could complement our business over the next ten or 20 years. So we had to face the fact that we were about to buy a rather expensive toy. It had better work, we told ourselves.
With the TMS successfully deployed, and the data migrated, all that was left to do was sit back and watch the miracles happen. While interest was rather high on the vendor side, clients, to our surprise, went mute to our notifications, presentations, and invitations to sign up. We initially laid the blame on the summer season and we patiently awaited autumn. In autumn, nothing major changed: from hundreds of clients, we had a single user, and whatever effort we put in, the lack of interest and activity persisted. At first, we were slightly maddened and puzzled, but then started thinking everything through and came to the sad realization that our enormous investment might never be attractive to the majority of our clients. We assessed feedback about the TMS, and most reactions which could be summed up by “Oh, you got this new program!” Reading between the lines, we arrived at the following conclusions.
A portion of our clients are other (larger) LSPs using other TMSs usually directly connected to their computeraided translation tools. Adjusting to our model was simple from a technical aspect — and otherwise impossible because of their workflows and the entire environment tied to their own TMS.
On the other hand, we have a number of end-clients that could have made a nice group of active users because for the most part they were not tied to any particular translation infrastructure. They also lacked the mindset of senior buyers willing or used to “dig” and “learn,” or even contribute to the process in order to get their translations done. Usually operating without special localization or translation departments, these companies handle translations from various parts and levels of the company, starting from the management to marketing or purchasing departments, and sometimes even front desks. In the midst of their everyday tasks, placing an order via our platform was an extra mile they were not prepared to go. Although the interface was exceptionally simple and user-friendly, our clients generally saw this “new program” as an unnecessary extra step in the translation process. It meant switching things up; logging in and learning how to navigate the new environment instead of just using emails to a well-known address, knowing they would receive a nonautomated reply from a familiar person in just a couple of minutes. Of course, our automated messages were personalized as much as possible, replicating the tone actually nurtured in our live communication. We even made sure they were followed up by a friendly greeting from the actual project manager or account manager in charge of the project — and even still, the system did not work.
Our precious and time-saving TMS had so many pluses, yet took away the spontaneity and the here-and-now of the conversation that had allowed us to interact and address our clients’ issues firsthand. Finally, one key client said they “might consider using it in the autumn, preferably ifavailable in Slovenian.” Of course, we localized a number of outputs, but the core of the TMS remained English. Its localization would be time-consuming and costly with unforeseeable, likely unsatisfying results in terms of the enlarged frequency of TMS users in the Slovenian portion of our clients.
Our investment proved popular with vendors and the in-house team, but it had the entirely opposite effect on the client side. Although we had deployed the TMS to optimize and grow our business, uptake by a segment of intended users was poor; what followed was a tough call not to utilize all the features of our sophisticated TMS. Had we persisted with moving our clients to a platform they did not feel comfortable with, it could have sounded the death knell for our business. It would have alienated our clients and led them looking elsewhere, all over a piece of technology that they did not perceive as vital.
Despite the size of the investment, we had to seek another viable model that worked better for our clients, and uphold our genuinely human-to-human interaction. When needed, we created client-specific templates and workflows that offered a satisfying level of automation and time-saving, while keeping us in live, thread conversation with our clients. Naturally, we are excited when clients show an interest in our TMS and its features or decide to do business with us owing to the fact that we do offer this separate, safe environment for their precious content.