CX: Creating a Competitive Edge in the Translation & Localization Industry

In a highly competitive industry, LSPs and translation agencies have traditionally tried to differentiate between themselves in areas such as price, speed, breadth of services, geographic coverage, customer service, marketing and branding.

Many of these areas however no longer provide the competitive margin they once did.

For example, it is easy now for a small, growing translation agency to add on design, interpreting and maybe voice overs to take on their bigger competition. Setting up a presence abroad through satellite offices again is easily achievable over the internet. Anyone working in translation knows full well about the commodification of pricing over the past 10 years or so and the declining margins in rates.

Today, the battleground has shifted away from those areas to the new one – technology, IT and how big your CAT tool is. Trademarked, super-speedy machine translation tools, that localize, optimize and digitalize the needs of the modern-day global organisation seem to be the zeitgeist of the translation and localization industry, especially in terms of differentiation.

This leaves a massive gap….actually lots of massive gaps, but let’s focus in on one in particular.

With a large percentage of LSPs still competing on traditional terms, and with most of the larger LSPs investing their time and efforts into machines that will eventually turn evil and kill us all, this leaves a gap for the LSP in the middle.

This is where Customer Experience comes in.

Within the industry very few are focusing on Customer Experience (a.k.a. CX) in the buying and selling cycle of translation, localization and language services.

Customer Service in many LSPs is excellent, but Customer Experience as a strategy, approach and a culture has not yet been embraced.

This provides a clear opportunity for those LSPs who want to shift into a new way of thinking and to move away from those old ways of competitive differentiation.

Although you may not be able to invest the millions into a The Terminator, you will be able to carve out a niche at the level you operate and start to become a leader in terms of customer acquisition.

So, if you are an LSP and want to take CX seriously what do you do?

Well, you if you don’t have the time, budget or energy you could ask a fantastic training company that specialises in CX workshops for translation companies to help you.

If you do have the time and energy, then great – you don’t even need a budget to get started!

Here’s 12 really simple steps we have put together for you along with some solid resources to help you start implementing a CX approach and culture at work.

1. Start reading & learning about CX

If you decide to go the DIY route you really need to start learning about CX. What does it mean? How does it work? When do we use it? Why can it fail? If you are new to CX then start with this really good introduction.

Then start spending regular time reading articles, listening to podcasts and soaking in as much as you can. If it is possible to have a few people involved it would really speed things along. Check out these resources here for a really comprehensive list of videos, podcasts and articles. Remember to always bring this back to translation and your own customers.

2. Pin down your company values

CX is about your company values being translated into how you make your customers and clients feel. If you don’t know what your values are, you’re CX will never amount to much as it will be built on weak foundations.

There are a number of ways of defining your values as a company. In some LSPs the big boss may simply say what they are. Others may want a more consensual approach. Others something in between.

As part of developing a CX approach and culture it is important to at least get employees involved in talking about and agreeing upon the values. Here is a link to some simple ideas on how to run team exercises that elicit values pretty well. You can do this in one session, or across many sessions such as weekly team meetings. If you don’t know what your core values are, what they should be, or need some inspiration, have a look at some of the more common examples of corporate core values here. 

3. Identify how you want to make customers feel

Once you understand your values, you will then have a much clearer idea of how you want to make your customers feel. Emotions are central to successful CX but you need to be very clear as to what emotions you actually want to bring about in your customers – if you want to deliver a relaxed experience with a West Coast ‘hey duuude’ vibe then your CX structure, approach and goals will look very different to one where you want to deliver an experience that stresses you are working with a company that places value on family, loyalty and security.

This is difficult for many companies, let alone LSPs, to do as the starting point is an emotion – something we are not used to focusing on in business. Have a read of this blog on emotional design and when you have time also check out this report from Forrester on measuring emotion in CX which offers lots of valuable insights. Remember to start with the customer – not yourself.

4. Create a Customer Journey Map

A Customer Journey Map is really simple and gives so much valuable information. This captures every single possible interaction and interface a customer ever has with your company. Every LSP should do one regardless of CX or not as it pretty much always exposes weaknesses in a company’s offerings, whether that’s how the website performs, how efficient communication is between teams or where there are opportunities for rationalise and simplify processes.

Here is a great resource on creating a journey map from Oracle; remember if you can’t get your whole team together for a long period of time to create the map, simply find a wide open space in your office where people can add to it over a coffee or when they think about things.

5. Identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps

Once you have completed the Customer Journey Map you need to sit down and run through a SWOT analysis of your company in terms of its ability to meet its CX goals. This should look at everything your company has to offer and where it needs to either improve or address issues.

This honest self-appraisal will then help you amplify your strengths into CX, remove or reduce the effects of your weaknesses and fill in any gaps with fruitful, positive ideas. If you are new to running a SWOT analysis with a team, here is a really handy guide to use.

6. Create a CX team

CX is too much for one person to deal with. Make sure you create a team that can drive CX forward in the company – empower them to do so. This not only ensures the responsibility is shared and that too much pressure is not piled into one pair of shoulders, but also brings in more views and opinions.

If possible, try to have people from different departments contributing to the team and it is critical that employees who actually deal with clients and customers are involved. Have a read of some ideas on what makes for a good CX team here as well as how to get the best out of them in this article here.

7. Make CX part of your meetings

CX will not work if it becomes a side project, assigned to an elite team that only shares information and updates now and again. CX is a daily thing – constant. As a minimum you need to start talking about CX in your regular meetings, whether weekly or monthly. This can be done as of now, even if it is mentioning that the company is going to be adopting the approach.

Until serious work starts you can always use team meetings to teach and learn about CX. For example, you might assign people with blogs or people to follow and each week someone explains about what they’ve read. Also may think about other ways of having your team meetings which can encourage ideas and sharing. Here are some for starters.

8. Start small with your CX ideas

CX is about momentum. If you don’t start with something, CX can often get lost, forgotten or diluted. Make small changes in the office ASAP. They don’t need to be complex, expensive or even that creative. Have a brainstorm as a team over 3, 5 or 10 things you can all start doing as a team to affect CX – this could be how phones answered, what you have on your email signatures, your website’s language or images, fun challenges between teams or even creating a small budget to make impressions on valued clients through Random Acts of Kindness.

9. Incentivize CX innovation

Especially in the early days, incentivizing CX ideas is a great way to encourage people to get involved. Everyone in a company needs to be involved from IT to HR to finance – this is not something for only sales and marketing. Think about how people can give their ideas, how and if they are recognised and rewarded and also how they may be realised. Remember not everyone wants cash so think about other ways to incentivize people…..or just give them cash!

10. Remember human beings

When forming your approach to CX remember you need to find a balance between technology and the human touch. Not everything can be automated. Some things which can, may be better left to human beings and vice-versa. A lot of this will come to your customer and what they need and want  – if slick, one-touch technology turns them on, then that’s fine, but remember this may turn off plenty of others. It is important to find the right balance, a point made by KPMG in their report on our digital future.

11. Recruit for CX

If you want to deliver great CX you need staff who are naturally dispositioned towards doing so. If the plan is to project an image of the company that is of shiny, happy people and your staff are a bunch of introverts who don’t like speaking to people before 10am and 3 coffees, then your CX plan will fail.

This is why you need to hire people for the purpose. Hiring people who are customer centric is crucial. In the world of translation, this also comes down to hiring of translators or linguists. Have a read of this blog from the Czech LSP Zelenka which looked at the hiring needs of the translation industry and how there is much more of a need to hire with clients in mind in order to produce better translations and thus a better customer experience.

12. How do you measure CX success?

As with any project, it is important to be able to measure if it’s working, or not. Many people assume that because we are dealing with emotions and something that is intangible that it is impossible to track or measure. Wrong.

There are plenty of ways such a some of these examples here, but ultimately the metrics you decide to use will come down to your own objectives as a company.

So, you ready to start the CX revolution at work? Good luck – go mix things up a bit and create a clear difference between you and the competition.

Information Sciences Institute to develop translation and information-retrieval system for rarer languages

A sign of things to come? A team of researchers from the ISI at the University of Southern California has received a $16.7 million grant from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to develop an automated information translation and summarization tool to quickly translate “low resource languages”.

The ISI team’s project is called SARAL, which stands for Summarization and domain-Adaptive Retrieval (a Hindi word whose translations include “simple” and “ingenious”), and includes experts in machine translation, speech recognition, morphology, information retrieval, representation, and summarization.

The overall objective is to provide a Google-like capability, except the queries are in English but the retrieved documents are in a low-resource foreign language.

Principal investigator and ISI research team leader Scott Miller

“The aim is to retrieve relevant foreign-language documents and to provide English summaries explaining how each document is relevant to the English query.”

In this project, the ISI team will initially test their systems using Tagalog and Swahili, two low-resource languages selected by IARPA for the task. Over the course of the project, the team will receive additional languages to translate using the systems.

The Translation of Low-Resource Languages

Although so-called “low resource languages” are often spoken by millions of people worldwide, relatively little written material exists in these languages.

This creates a challenge for current translation systems, which typically “learn” from seeing millions of written examples.

“Since we don’t have a lot of written data in these languages, we have to do more with less,” says ISI computer scientist Jonathan May.

“Ideally, we would use about 300 million words to train a machine translation system–and in this case, we have around 800,000 words. There are about 100,000 words per novel, so we have only eight novels’ worth of words to work from.”

The researchers will begin the project by compiling documents in the test languages, including speech, online documents, and video clips, which have previously been translated into English.

They will then develop algorithms to analyze the language patterns, such as sentence structure–subject, verb and object position, for example–and morphology, the structure of words and their relation to other words in the same language.


In addition to ISI, a number of universities and research institutions will work towards the same goal: John Hopkins, Columbia University, and Raytheon BBN Technologies are also taking part in the IARPA program, called MATERIAL, which stands for Machine Translation for English Retrieval of Information in Any Language.


The Information Sciences Institute (ISI) at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering is one of the nation¹s largest, most technologically diverse,and impactful university-affiliated computer research institutes. Today, ISI researchers continue to perform groundbreaking work in cutting-edge areas such as natural language processing, deep machine learning, computer vision, cyber security, biometrics, space technologies, networking,high-performance and reconfigurable computing systems, medical informatics, and scientific computing workflows.

Headquartered in Marina del Rey, California, with research offices in Arlington, Virginia and Greater Boston, Massachusetts, ISI employs about 300 engineers, research scientists, graduate students and staff. In 2017, the Institute’s expenditures surpassed a record $100 million, with projects ranging from trusted electronics, to quantum computing and automated forecasting of geopolitical events.

Bite-size tips on getting the best out of challenging telephone calls

With most translation companies having a diverse international client base, many of the individuals with whom staff interact have English as a second language.

Although the majority of these individuals speak English on a native speaker level, there are also those who don’t. Add into the mix, accents, industry speak/terminology and potential client impatience and conversations can sometimes become rather a challenge – if not overwhelming for those new to the industry and interfacing at client level.

Within the translation industry, building the communication skills relevant to such a diverse client base isn’t something that can merely be gained in formal communication skills training.

On the job experience, is critical to understanding how best to communicate with individuals who may be difficult to understand.

Most industry professionals develop these skills over a period of time and eventually become adept at managing productive dialogues with individuals who may struggle with the English language, or indeed pose other communication challenges. This is a skills that should never be underestimated.

In the interim, what tips can you use to support new staff who will undoubtedly find themselves in such situations? How do you help them to get the best out of situations where language may pose a barrier without becoming flustered or anxious?

In this bite-sized overview, Accensus have pulled together some tips and strategies to assist new staff members:

  • Do not become awkwardly silent on the phone and certainly don’t gesticulate wildly to other staff members that you are having trouble understanding your caller. These behaviours will make you unsettled and probably cause you to misunderstand key information.
  • Do not cause offense by responding with words such as ‘huh?’ or an immediate ‘I don’t understand’. Take control of the call and use language that is more likely to be understood and create a connection with the caller, such as, ‘thank you for calling’, ‘my name is xxxx’, ‘please can you tell me your name’. By knowing their name, you are better able to make an assumption as to the caller’s native language. If you can’t determine their native language by name and accent then ask which country they are calling from.
  • At this point, remember to smile! This may feel to be strange advice but interestingly, it is commonly accepted through research that individuals can perceive smiles indirectly over mediums such as the telephone
  • Do not SHOUT or speak louder! The fact the caller has a strong accent or poor language skills does not mean they are deaf. Ensuring your language is clear and simple will be sufficient.

How To Deal with Non-English Speakers on the Phone

  • It is very likely that the speaker is aware that they have a strong accent or that they may not have sufficient language understanding to make themselves fully understood. Although it’s easy to do and a trap that many new people to the industry fall into, never pretend you have understood to avoid offence. This is not helpful, it’s guaranteed to make the situation more difficult and it may also result in lost business, damage to the relationship or both.
  • Tell the caller, politely and clearly that you didn’t understand using language such as ‘I am very sorry but I didn’t understand’ ‘Please can you repeat that more slowly?’ It’s very important at this stage that the caller recognises that you value their call and that you are keen to understand their needs.
  • When the individual repeats themselves, listen for key words and terms. As a natural point of dialogue, it is likely that they will emphasise the phrases they would like you to understand.
  • Repeat your understanding back to the individual, using simple language and check your understanding by using open ended questions as opposed to a simple yes or no.
  • If you are still having problems, then establish whether there is anyone within the company who shares the same native language as the caller and put the individual on hold while you ask that person to take over the call. This should always be a last resort as, language skills or no language skills, there’s nothing more frustrating for a caller than being diverted to someone else and having to restate the original request.
  • If there are no speakers in the office who share the same native language, then ask the individual to write their requirement in an email. Quite often the written form is easier to understand than the spoken form.
  • In most cases, the need is resolved by this point and the individual’s requirements can be dealt with. However, if this isn’t the case then consider asking a trusted translator / interpreter to manage the call for you or to email them on your behalf.
  • Avoid jargon and keep the message simple! When responding to potential emails from this individual, ensure that your emails are written simply and in such a way that they will be understood.

Chinese Social App and Global LSP Combine Forces

SYSTRAN International has announced that is has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with HelloTalk, China’s leading service provider of foreign language learning and social networking services.

With more than 8 million users, HelloTalk have entered the agreement with the translation provider as a part of GCS (Global Creative Software) co-funded government project, called “Development of SaaS-based Translation Platform with integration of Neural Machine Translation and Crowdsourcing Human Translation”.

According to official sources, SYSTRAN Vice President Dongpil Kim and HelloTalk CEO Zackery Ngai (pictured above) signed the Memorandum of Understanding today with the LSP set to start providing translation services that will allow the Chinese language learning app to expand its client base, improve its Users’ Experience and more importantly develop NMT in key languages.

SYSTRAN hopes to improve the app’s conversation translation engines with corpus from HelloTalk’s millions of users.  These in turn will help the language learning process for users and allow for multilingual conversations between users.

High on the to-do-list for SYSTRAN is to develop high quality Korean Pure Neural™ Machine Translation  based on the high demand of Korean users.

SYSTRAN will also provide technical support on developments for real time translation, OCR, and grammar correction for three language pairs: Chinese -> Korean, Korean -> Chinese and Chinese -> English.

This is an important collaboration for us and we are very glad to start an innovative language social network with HelloTalk. Now, it is possible to develop more sophisticated neural machine translation with the vast amount of high quality corpus. We will put a lot of effort to continuously provide high quality translation service to global customers including HelloTalk users.

Lucas Ji, Chairman of SYSTRAN.

Who are SYSTRAN?

SYSTRAN was originally founded by Dr. Peter Toma in 1968 and is now one of the oldest machine translation companies in the world, providing the technology for Yahoo! Babel Fish among others. It was used by Google’s language tools until 2007.

With its origin in the Georgetown machine translation effort, SYSTRAN was one of the few machine translation systems to survive the major decrease of funding after the ALPAC Report of 1966.

The LSP was established in La Jolla, California (USA) due to its work on translation of Russian to English texts for the United States Air Force during the Cold War.

The company was sold in 1986 to the Gachot family, based in Paris, and is now traded publicly on the French stock exchange.

During the dot-com boom, the international language industry started a new era, and SYSTRAN entered into agreements with a number of translation integrators, the most successful of these being WorldLingo.

In 2014, the company was acquired by CSLi (Korea).

Contact Person: Gibeom Kim
Cell number: +82 10 2805 5663

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Happy New Year to everyone in the translation & localization industry! Well done on another amazing year. Onto 2018!

What are some of your predictions for this upcoming year?

Well, we went to our local fortune teller to find out and this is what insider information our $25 bought us. We thought we had better share the news!

Do you disagree or agree with any predictions? Tweet us your thoughts over at @_accensus

1. Part of the industry’s wealth via supply chain transactions will pass over into some sort of cryptocurrency form as blockchain technology gains traction.

2. Translation & localization will see the industry’s first major cyber-crime in the form of a hack, theft of information, ransom or cyber-attack.

3. NMT will continue to impact the industry and change the automation side of language translation.

4. Voice-on-Command translation will be a buzz service and see demand grow along with the likes of Alexa, Amazon Echo, etc.

5. There will be huge investments in R&D around language, translation & big data by the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook.

6. In SEO, agencies and LSPs will start to compete with government websites, ‘translation service’ pages on the likes of Fiverr, People per Hour, etc. and other non-industry players.

7. Translation functions will increasingly be brought in-house as opposed to outsourced, reducing demand for LSPs in some sectors.

8. 2018 will see the rise of the Asian agency – with capital to invest, IT-savvy staff and hunger to expand, these agencies will start to make a dent in European and US markets.

9. The skills gap in the industry will become evident as clients’ demands for specialist skills means language and industry knowledge is no longer enough.

10. Less translators will move into languages such as Spanish, German, French, etc due to the impact of computer assisted translation.

11. There will be a greater division of labour among translators – i.e. those with technical expertise vs. those doing manual translations.

12. African, Middle Eastern and S.E. Asian languages will be in greater demand.

13. Clients will work more with more than one LSP making it incumbent on business owners to forge strategic alliances.

14. Project Managers will start to morph into sales, admin and support roles as increased automation continues to impact the nature of their roles.

15. Sector Experts will become more important for LSPs as a way to attract new clients and also as a way to teach staff/colleagues the skills they need to know in order to service a sector or a specific client – i.e. in life sciences, fintech, health, etc – these will be the people that help drive diversification & specialisation.

16. Qualified translators will lose their privileged status as agencies start to place equal emphasis on people with language skills who know a topic inside out, i.e. gaming, automotive, etc. in order to produce better translations.

17. We will see some SME-sized agencies go bust due to global pressures, competition, economy, lack of planning and/or over-reaching investments.

18. Language and translation will become more politicized than ever before in its use by political powers who weaponize words and are interested in the obfuscation of information.

19. Investment in people will become important with staff training taking precedence in areas such as virtual working, management, creative thinking, sales, communication and problem solving.

20. Clients will expect LSPs and translation agencies to have full IT flexibility and be able to plug into any system they may use – LSPs must be fluent in both the language and practicalities of working across technical platforms.

21. Diversification & specialisation will show themselves to be key to survival in the industry – become niche, focused and specialist, adapt and thrive or struggle.

22. Support companies focused on helping and selling to LSPs will become more prevalent in the industry as a sign of continued growth – i.e. IT, CRM, web, marketing, training, etc.

23. Customer Experience (CX) will come to define winners and losers at mid- to top-level translation & localization companies.

24. Subtitling & voice translation will grow as demand for online entertainment increases globally through Over-the-top media services like Netflix & Amazon.

25. Local talent will become more important for LSPs looking to spread themselves across more territories in terms of sales.

26. Marketing messages from LSPs will shift from ‘benefits & features’ to ‘how we solve your problems’ as marketers acknowledge the audience has matured in terms of the messages it wants to see & hear.

Let’s see what happens! It’s going to be an interesting 2018, that’s for sure.