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In Praise of Commoditisation – or Giving the Customer What They Want

We hear a lot about the bugbear of commoditisation in the translation industry, and there is no doubt that life is harder now than it used to be.  But commoditisation is good for the end users of our translations, who benefit from the cost savings we achieve through increased efficiency.

In my experience the greatest pressure for Faster, Better and Cheaper comes from the more sophisticated clients.  With some notable exceptions (I’ll resist the temptation to name names, but you know who they are) serious buyers don’t commit the cardinal sin of buying blindly from the lowest bidder, they select the supplier offering the best price for the quality and speed they need.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, LSP clients are the most demanding of all – try taking on subcontract work if you don’t believe me.

Granted, there are an awful lot of novices out there buying terrible quality – and good luck to them – but clients with regular translation needs will sooner or later learn to buy more intelligently, and those buying serious volumes generally owe their jobs to their ability to do so.

It’s sensible that most ATC members differentiate by producing higher quality than our lower cost competitors – after all, our labour costs are so much higher than most overseas competitors, devalued Pound notwithstanding.  Nevertheless ‘Fit for Purpose’ deserves to be king.  Our clients should not have to pay a premium price for translation of a mattress catalogue, when raw translation from a junior translator will do.  We can best serve our clients by offering the flexibility to provide hand-stitched luxury when they want it, and something faster and cheaper when that’s all they need.

As everything else in the world speeds up, so to do clients’ turnaround expectations.  When a customer needs 100,000 words translated over the weekend, it matters not whose fault it was that translation was overlooked until the last minute.  We as service providers use our experience and skills to find a solution, and we earn our margin through the value we add in solving the problem.  OK, there may be inconsistency from having to use 10 translators, but the client got what they wanted.  Thumbs-up for the LSP who was prepared to find a way to get them out of jail.

By and large the trend of commoditisation is being driven not by the ignorant, but by people who know exactly what they are doing.  And the lower cost, faster and higher quality services they demand are being provided by people who respect that.

Some of the resulting savings filter through to the consumer, no doubt a portion goes onto clients’ profit margins.  But there was, and still is, scope for productivity to increase in our industry, so let’s embrace the challenge.

Henry Clough is the Managing Director of, Asian Absolute a global translation and localization services company with offices on 5 continents.

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