Finding your Chinese localization partner

The rise of the Chinese economy has brought about a continuous growth of the country’s localization and translation sector. The major driver is the ever-growing international business between China and other countries. Therefore, the effectiveness of communication between those business partners has become a top priority. The Chinese localization sector has itself evolved over the years to attain the required professionalism and standard necessary to support this important communication task.

With over 3000 localization and translation agencies existing in China today (based on my best knowledge of currently registered companies), what indicators can help us identify their professionalism and level of services? Here are some qualification criteria, that will help international companies to find and evaluate the right localization partner in China.

Who sets the criteria

The first question we need to answer is: Who sets the qualification criteria or measures? In other words, who drives them? Is it only the client? Or the vendor? Or both? According to my experience both – client and vendor – set the qualification criteria: Initially, the vendor helps to set the framework for the measurements because only he encompasses the flow of the localization process. The client drives the depth of the measures to be taken to ensure that he gets the quality that matches his investment of time and money. In recent years, clients have become increasingly involved in the process of setting up the framework for the flow of the localization process. This is due to the increased knowledge they have acquired, which enables them to receive more personalized solutions to match their localization needs.

Therefore, both strive to attain high standards for the qualification criteria in the areas of quality, timeliness, cost and – eventually – total customer experience.

Which criteria should be considered

As the Chinese believe that eight is an auspicious number, here are the eight qualification criteria, although the list can be extended.

1. History/background/growth pattern

Everyone has a story to tell in their specialized field. In this case you should ask about the client’s background in localization. It is like a job interview process: What makes the candidate think he or she is able to contribute their service to the benefit of your company? In our case it is essential to evaluate the following:

  • What services does the vendor focus on? Does the vendor have a clear indication of the areas that they are specialized in?
  • For how many years has the vendor been offering these services? I personally recommend to choose a service provider with a minimum of three years of localization experience, both on an individual level as well as on a company level.
  • How has the vendor performed financially in the past three years?
  • How is the growth pattern for staffing and research and development?

2. Business development strategy

Every business needs a plan to grow. The question is, does the vendor’s business growth plan dilute the focus of the current services or value-add to them by giving the clients even more valuable benefits. We look at:

  • The areas of service focus.
  • The resources distribution in supporting the growth strategy.
  • Any changes in the existing support in the long run.
  • Growth due to industry push or innovative entrepreneurship. Evaluate how the vendor harnesses changes in the industry using their creativity in providing relevant solutions for the client’s latest localization needs.

3. Supporting structure

Every business has to establish a fundamental structure to achieve the desirable outcome. The main concern here is the vendor’s ability to deliver. Evaluate the sustainability using the following four supporting pillars:

  • Fundamental company structure: Marketing/Sales, Human Resource, Operation, Finance/Purchase, Administration, Information Technology support
  • Essential localization operation functions: Project Management, Translation/Editing/ Proofreading, Quality Assurance, Desktop Publishing, Software Engineering & Tool support
  • Operation risk management
  • Account management servicing structure

4. Project team qualification

Every business has to provide the right resources in order to do their job well and deliver the right result. Making sure that the resources of the right caliber have been allocated is therefore essential. Here are some recommended areas:

  • Get to know the key personnel for each of the localization operation functions of a project:Project manager, Translator/Editor/ Proofreader, Quality Assurance manager, Desktop Publishing specialist, Software Engineer.
  • Check the number of years that the project team members have been working in the industry and in the company.
  • Check the overall employee turnover rate of the company. Ideally it should be less than ten percent.
  • Make sure the vendor’s staff represents a good mix of language degrees and technical degrees. Ideally, the project manager has a major degree in English if serving international clients; team members should hold a degree in Linguistics and in at least one other major industry field.
  • Make sure that the vendor looks back on a minimum of two to three years of working experience.
  • Make sure that the vendor has experience in working for similar project types.
  • Check the training and mentoring program that the resources went through individually and as a team.

5. Communication capability

Check the speed of communication versus the clarity of communication. What is the vendor’s level of involvement in balancing these two elements of communication? Here are some evaluation hints:

  • How high is the vendor’s investment in technology? (High-speed internet access, FTP site, online meeting such as Netmeeting, conference call, laptop readily available for mobility, in near future 3G mobility capability).
  • Does the vendor company train its staff in communication etiquette?
  • Does the vendor have a proven system to facilitate clear communication with the client regarding queries, feedback and problem solving.

6. Quality assurance capability

What are the vendor’s initiatives and commitments to ensure quality? Is there sufficient support from top management to follow through and make sure that all levels of the organization abide by the initiatives? The following should be taken into consideration:

  • Does the vendor company follow a core philosophy and have core values? For example, in my company, we use the tagline: “Quality is our boss who pays our salary”.
  • Does the vendor company train its staff in observing and practicing quality assurance in every part of the process that they perform?
  • Is the quality assurance system able to control the normal localization workflow and to withstand the ad hoc updates during and after the project delivery?

7. Trial translation performance appraisal

Trial translation is for the following purpose:

  • Rest the mind of the client.
  • For the good of the vendor.
  • It is a waste of time.
  • And the answer is…: Yes, it is necessary for both client and vendor and we should look out for the following attributes in the vendor’s performance:
  • The vendor fully understands and has adequate knowledge to perform what has been requested by the client.
  • Clarity of communication.
  • Attitude of service.
  • Quality of work.
  • Timeliness.
  • Matching what has been priced against the overall client experience before, during and after the trial translation project.

8. Ongoing support

How can client and vendor grow their relationship? What are some of the developments that clients should be constantly looking for in their localization partner? Here are some things to consider:

  • Tools upgrade plan.
  • Ad hoc and periodic update management.
  • Terminology and translation memory maintenance.
  • Feedback mechanism for ongoing improvement.
  • Project team changes.
  • Account management servicing changes.
  • Future company directions.

 

Conclusion

These criteria look towards providing a framework for those who are currently looking for a localization partner in China and in Asia, and those who are still considering and now with the right knowledge of assessing the vendors, will speed up their process of looking for a suitable Asian partner to expand their services to their clients.
There remain other topics of interests involving the core characteristics of a Chinese vendor,
for example, their business model, business culture, client relationship management style and challenges that they face everyday. I hope to share these insights with you in my next article in the coming weeks.


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