Despite having clear standards set out by the ISO, less than 1% of translation firms have achieved ISO certification.
In most professions, there’s usually a healthy discourse on the utility, value, and meaning of standards. For most consumers, ‘standards’ rarely come up. When you’re considering hiring a translation services firm or freelancer, you’re probably not thinking about standards – you’re more interested in things like pricing, turn-around times, and references from previous clients.
And those metrics will serve you well, and it’s fine to regard standards – like the ISO 9001:2008 Certification Standard for translation work – as internal metrics you don’t need to worry about. But do consider this: ISO standards like this one deal with the very metrics you use to decide who to hire for your translation work, and they make those metrics mean something because they hold translators to a measurable standard. In short, I would argue that not only are ISO certifications important for all of us who work in the industry, they’re vital for our customers, as well. It’s how you know you’re hiring someone who can actually do the job.
Less Than 1%
I don’t have exact numbers, but I’ve read that less than 1% of translation firms adhere to the ISO 9001:2008 standard. That’s a pretty sad number, because the ISO certification centres on some very basic aspects of translation work, like
- On-time delivery
- Quote accuracy
- Job accuracy
- Customer satisfaction
- Key Client Retention
- Customer Contact
As you can see, right there is the basic stuff of translation work in the modern world. When you hire a translation firm or freelancer, that’s what you want to know: Do they hit their dates, do they bill as expected, is the work done accurately – are previous clients satisfied and repeat customers? That’s the value of the certification: It offers something to measure these things against, with one side being ‘good’ and the other ‘sub-standard.’
Look for Certification
So why wouldn’t you use this tool? Why go on vague anecdotal memories of colleagues and competitors, when you could instead actually measure these metrics accurately and know, instead of guessing, that a translation firm will do the work for you and do it well?
Part of the problem is the lack of profile the standard has – few customers are even aware of it. And of course part of it stems from that 1% figure – so few translators and translation firms adhere to these standards it’s difficult to commit to hiring only ones that do.
Even more difficult is the fact that since the certification isn’t seen as having much marketing power, many firms that do meet the standards don’t bother trumpeting the fact by actually getting officially certified by the ISO.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use these standards in your decision-making, however. Know what they should be and what’s required by the certification process, and insist that your vendors meet those standards, whether they are literally certified or not. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.
Image courtesy aluminiummartignyfrance.com