Quality—How important are chocolate chip cookies?
Compare, Measure, Evaluate, Assess Need
When the family complained that my chocolate chip cookies didn’t taste right, I conducted an experiment. I had used generic chips as a cost-cutting measure, and they apparently had a larger impact than I realized. I baked a large batch, divided it into 4 parts, and stirred in 4 different brands of chocolate chips. When I put the cookies on 4 different plates, unlabeled, and asked my family to silently rank the cookies from best to worst, I was astonished to see that everyone rated the batches in the same order. Back to the chips I usually bought!
When I buy a grocery product for the first time, I often purchase one unit of the most expensive brand and one of the least expensive. Then I determine how large the difference is and what I need in that particular product. Sometimes, as with the chocolate chips, I buy the more expensive brand. (Why bake cookies if they’re not going to taste good?) Sometimes, as with wrapping paper for children, I choose the least expensive. If it holds together long enough to get into the toddler’s hands, it’s good enough.
I could measure the cookies with a simple questionnaire. Larger purchases, however, require not only a comparison of features but also a measure of their relative importance. I’m currently looking for a new car. Reliability is my absolute primary concern. Will the car spend more time at the dealer’s than in my garage? Then I don’t want it, no matter how well it’s connected to my social media accounts or how good the bass reproduction is. Other people may rank heated seats and parking assist at the top of their lists.
I also don’t want an unreliable vehicle, no matter how inexpensive, because quality is, of course, tied to cost. I am, thankfully, in a position where I can spend more to obtain a reliable car. In the end, I spend less because the car lasts longer with fewer repairs. This is in line with the Samuel Vimes theory of socioeconomic unfairness, which says that the poor man who buys cheap shoes spends more than the rich man who buys expensive shoes because the poor man must replace his shoes more often. If I planned to replace my car every two years, I would use different evaluation metrics.
I also have to stay within my budget. Even though I’d love to drive a Lamborghini, preferably a red Aventador LP 700-4 Roadster, I also have a mortgage to pay! [picture of the car?]
I buy, then, the best product that meets my needs and that my financial situation will allow:
Buying a service requires the same thought processes as buying a product, but we often lack the knowledge and resources we can apply to a durable goods purchase, such as researching features and reading reviews online. How do I choose an accountant if I’ve never used one before? How do I evaluate an attorney if the only interaction I’ve had is with the personal injury attorney who visited me in the hospital? Who wrote the reviews that said s/he is wonderful? How much weight do I give a negative review without knowing details? Assuming the necessary credentials are in place, how do I know what I need from a service provider? And how do I know if their pricing is reasonable?
Price is, of course, tied to quality. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Let’s assume that you find a quality service provider. The next step is determining what you need. Will only top quality do, if only for your peace of mind? Or is this one of those times when the cheapest wrapping paper is sufficient? Remember, too, that prices can be inflated solely to give the illusion of quality, particularly for something you can’t hold in your hand.
As in any other industry, the consumer finds a wide range of prices within our industry: low-skill beginners with no credentials; high-skill beginners with great credentials but no experience; highly experienced linguists who have only worked on one type of document and can command high prices in that area; married pairs who provide translation and revision between the two of them; large high-tech agencies that treat the hundreds of linguists on staff like so much meat; tiny shops that produce superior work but close in the summer months for vacation; and even free online translation services (and why would you pay for something you can get for free?!). Determining the price point that best fits your needs can be a bit daunting.
At Tembua, we ask our potential client how the document will be used. Is it a foreign document to be read only for information? By all means, use an online service, but take the results with a grain of salt. Is it an IFU to be filed in Europe in 17 languages? We suggest a biomedical linguistic team consisting of translators, revisers, subject matter expert editors, and project managers, and we will send resumes and certifications as requested by our client. Does the client have discovery documents with scientific overtones? Tembua provides not only specialized translation teams but also equally specialized interpreters for depositions and hearings.
During the first 6 months after Tembua opened, we tried to be the low cost leader, only to realize that there was always someone who could undercut our pricing. Besides, it wasn’t a very satisfying way to do business. By the end of our first year in operation, we had begun to establish our reputation as a quality leader, and we’ve never looked back. (Translation quality metrics, by the way, are a mess of worms. Tembua’s background is perfect for sorting out them out. More about them in another newsletter.)
Our focus on quality means that not every potential client is a good fit for us. If top-quality linguistic services managed by trained project managers are needed, we’re here to help. If you’re hosting a one-day street fair and need flyers translated, we’re happy to help but can also direct you elsewhere.
With the end customer in mind, Tembua has built quality into every step of our procedures. I am always amazed to find a company that has failed to codify what they do every day into procedures that everyone can follow. Writing procedures is a long, complex process, of course, and needs constant review and revision, but how else can you train new hires to the standards you expect them to meet?
We had set procedures for every business process long before we certified to ISO 9001 and EN 15038, and this certainly made things easier when the auditor arrived the first time.
Having carefully written, thorough procedures, however, doesn’t automatically generate quality. Our very first level of quality control is the people we hire. They have to fit here and share our quality mindset from day 1. I can often make a judgment on this from a sloppy cover letter or an interviewee who shows up with stained or ripped clothes. This job requires meticulous attention to detail.
Our quality comes from our people. Complicated procedures and multicolored reports do not guarantee quality. No matter how strict the policies or how many check boxes are filled, poorly trained and under-qualified personnel cannot deliver quality at anything other than the most routine, manual tasks.
Quality, relevant content can’t be spotted by an algorithm. You can’t subscribe to it. You need people – actual human beings – to create or curate it.”
― Kristina Halvorson
When you need translation work, compare, measure, evaluate, and call us. We’re here to help!
I’d be interested to hear how you make purchasing decisions for services!