Monday, January 12, 2009

Good customer service is a wonderful thing when you encounter it. I don't mean the sort of fawning pampering that simply strokes the ego. I'm talking here abut the sort of customer service that changes our perceptions, alters the way we think about doing things, and makes us "rearrange our prejudices", to quote a friend of mine.

I run a technical translation company. For many years now, we have used translation memory tools in order to ensure consistency in the translations that we produce. Over the years, I've actually worked with several different TM tools. But as a general rule, for most of our production work we stick with a market-leading translation memory system. There are a number of reasons for this (and I suspect these reasons are not unique to our company). These include: we're familiar with it, we've invested a lot of time in learning its foibles, in understanding how it works, in developing our skillsets and professional expertise with this software. If we're going to change to a different translation memory package, we will need a good incentive to do so.

And last week, we got one.

One of our clients has a habit of sending their user manuals to us as large Word files. OK, there is a separate point to be made about the wisdom of that - and no, I wouldn't necessarily do it that way myself. But it works for our client. It fits with their workflow requirements, and their skillsets. So our job is to find ways to translate these big Word files. And generally, that works just fine. The translation memory tools that we use grumble a bit, our translators grumble a bit, but it works.

Every once in a while, though, we hit a file that the regular translation memory tool that we use simply cannot process. Normally, with a bit of detective work, we can work out why, then solve the problem and carry on with the translation. Normally, but not always.

Last week, we received a 40 MB file in Word that we simply could not translate in our normal translation memory system. We'd had problems with previous versions of this manual over the past couple of years. So we decided to stop banging our head on a brick wall, and try something different.

One of the TM tools (sorry! I mean "Translation environments") that we've been looking at recently is called MemoQ. We've owned licences for it for a couple of years, but each time I look at rolling MemoQ out for production use we either find some minor gremlin that renders it unsuitable for our needs, or we simply hit a workflow issue that renders the change unattractive in business terms. In fairness, I must immediately point out that the developers of MemoQ have always listened politely to any feedback I have given them, and have always gone away and acted on our feedback, usually within a week or two. That in itself is impressive.

So, to recap, we had a big Word file that we needed to translate. And our regular TM program (or Computer Aided Translation tool, to use all the jargon terms!) didn't want to play ball (with a 40 MB file, that is actually understandable....).

Time to try something different. One of our project managers worked with me and we processed the overlarge Word file using MemoQ. This was an engineering test only - we didn't worry about producing a good translation. We invested minimal time to produce a "translation" that was actually half in German and half in English. Then we said "OK, now kick out our translation as a Word file, please." Not unreasonably, MemoQ declined. It gave me messages about "out of memory" (which again, I can entirely understand - doing anything to a 40 MB Word file is going to use a lot of memory!).

But here comes the good bit. On Friday afternoon, I sent an email to the support team at Kilgray (the developers of MemoQ). And by the end of the working day on Friday, after several messages backwards and forwards, they had very kindly exported our file for us, and given me some helpful pointers on how to work around this problem in the future. Above all, their excellent, responsive customer service gave me the confidence to have our translator team work in MemoQ to translate this file.

And that's the point about excellent customer service. The MemoQ guys took this opportunity to show me what their software can do to support a professional translator, and what their support guys can and will do to support their clients. I was impressed. Support like this gives me confidence that if we run into any technical issues, they will be resolved - quickly, and helpfully.

Every once in a while, you get to glimpse the future. To see a better way of doing things. For me, last week was one of those occasions. To István, Gábor and Sándor, a very big "thank you"!


Blogger Kevin Lossner said...

How funny. Your developing relationship with MemoQ seems to have followed a path similar to mine. I've looked at the product for over a year, but it never really quite did what I wanted for "real" work. But the support was great, and it kept getting better. Then suddenly with the 3.5 version, a lot of things came together and the product works better for me in most respects than Trados or DVX, and my remaining issues are scheduled to be resolved in version 4 by the end of the year. I don't think there is any team out there right now to match the Kilgray crew for development and support. Let's hope they can inspire the competition to raise their game!

10:43 AM  
Blogger Jacquie said...

Maybe I'm lucky, as I never tried any other CAT or Translation Environment tools, and just stumbled upon MemoQ late 2008. Anyway as a freelancer doing mostly communication and business documents, I really didn't see much of an improvement in output at first, but now, I have just made the big jump to purchasing the MemoQ pro license, and hate to work without it.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin Lossner said...

Lucky is the word for it, Jacquie. Since I wrote my original comment here ages ago I've had a few experiences similar to Nick's - a few days ago it was The TTX File From Hell. The support guys got it sorted out and exported the file for me in less than an hour so I could meet my deadline and keep the customer happy. The whole support team at Kilgray really deserves a gold medal. Or at least a case of beer next time I'm in Budapest.

7:02 PM  

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