Preference management can lift that weight off your shoulders

When you give work to a translation agency, you expect the finished product to come back perfect. But what happens when the document doesn’t quite live up to your expectations? It’s often you, the person who requested the translation, who (thinking you’ll save time and hassle) ends up adjusting the text to align it with certain key preferences, whether yours or those of your team or organization.

People who do this often see the same issues crop up from one translation to another and, in turn, find themselves constantly having to make the same corrections. They spend too much time rewriting the provider’s translation, which prevents them from focusing on other priorities. The recurrence of the same linguistic irritations may undermine their trust in the agency and could even lead to disputes.

But there is a way to avoid all that! It’s simply a question of ensuring that preference management is part of the service provider’s quality approach.

The source of the problem

Imagine you get a translation back that you are not fully satisfied with. Some of the linguistic choices do not reflect your preferences, for instance. You see those choices as errors. It’s not how you would have translated it.

You wonder if it’s worth pointing it out to the provider. It might seem easier and faster to make the changes yourself than to discuss them with the translator and wait for a revised version.

So you decide to adjust the translation yourself, based on your preferences. But will you send the revised version back to the agency so its language experts can take note of your changes for future translations? You might actually forget to do it if things are really busy. Or you might be hesitant about losing time discussing with the translator to “justify” your changes. That’s where the problem begins. If you don’t inform the provider of your preferences, the translators won’t be able to adapt to your needs. There are so many ways to say the same thing and they can’t know what you prefer if you don’t tell them.

It’s like going to a hair salon and just asking for a haircut, without specifying what style you want. You would never do that, right? Because there’s a good chance you wouldn’t like the result. In translation, if you consistently work that way, more likely than not your projects will become a source of frustration for you.

Preference management: An essential service

In communications, preferences are not just incidental details. They are as essential as accuracy in language and terminology choices and compliance with your communication standards. But very often preferences are not taken into consideration or managed systematically, which they should be as part of an essential service.

Here we are talking about personal or group preferences regarding terms and expressions that are commonly used or that should be avoided. In some cases, however, it involves even more significant preferences that apply to the organization as a whole. For example, you may prefer your translations to use simpler language, rather than a more formal, less reader-friendly style.

Without effective preference management, many translations may be unsatisfactory even if they are accurate in form and substance. That’s why it should be a basic component in a professional agency’s quality approach.

Helping your provider document your preferences

Like all other facets of quality and compliance, preference management must be planned and documented. Many clients feel uncomfortable pointing out their preference for one expression or term over another. Some think they shouldn’t have to do it and that it should go without saying. Others fear they won’t be understood and that their preferences will be seen as mere whims of little importance.

The good news is that clients who clearly communicate their preferences end up being very pleasantly surprised. The agency makes a point of documenting the information provided and is very quickly able to operate as if its translators were colleagues of its clients rather than external resources. Translation compliance increases quickly and consistently, without requesters having to go to any trouble or losing time. Basically, it’s a matter of giving the provider what it needs to become the partner you need.

Require that your agency understand and manage your preferences

Not all providers include professional client preference management in their quality approach. Many don’t even mention it, either before they start providing services to a client organization or during the mandate. Also, these agencies may not necessarily assign your documents to the same translators from one project to another, thereby missing out on an essential practice that would help them become aware of and comply with your preferences. Very often, nothing changes, even if the agency constantly has problems clearly linked to client preferences. This is a serious shortcoming, as your provider is a virtual extension of your team. Its experts should and can be as informed as your organization’s employees.

If a potential provider never asks about your preferences during your discussions, it’s important to raise the matter directly and request clear answers. If preference management is not part of the services provided by your current agency or of its quality criteria, do not hesitate to ask for a change in the situation.

Three steps for effective preference management


Understanding preferences requires open client-provider communication. First, there needs to be agreement on the importance of preference management. When people in your organization request translations and are asked to indicate their preferences, they also need to be told what that means. Your provider explains how you can assist it in becoming familiar with your preferences. One of the best ways is to examine your reference documents which clearly show your preferences for tone, style, wording and terminology.


The provider goes through the reference documents you make available and consults you if clarity is needed. The provider then creates a guide that can be readily consulted, where each preference is explained in context. The guide can be submitted to you for approval. Once published, the guide is updated regularly as new projects are worked on. The provider also includes in the guide any additional preferences you indicate and that have not already been documented.

Continuous improvement

As with the other steps, continuous improvement is based on trust in the provider’s approach and mutual collaboration. Your agency’s goal is to ensure your satisfaction and make your day-to-day life simpler in several ways, including by providing:

  • proactive support to help you communicate your preferences quickly and easily when you notice lapses in compliance;
  • immediate follow-ups with your requesters if the agency’s translators feel they are seeing new preferences in your source documents and would like to know how you want them to be translated in the target language;
  • proactive collaboration with your requesters to find satisfactory alternatives if certain personal or team preferences are contrary to your organization’s standards and cannot be applied;
  • periodic reviews of all your preferences and how they are managed.

Managing your preferences is a priority for Versacom

For Versacom, preference management is the cornerstone of the quality approach we put in place for you from day one and regularly improve upon. Our approach is based on the three steps described above, and even more. Our experts have proven to the most demanding clients—including the most skeptical—that it pays to actively manage preferences.

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