As a “service industry,” language providers often get caught in a service paradox. That is, we provide the requested service professionally and on time using deeply experienced linguists, but somehow, we find that our words fall short of customer expectations. Happily, we have found that as we look to understand and resolve this paradox, it has the potential to unlock a path that we believe can help us to evolve our industry.
The first step in this journey is to understand the difference and distinguish between service and solution. Providing a service means only delivering what has been requested. The service can and should be professional and courteous, but the result of the service is to provide a customer specifically with what customers requested.
Conversely, providing a solution means achieving an outcome that the client ultimately wanted to achieve. Often a given “outcome” and “request” can be one in the same, at least at an initial consideration. For instance, “I want this document translated” and the provision of a translation “service” to translate it seem like an ideal match. But if we really are to move forward on our journey we must ask – is the request really the outcome that the client is asking for. In our example perhaps the end goal is not to “get a document to be translated” but instead to “engage with a customer” or “secure a sale”.
By its nature, a solution requires a team to identify the real driver behind the request—what is the fundamental need to be addressed, and what are the roadblocks to success? The reason this can be challenging is that to really know why a service is being asked for, I must possess a deep knowledge of the topic and the customers raising it.
From Commodity to Consultant
At United Language Group (ULG), this distinction between service and solution has become a critical foundation of the way we see both ULG as a company and the broader industry evolving. Finding the path to a solution is a passion for our teams.
Our passion for a solution-oriented approach and the reason we see this as critical step for the evolution of our industry began in one of the core regulated industries we support: healthcare.
We were often asked for translations of basic healthcare patient instructions such as “please take this pill” or “please fill out this form.” We used experienced linguists who knew the market and translated the phrases in different ways for many different clients, yet a common result was that the form did not get filled out or the pill did not get taken.
The impact of patient noncompliance is severe because when patients don’t take pills and fill out health risk forms, factually people get sicker and turn up in more serious conditions in the Emergency Room in a few months’ time. According to the CMS Guide to Reducing Disparities in Readmissions found here, officials estimate readmission costs of approximately $17 billion come from potentially avoidable readmissions of which about 30% relate to language and culturally based disparity. So, despite the millions of dollars spent on translated materials the “outcome” that was really needed was not being achieved. Our clients were asking for words, but words alone where not enough to create the desired outcome.
Begin With the End in Mind
As a result of lessons learned from this situation, ULG evolved to focus on the solution instead of the requested service. In doing so, we asked our clients what their end goal was. If the end goal was to get people to take the medicine and fill out the forms, then we needed to rethink our services to meet that goal and step back from words alone.
That’s when we started to take a closer look at cultural relevance. We developed outreach programs where patients were spoken to in their native language and in a way that was sensitive to their specific culture. Our interpreters completed training to understand the purpose of each medical program. We rewrote the engagement scripts and we reached out to the target audience in multiple media channels to better prepare them and provide context for the requests and support of the engagements they would have. Through culturalization within the media outreach we re-aligned goals away from “the individual” to focus on impact to the “family” to better motivate engagement. Finally, we created content that addressed culturally specific concerns that were the foundation of why a non-English speaking community does not engage in the US healthcare system.
We worked with the data, the community, and the healthcare organizations to build trust and understand these non-English speaking member groups. The outcome was significant, not perfect, but a big step forward in outcomes: 50 percent increase in completed health risk assessments and 35 percent improvement in critical follow-up scheduling. For sure we translated materials and provided over-the-phone interpretation (OPI) services but only to the extent they could drive the final outcome. We have worked with these healthcare entities for years and have never convinced them to pay more for translation service. It’s a competitive and aggressive market. But we didn’t have to convince them to pay more for improving patient outcomes, they wanted to expand the program.
Evolution to Solution
As we started to center on a strategy of improved outcomes, we matured our approach to achieving them. We broadened our skill set and offerings to include auditing, video remote interpreting, and physical presence solutions. We also started to look at other industries and verticals we support as a global solution provider to apply what we had learned across the board.
For example, in the insurance industry, we analyzed the end goal of a medical claims platform and realized artificial intelligence (AI) data extraction was of as much importance as translation services. Changing the focus reduced the total loaded cost per foreign claim processed by up to 80 percent and the turnaround time by 50 percent. This same client now processes 40 percent more non-English claims today than a year ago. On top of that, the improved processing speed prevents government fines associated with lack of support for claims processing to healthcare member groups.
For one of our enterprise clients, we reviewed the goal of search engine optimization (SEO) translation requests and worked with the customer not just to translate a list of words, but also to create an in-country SEO campaign. The campaign increased visibility and engagement to their target audience, resulting in 150 percent greater web traffic and click-throughs.
As we noted in the beginning, even with a “solution” focus, the solution is still often simply a good old-fashioned translation or interpretation service, it really is exactly what is needed. The fact is most of the work we do involves providing traditional language services. However, the service we offer will always be driven by the client’s end goals. Over the past few years, we have used the solution focus to evolve our business and found increasingly that it is this approach that is creating the most value and potential for and with our customers.
In each instance where we moved from simply providing a service to exploring and delivering a solution, we saw tremendous benefits. In each case where we have gone from providing what was asked for to what really moved the organization forward, we have shared a new level of success that providing words alone never could have created. We have come to believe that it’s the future of the industry at large.
Culture. Language. Results.
Regardless of the industry, we now make it our focus to understand the end goal of each client’s project so we can help them provide the right cultural context and succeed in delighting their internal and external stakeholders.
At ULG, we see ourselves as part of a professional and valuable industry, with many players moving toward this solution-based approach. I don’t think we are alone in the view above, and we see many successful solutions from the industry’s other key players.
Our aim in writing this article is not to stand out as the only player providing solutions, but to add to the industrial voice recognizing that solutions for language and culture are the future for our industry and our customers. As we seek to engage and support other languages and cultures around the world, we help remove barriers that create inequality and disparity of outcomes, creating more viable and engaged markets for commercial ventures.
For ULG, this has been an empowering and exciting journey. We hope that reading this encourages you along your own journey to the solution-based approach that will help your company grow and expand to international audiences.
If we can help you on that journey, we would love to speak further!