Strong communication is foundational to your relationships with customers. With more than 25 million people in the United States who are limited English proficient (LEP), most companies have at least an occasional need for interpreting services.
If you’ve already started looking for an interpreting provider, you might be overwhelmed by the number of options. There are thousands of providers, ranging from sole proprietors and small businesses to large, multi-national corporations. Not all are equally qualified, but evaluating their strengths is relatively simple.
There are some basics that are non-negotiable, such as interpreters having fluency in both source and target languages. But beyond that, further investigation is important to make sure the interpreting provider is qualified and the right fit. Much like the process of finding a translation provider, it’s wise to examine the company’s training, certifications, industry experience, reputation and technology.
QUALIFICATIONS AND TRAINING: WHAT TO CONSIDER
Look for interpreting providers that require their linguists to obtain the proper certification. This ensures that interpreters have undergone rigorous training and testing. Industries with strong regulations such as healthcare and finance also have their own professional certification bodies for interpreters. These certifications give you confidence that linguists are well versed in the rules, nuances and language particulars of your industry.
Many industry organizations have also created a code of ethics for interpreters working in their field. For example, the International Medical Interpreters Association has a detailed code of ethics requiring interpreters to maintain confidentiality, refrain from injecting personal opinions, stay current on industry terminology and more.
Ask any Language Solutions Partner (LSP) you’re considering about their recruitment and training process. In addition to certifications and ethical standards, how do they evaluate interpreters’ linguistic abilities? What qualities and personality traits do they seek in employees? Interpreters need to be good listeners and communicators. They should be compassionate and consider themselves allies to LEP clients.
EVALUATING AN INTERPRETING PROVIDER’S REPUTATION
A company’s reputation says a lot about the quality of service they provide. A long history in the business and a long list of happy clients is a good indication that the interpreting provider is a professional operation. That’s not to say that newer companies can’t be great, but a solid track record offers peace of mind.
Some important questions to ask when evaluating an LSP include:
- How long has the company been in business?
- How many clients have they served? And, more specifically, how many clients in your particular industry?
- What is the company’s client retention rate?
Always ask an interpreting provider for references — ideally from clients in your industry. When you call the references, ask about the quality of the linguists provided, how quick the company is to respond when there’s an urgent or unexpected need for interpretation services, and how clients have responded to the interpreters provided. You can also ask the provider for case studies that demonstrate how they’ve handled similar projects for other companies.
A bit of online research prior to hiring a service never hurts either. Are the reviews generally positive, or is there a barrage of complaints? Is the company facing any legal issues or lawsuits? Have they ever lost accreditation?
EVALUATING TECHNOLOGY AND COMPLIANCE
Modern interpretation isn’t always an in-person experience. Sometimes you will need a live interpreter, of course, but interpretation services are increasingly provided over the phone, through video calls and online chats. Does the company offer these services, and are they available 24 hours a day if needed? Do they have data about the reliability of their technology and downtime vs. uptime?
If you work in an industry like healthcare or finance where regulatory compliance is critical, what steps has the interpreting provider taken to ensure that they’re compliant when handling sensitive patient or customer information? What are their policies and procedures to keep your confidential information secure?
A Strong Foundation
The points detailed above don’t cover each and every piece of information you’ll need before choosing a provider, but they do provide a strong foundation to work from.
Competent linguists, a strong company reputation, technology and compliance are all necessary components of an effective interpreting service. Aim to hire an LSP with all of the above.