How to Choose the Right Language Service Provider: A Guide for Product Managers

No matter the nature of your product or service, in order to create a connected and flawless experience for the consumer across the globe, your content needs to be perfectly localized and accessible. Localization can create big headaches, as translation management adds a lot to your already bursting plate of responsibilities. If you have no in-house localization team, you, as an efficient product manager, are in need of a sustainable, successful and long-term partnership with a language service provider (LSP).

How do you choose the language service provider (LSP) that is right for you? What are the red flags to watch out for in order to prevent pitfalls further down the line? And how can you determine the quality of the translated content provided? These are only some of the questions that might pop up when thinking about how to best go about outsourcing the localization of your content. This guide seeks to clear up any doubts you may have, so you can get started easily and with confidence.

Laying Down Criteria for Choosing a Language Service Provider

Before you even get down to selection, you need to get straight on what your actual requirements for an LSP are. As a product manager in the global environment, you might be dealing with different offices, different design methods and different versions of your product in order to address your international consumer base (so, efficiency is key). To say that this challenges you to the core while balancing feedback, reporting, and iterations with developers, designers, executives, and other departments, is not an exaggeration.

This means, when you go on the hunt for the perfect partner for your localization process, you need to decide on what is right for you. Not everything will be perfectly matched for everybody. Your future LSP should fit you like a good pair of jeans or your favorite sneakers. You want a provider that has a good structure for meeting your needs, is resilient in challenging situations and relies on the best resources to work on your content. But overall, you need a provider that does not add more to your plate but instead, frees you from pressure and time.

How to Choose Your Future LSP?

In order to ensure your product’s success on a global scale and therefore lay the proper foundation for the success of everyone involved in the process up until launch, many characteristics that are required for your team and your internal processes will apply to your search for finding the right language service provider as well.

What languages will you need? Which markets do you serve?

This is an important question, as it helps you determine whether a single LSP can meet your needs. If you plan to launch in just a few markets with commonly targeted languages, one LSP might be enough. However, if you plan to really go global, you might want to think about distributing localization orders to different LSPs who are specializing in specific target languages.

Which workflow did you implement (agile, lean, traditional)?

If you have implemented a specific workflow, you want to make sure that your future LSP knows how to handle that workflow and how to adapt to preferred communication flows for handling requests and orders as well. If you decided for a continuous flow, your LSP should, at the very minimum, be able to handle and sort all new content in the preferred time frame and deliver it back to you in the preferred formats.

How much content do you produce per day, week, month?

Most translators work with a variety of clients and can handle a specific number of words per day/week. Taking that into consideration, you should ask any LSP you are interested in working with, how they can guarantee that your volume is being handled by a few translators as possible (in order to ensure consistency), the presence of native speakers and experts in the field (to ensure time necessary for the translation and revision is the shortest possible time) and the use of translation management systems (TMS) that provide translation memories, term bases and glossaries.

If they love to put the cherry on top of the cake, they will be working with a TMS that even allows for contextualization (e. g., with screenshots), direct communication between content producers and translators, and extraction of new content over the old in updated content versions to ensure efficiency and minimization of risk for errors and omissions.

Will you roll-out in specific markets first?

If you are planning for a joint launch in all markets, your LSP will have to manage your localization differently. This means more content needs to be ready simultaneously, more resources need to be monitored and good communication needs to be in place. Your dedicated localization manager (or team) at your future LSP should be able to explain exactly how they deal with such a challenge and how they ensure that there is no potential loss of quality or increase in cost.

Can you do QA in-house or do you need it to be outsourced as well?

If you have the possibility to handle QA in-house with your subsidiaries in the respective markets, you might want to look into the possibility of not outsourcing the final revision. Instead have a colleague, who is a native speaker, do a final revision (this particularly applies when there are big cultural gaps to bridge and you have no clue what is appropriate in the cultural context of your target market). This allows you to involve your non-domestic team already and also to have real feedback on the quality of your LSP. If that is not an option for you, you can look into outsourcing final revision and QA to an LSP that is different from the one producing the localized content.

What programs and source file formats are you working with?

If you are working with state-of-the-art software and tools, but your future language service provider is still not ready to process anything other than .xls and .doc files, they might not be a good fit. Being up to date with file formats, formatting in general and knowledge on programming languages in order to separate programming language from content can be a challenge for some LSPs. If they value their craft, they will at least implement the use of programs that can take care of format conversion and reconversion without producing errors or breaks in the layout.

The LSP that is a good fit for you will not only know what file format you are talking about, they will also explain to you exactly how they ensure that your files stay intact and are not compromised in any way during the localization process. Don’t be afraid to reject an LSP if you have the feeling they are not equipped with the necessary technical know how to handle everything well.

Do you need a lot of context-based translations or is your content self-explanatory?

What kind of content do you need localized? Is it very technical? Is there a lot of room for interpretation? Is it very suggestive or rather straightforward? Will it be addressing native speakers only or will it aim at a consumer base that is mostly comprised of second language speakers? Whatever the answer to this question, if your LSP uses a TMS that allows for in-context translation through screenshots and discussions between translators and product managers or content producers, you can relax and watch as the magic unfolds. Otherwise, you will need to ensure in your revision and QA-stage that all content has been translated correctly given your context. This would add more time, cost and potential headaches. So, if you can, better avoid it.

In a perfect workflow, how quickly do you need the localized content to be ready for publication?

This is kind of a tricky topic. You might have found a small or mid-sized LSP that checks all your boxes, but they might not be able to deliver the content as quickly as you need it. There are two possible answers to this dilemma. Either you completely let go of the idea of working with an LSP this size and revert to one of the big players, that is able to deliver as you wish. (Smaller businesses rely on fewer resources and thus cannot provide the same volume in the same amount of time.)

Or, if you really feel comfortable about the idea of going with a smaller provider because everything else is exactly how you want it, you can consider extending your time frame in order to adjust to their capacity. This will work only if your internal timelines allow for it, of course. But, it could be worth it. A lot of smaller LSPs are constantly undervalued. However, they can oftentimes produce excellent quality at fewer costs because their operating costs are not as high.

How frequently do you plan to update content or publish new content? What are your plans for scaling?

If you plan on frequent updates and new content production for your product, but don’t need high volumes and only a few languages, then a medium-sized language service provider might be a good fit for the long term. However, if you constantly produce big volumes and need many languages covered, then it might be difficult for any LSP to ensure to have the same dedicated translators working on your content all the time; unless they can put their in-house resources on the tasks (instead of relying on freelance translators). Scaling is a difficult task. You should try to go with the flow as much as possible, but it doesn’t hurt to ask any candidate trying to get your business to explain to you how they handle scaling and how they can ensure quality stays consistent when the operation grows.

How are quality and time issues handled? How do you define service level? How does payment work?

Last but not least, you need to look at potential conflict and how that will be handled between you and your future LSP. Are they straightforward about it? Do they avoid talking about it? Do they have a legal framework in place that explains the definition of service level and which steps you need to follow if you are unhappy with the quality? What happens if they do not adhere to the timeframes you discussed? And how does payment work? Do they hold money in escrow? Also, do not forget to ask how they deal with payment for their translators? Do they pay them quickly after completing the tasks? Do they withhold payments to their translators for specific reasons? A mature LSP will not flinch when facing these questions. They will keep everything transparent. Your success is their success.

How Can You Know If You Have Found Your Perfect Language Service Provider?

The right localization partner for you will put your mind at ease and turn hassle and pressure into a non-existent threat. You know that you are a perfect fit if the provider understands your requirements clearly and is not afraid to answer all of your questions and concerns. Furthermore, they will be able to respond quickly and in a transparent manner when issues arise or extra workload needs to be covered.

Such a provider will be using cutting-edge TMS, will be able to work on a wide range of file formats, and will have localization automation in place to ensure competent handling of your data. Your future localization partner will also be familiar with agile and continuous workflows and be able to integrate their management systems flawlessly with your content management systems. On top of that, the LSP you are looking for will have a proper QA and a vetting system for translators in place.

Your future language service provider will be an important asset for your endeavors and will accompany you on your journey to becoming a successful product manager. Localization is an essential part of product development – make sure you give it proper attention!

How to Choose the Right Language Service Provider: A Guide for Product Managers
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