Making the Best of a Bad Year: Five Lessons for 2021
As we look back at the annus horribilis that was 2020, what are some things we can learn and take forward to improve 2021 and come back stronger than ever? In this post, I summarize some of the lessons CSA Research has learned from our conversations with professionals working in enterprise localization departments, at LSPs, or as freelance linguists.
Lesson #1: Don’t fear the machine
MT has been on a slow increase for several years. It really picked up in 2019, but this year TMS vendors and LSPs tell us that it has crossed over the threshold and now officially appears in the majority of projects (we actually suspect it was unofficially at this level for some time). In part, this increase was driven by urgent COVID-related needs to produce content quickly in many languages. Although linguists – particularly interpreters – have had a hard time this year, the only way that the industry can meet demand is if human linguists embrace technology to become more productive and more valuable. We have already demonstrated that LSPs that embrace technology grow 3.5 times faster than those that don’t. So, if you haven’t already worked with MT, you need to catch up as quickly as you can since hybrid MT-human activities will increasingly drive industry growth. And interpreters should become experts in other modalities for their service, for example, remote video interpreting.
Lesson #2: The customer experience is king
Enterprises’ experiences in 2020 have shown that most of them had broken customer experience and engagement strategies – particularly for their international customers – but they didn’t realize it because they had never really been put to the test. In 2019 our report “The State of Global Customer Experience” made recommendations for how to improve interactions with global customers. Looking back at this report, companies that embraced its suggestions would have had a prescient roadmap for how to prepare for and thrive during COVID. It isn’t too late to take international CX seriously to win new customers and retain existing ones. Consult Don DePalma’s recommendations in that report to discover ways to go into 2021 with a stronger commitment to this vital activity.
Lesson #3: New opportunities abound for those who can see them
In 2019 it was the rare corporate language group that knew anything about interpreting services. By the end of 2020, many of them had undergone a crash course in this often-neglected area as they scrambled to put together remote live interpreting for sales and marketing events. Many discovered that adding multiple languages to virtual events actually made them more effective than the spectacular in-person shows they replaced. Live captioning or spoken interpreting enabled individuals to join in without spending several days and thousands of dollars traveling and made them more comfortable because they could fully understand everything. Many of these enterprises now don’t plan to go back to in-person events anytime soon, if at all. These new rules of customer engagement will call for more languages and more immediacy. Our reports “Remote Simultaneous Interpreting Platforms” and “Multilingual Virtual Events” provide the guidance you need to succeed in this new area.
Looking beyond virtual events, LSPs and enterprises alike used the COVID pause to push ahead with digital transformation and technology development efforts that have positioned them to come out ahead. As uncertainty continues, use any lull in everyday work to carry out all of the deferred work – such as terminology management and translation memory maintenance – that you always mean to get to but never quite find the time to do.
Lesson #4: AI is here to stay
Just like MT, AI is becoming a mainstream solution for language services. From automated vendor selection to project management, we are seeing the beginnings of a transformation for how language services and customer interaction happen. On the enterprise side, chatbots provide a way to engage customers – but only if they speak their language. Intelligent content can pay multiple dividends for companies that know how to use it. Increasing numbers of LSPs are moving beyond language services to take advantage of the rich data streams they process on behalf of their clients – enabling them to do more and be more efficient. Some LSPs have told us that their investments in this area have paid off as they have seen their most profitable year ever, even as their revenues have fallen. So embrace AI and find ways to make it work for you.
Lesson #5: Language is an investment
Far too often corporate leaders see localization as, at best, a necessary evil and, at worst, a luxury that nobody really needs. Executives may think that everybody speaks English, particularly if you work in a technical field. But the fact is that even customers who are the most confident in their English-language abilities still prefer content in their own language. If you cut localization to save money, they can and will go to competition that addresses them in their own languages. And if your corporate language isn’t English, localization is even more vital. Cutting languages to save money in challenging circumstances will cost more than it saves and can quickly undo years of work in building international markets. If you instead think of language as an investment that unlocks far greater dividends, you can make better decisions about how to build and sustain international markets.
As 2020 (thankfully!) fades into the rear-view mirror, move forward with the lessons it provides to do more and emerge stronger in 2021. COVID may not be over yet, but we have already seen that those organizations that looked for opportunities throughout the pandemic have found ways to improve. Language services may not have the attention and respect they need, but now is the time to demonstrate their value and benefit to the organization and to the world.
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