The COVID-19 crisis has hit interpreting-focused language service providers particularly hard. Those with a mostly in-person offering are experiencing significant drops in bookings. Many are trying to offset this loss by transitioning customers to remote interpreting technologies or promoting translation services. Even LSPs with a focus on remote services are facing some losses due to the cancellation of nonessential engagements in healthcare, emergency services, and courts.
CSA Research has been conducting interviews with interpreting providers to gauge where they stand. While some stories are tragic, this blog focuses on some of the success stories we’ve encountered along the way, highlighting interesting angles or initiatives that they reported. The five short profiles that follow can be a source of inspiration in these difficult times and offer lessons to help others keep going.
LanguageLine Solutions: Preparedness Pays Off
The #3 largest language service provider on CSA Research’s list had a pandemic plan in place and was able to deploy it in under 24 hours. Scott Klein, President and CEO, said “We never dreamt we would ever deploy it, yet we tweaked it yearly just in case.” His team was able to convert the contact center teams to remote work without any drop of performance thanks to prior drills to iron out solutions to issues such as connectivity problems.
Klein doesn’t take the crisis as an excuse to relax data protection standards – his focus is on making sure clients know the company’s commitment to high security systems remains unchanged. This example shows that preparation goes a long way and enables providers to deploy plans and focus on the clients’ needs versus having to figure out solutions on the fly.
What you can do: CSA Research recommends that all LSPs engage in annual “what if?” planning for disasters and crises that could affect them. Having plans in place reduces stress and chaos. The current crisis does not prevent natural disasters from piling on top of current challenges, as we’ve just seen recently with the earthquake in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Certified Languages International: Helping Other LSPs
Normally, the company’s call agents sit in cubicles side-by-side. CEO, Kristin Quinlan, achieved a prompt conversion of its business to remote thanks to extra IT purchases. The company (#32 on our list) is busy setting up COVID-19 hotlines for their customers and figuring out technical solutions to provide interpreting for drive-through Coronavirus testing facilities when healthcare professionals are working in full personal protective equipment.
Quinlan expressed some worry about the livelihood of on-site interpreting providers that don’t have the capability to transition their customers to remote platforms. She commented: “We are actively setting up LSPs that are losing a lot of on-site interpreting business with a white label version of our platform so they can convert some of their accounts to remote.” She believes the industry needs to stick together to survive. Even if some business ends up shifting long-term to telephone or video interpreting, the majority will still revert back to on-site interpreting and providers need to remain in business for when the crisis subsides.
What you can do: View the current situation through an altruistic rather than a competitive lens. Now is not the time to try to get ahead or push through initiatives that harm the competition. It is vital for long-term language access that as many providers as possible stay afloat.
GLOBO – Taking Care of the Emotional Well-Being of Interpreters
Gene Schriver, GLOBO’s CEO, discussed hurdles to the broader adoption of telemedicine, namely consumer habits, technological access and capacity, and government regulation. His company built an interface with a major telemedicine platform to include interpreter services on-demand. He believes that“The crisis will help with adoption of remote technologies because it forces people into using it. Later, many will want to stick with it.”
As the company does a lot of telephone and video interpreting for the healthcare industry, the company focuses on providing linguistic resources for its interpreters. Schriver explained: “From the onset, we created a company that would not treat interpreters like a number.” As a result, they have weekly decompression sessions for interpreters where up to 100 linguists usually attend and share their experiences in a group therapy style setting. The company also organizes smaller support sessions and work groups with the quality and HR teams, as needed. The company realizes that their interpreters may face more dramatic conversations and wants to be there to provide the necessary support to its frontline workers.
What you can do: Spend some time to educate linguists on safety precautions and support available. For example, Masterword, an LSP out of Texas, is offering a free infection control and industrial safety course for medical interpreters and is publishing a series of podcasts in collaboration with a psychotherapist to help language professionals manage stress and work during the pandemic.
Cadence Translate – Taking Care of the Financial Well-Being of Interpreters
The company was the epitome of good news despite being headquartered in China. Its focus is on interpreting for investor due diligence, so it experienced a boom in business from investors trying to understand how markets are moving. But what was refreshing about their story was how co-founder Jonathan Rechtman treasures their good luck and tries to soothe the financial situation of their interpreters.
Rechtman explained how they implemented professional relief programs for interpreters suffering from the crisis. “Relationships are being tested and it is time to engage with linguists and show some goodwill, empathy, and patience.” His team reached out one-on-one with each of their interpreters to verify they are safe, whether they have immediate needs, or whether they are in a special situation. Linguists in distress get expedited payment terms and even advances. The LSP also gives priority deployment to vetted linguists with a consistent good track record who are experiencing difficulties making ends meet. Rechtman feels it is their privilege to be able to take care of others in these difficult times.
Note also that unlike other LSPs we talked to for this research, Cadence is the only one currently welcoming new linguist applicants. Rechtman emphasized the quantity and quality of candidates available right now and his team is not only accepting new linguists but actively testing them.
What you can do: Extend financial support to your linguists if they need it. Discuss needs with them and prioritize payment to those who do not have the resources to wait for their money. Consider creating funds to provide assistance to struggling providers.
2M Language Services: Ensuring Language Access
Australia-based 2M works on a whole-of-government contract to provide interpreting services to Aboriginal communities. The company had already transitioned a lot of the on-site work in migrant and indigenous languages to VRI because of the massive geographical distance they had to cover – which turned out to be a strategic move given the current pandemic. CEO, Tea Dietterich, explained the challenges of providing language access when switching people’s habits. For example, some clients had challenges with enabling the microphone and webcam on their laptops. As a result, they perform test calls ahead of the appointment to make sure everyone is set up correctly.
Because of the nature of the work they do under the state government contract, “every assignment that happens is almost a miracle – even in regular times,” said Dietterich. Some indigenous languages have very few qualified interpreters, so self-isolation really helps in preventing these precious few interpreters from getting sick.
What you can do: Many of your clients will need interpreting under challenging technological and personal circumstances or have limited technical knowledge. Work with them to reduce stress levels and find ways to meet needs when things don't work as expected.
Interested in sharing your story with us? Reach out to Hélène Pielmeier to discuss challenges, success stories, and initiatives you are undertaking in these challenging times.