The cost of poor quality translations is difficult to quantify as it rarely hurts sales or profits. However, what it does harm is reputation, and while this cost is difficult to quantify, it should not be overlooked.

Such was the conclusion of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Translation (DGT) report ‘Studies on Translation and Multilingualism: Quantifying Quality Costs and the Cost of Poor Quality in Translation’, published in 2012. To quantify the value of quality translations as oppose to deficient ones, the report authors worked using the “quality costs” concept described by Armand V Feigenbaum in a 1956 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Mr Feigenbaum is a quality control expert who devised the management philosophy Total Quality Management.

The report revealed translation services can be the victims of budget cuts, as organisations do not always recognise or understand the importance of their role. This may be because a poor translation is not the same as a poorly-manufactured product or a service that does not sell – it is unlikely to lower profit margins. “But poor quality can damage [an organisation’s] reputation as a centre of excellence in translation,” the report warned.

It is a point picked up by the director of Kwintessential Neil Payne in a new article for Business 2 Community. He says that more and more businesses require translation services as they branch out overseas, but that when looking for these services it is not unusual to make a mistake. While prices obviously influence the decision, he says it’s important to understand the costs and “appreciate what value is being added to your translation”.

Mr Payne advises buyers to find out whether a professional will write their translation or if a machine will produce the foundations of it before it gets “tidied up” by an expert. He also suggests buyers ask if the translation will be proofread, if it will be edited and if the translator will be available to assist following completion. Finally, he suggests enquiring what official accreditations the service provider has. All of these points can help the buyer to measure the value of the service they are getting.

Using Mr Feigenbaum’s quality measurement concept, the DGT identified four hidden costs that should also be considered when choosing a translation services provider. The first issue is prevention costs, which involves the buyer taking steps to ensure the translation they get is not inaccurate or misleading. The second consideration is appraisal costs, which covers ensuring a flawless product is produced first time around, such as by having it proofread by a third party. Internal failure costs is the third issue and covers the delivery of a translation being delayed, or the completed product being faulty so that if published it would lead to external failure costs. Finally, external failure costs – where the product arrives with the customer in a faulty state – need to be accounted for. “This is the ‘OMG’ of all the quality costs; this is the one no company wants to deal with,” Mr Payne says.

The costs of an external failure can be “terrifyingly huge”, and so should be used to quantify the cost of the steps taken to avoid it. As Mr Payne explains, simply missing out the word “never” in a translation of guidelines featuring the phrase “never use on children” could lead to product recall, loss of customers, legal action and further negative consequences that are insurmountable.

Mr Payne concludes that, as with any service, the translation you get is the one you pay for. Not getting the translation you want could end up costing more in the long-run in terms of money and time than it would have to pay for a more expensive but higher quality service in the first place. “Cheap translations are cheap for a reason; it’s important you find out what those reasons are before deciding on how to accomplish your needs,” he explains.

Making an early investment in both preventative and appraisal measures should be seen as taking out insurance against these failures, Mr Payne adds. However, attempting to cut costs by using a machine translation, relying on someone who is not qualified or a company that is not accredited could be costly in the long run – not to mention it may damage your reputation beyond repair.

So, when choosing their translation provider, buyers should always weigh up the loss of their good reputation against the cost of paying a little more for their translation.