A fair amount of cultural education takes place in the form of customer care when it comes to clients who may be completely new to language services — let alone other languages and cultures.
Industry cultural skills are as important as global cultural knowledge for localization pros, and can have a direct impact on the provider's financials.
Let's say you’re working for a language service provider (LSP), and your day starts with a request from a client representative. The message says something like “Urgent – need a translator for a meeting at our offices on Monday.” As you read the message, it becomes clear to you that the person might actually need an interpreter. Four days from today.
First cultural intervention: You reply diplomatically to the message asking for clarification instead of clarifying the matter yourself. Why would this be cultural intervention and not just customer service? Because you are the specialist in language services and represent the provider culture. How this interaction goes, and whether the client feels patronized or well-cared for, is now up to you.
Continuing with our example of the meeting, the client reveals that there will be 22 attendees, 13 of whom speak US English. The remaining nine speak French and “everyone will need translation.” You interpret the message to mean that the interpretation will need to be bidirectional. Other details you elicit from the client include the expected duration of the meeting, the physical location, and even the type of room where the meeting will take place.
The client sees this as attention to detail on your end. Armed with this information, you advise the client to go with a remote interpreting solution. Anticipating the client's reaction, you have your second chance at cultural brokerage: You explain that this would be the most cost-effective way, reassuring the client that remote interpreting will fully meet their needs.
You include an informal quote that shows remote vs. on-site interpreting pricing, so that the client realizes the savings immediately. Now you are speaking their language, the language of cost savings. The language of a solution, not a problem.
On your end, you realize savings for your company as well. Project managing an on-site interpreting assignment is a lot more time-consuming than scheduling a few remote interpreters and coordinating a virtual setup.
The key in projecting cultural savvy in a transactional interaction is perhaps humility. You may be the expert in language services, but if you do not speak the language of your clients, you will be the one creating language barriers.