An Enterprise and LSP Success Story:
Delta Dental and Avantpage Case Study
Five years into a well-established client-vendor relationship, in autumn of 2013, Delta Dental and Avantpage realized a revised roadmap could take their collaboration in a new, positive direction. One year later, both organizations have seen their relationship evolve into a real partnership.
Sometimes, even with the best business practices in place, a client-vendor relationship needs to be revitalized, as project requirements evolve and changes take place within the organizations themselves. This is the story that Delta Dental and Avantpage have to tell: Five years into a well-established client-vendor relationship, in autumn of 2013 both organizations realized a revised roadmap could take their collaboration in a new, positive direction. Fortunately, their story is one with a happy ending: One year later, Delta Dental and Avantpage have seen their relationship evolve into a real partnership. An additional consequence of this growing relationship was account revenues that saw an increase of 88%, with projections for even more growth in 2015. So how did this all happen?
When I joined Delta Dental in 2013, it was my goal to establish an enterprise translation process based on industry benchmark standards. As an experienced localization manager with a background in multicultural marketing, I was accustomed to running a well-oiled machine when it came to translation of marketing content. What I encountered at Delta Dental was very different: a multiple-vendor model with no shared translation management system (each LSP had its own TM) there was no centralized terminology management and essentially no TM maintenance was in place. With multiple vendors often working on the same language and TM exchange (TMX), content was not being leveraged and the translations were full of inconsistencies, resulting in increased costs and poor overall translation quality. I knew what needed to be done to guide the organization into the next stage of the maturity continuum. I was ready to explore a number of new initiatives, including regular client-vendor meetings, glossary maintenance, and increased linguist participation in the terminology process.
2013 was also a pivotal year for Avantpage. The company had taken a new direction in leadership, with the goal of building stronger client-vendor relationships. David Serra, long-time industry veteran, had just signed on as Senior Director of Client Services. Like me, Serra brought years of experience and knowledge to his company. Both of us understood that enforcing good communication between the key stakeholders was essential to a productive collaboration, and so the conversation began.
The first step was to define the essential challenges: to assess exactly what needed to be done to produce high quality translations that would continue to meet market expectations. An experienced communicator, Serra knew how to ask open-ended questions without defensive comments and rationalizations: the goal was to identify any problems and fix them. When client and vendor were able to sit down together face-to-face (as opposed to scattered email and phone calls), both of us could engage in a genuine, frank exchange of ideas. Both of us also realized that any realignment could not be completed during one meeting. Taking a leap of faith together, we outlined our goals and scheduled a series of follow-up sessions. We then began a thorough, systematic assessment of the situation.
We started by taking a close look at our project resources to identify possible areas for improvement. For Avantpage, that meant finding the right mix of project managers to execute day-to-day operations while still finding time to actively engage with the client. It was understood that Delta Dental required experienced PMs who were versed in both the client history and internal processes, including an optimal application of tools and technology.
We also found that there had not been a proper transfer of knowledge between Delta Dental and Avantpage: no TM, no glossary, no style guides, and no review of previous translations. Avantpage responded by empowering a new Director of Operations, Vera Hooijdonk. She and Serra worked together to guarantee that the client’s expectations were being met at every point throughout the translation process, and that PM assignments, responsibilities, and performance were more closely aligned with client needs. Hooijdonk appointed a new project manager, Dominica Woszyck, who was in command of the skillset required by Delta Dental.
Now, Avantpage had the resources at hand to effectively standardize and oversee operational and delivery processes, while addressing project management issues on an individual level. At the same time, I brought on Yi Yao, an experienced PM and highly qualified Chinese linguist, to manage day-to-day project operations. Yao and Woszyck crafted a productive relationship in which they communicated freely to solve issues and jobs. New efficiencies were initiated: for example, linguist-to-linguist communication was no longer routed through the Avantpage project managers. By having the linguists interact directly with their counterparts at Delta Dental, a smoother workflow emerged with less risk for bottlenecks and misunderstandings.
Next, there was an identified need to cut back on the number of vendor translators, and Avantpage also had to ensure that the right vendors were being used. In particular, the quality of Chinese was identified as a problem. To rectify this, the vendor prerequisites needed to be clearly spelled out, underlining the level of subject matter expertise required by the translators. The quality of Spanish being delivered by Avantpage was much different, essentially very good, although inconsistent. This became a good case study to understand what was being done right. With in-country offices, Spanish quality was being monitored by in-house lead linguists, and Delta Dental also had similar resources in place on our end. I already had the ideal resource on staff with PM Yi Yao, who was a native speaker of Chinese. While language quality assurance (LQA) was being executed by outside vendors, the volume for both these languages was so high that in-house expertise could only add value.
Most importantly, the issues surrounding terminology management required immediate action. I understood that by contract, the enterprise owned the content of their LSPs as it related to their translations and that my team was not keeping up with due diligence. With no real TM maintenance, no regular sharing of TMs between the LSPs, ad hoc glossaries, and no style guides, there could only be one expected outcome: inconsistency. Each language was using a glossary that was full of errors, unilaterally imposed on the LSPs by the enterprise. This led to translator confusion, as well as significant cost inefficiency with time-consuming QA and rework. I knew it was time to put my plan to build new glossaries for Spanish and Chinese into action.
The improved glossaries would best be developed in close collaboration with the vendor, with signoff from all stakeholders. Yao was tasked with driving the initiative for Chinese, while the Avantpage team took charge of Spanish. I initiated weekly glossary meetings where linguistic experts from both parties worked to identify, research, discuss, and confirm the appropriate terminology for the targeted markets. With the newly approved glossaries, TMs could be cleaned up and the vendors could provide the desired consistency and overall quality. The improved results immediately showed up in the QA process, as well as a significant savings in recycling. TM maintenance was put on a regular schedule to keep pace with the ongoing glossary development process. After many months of hard work and close cooperation between Delta Dental and Avantpage, the new roadmap had been implemented and a new synergy developed between the two organizations.
This case study of Delta Dental and Avantpage underlines a broader industry trend of 2014 as LSPs moved away from their traditional role as “Language Services Providers” to “Language Solutions Providers.” With a greater need for translation quality to vie in competitive markets, LSPs found themselves working towards a deeper understanding of client requirements to provide them with solutions tailored to their specific needs. Communication lies at the forefront of building this relationship, as well as putting the right team in place, defining clearly stated objectives, and leveraging the right tools and processes. This eventually leads to a “trusted advisor” relationship, a true partnership of both trust and empowerment.
Moving ahead, the Delta Dental/Avantpage team has even more on our agenda. There are plans for the needed style guides and quarterly business reviews, and very importantly, the enterprise is looking to a single translation management system (TMS) across all vendors. Efforts to improve, monitor and report on quality control are being put in place as another industry veteran, Lori Ann Reinhall, joins the Avantpage team as Quality Manager. Keeping up with industry innovation, the Avantpage team continues to take advantage of “the cloud” with the implementation of state-of-art TM and TMS technology—and they’re taking Delta Dental with them. No longer will client, LSP, and freelancers work in separate silos, resulting in even better collaboration and sharing of language assets and, ultimately, even higher consistency and translation quality.
Rocío Haskell is currently the Hispanic Marketing and Localization Manager for Delta Dental Insurance Company. She joined Delta after many proven successes in developing, championing, implementing, and managing marketing and customer experience programs for numerous Fortune 500 companies. Rocío’s areas of expertise include customer experience, loyalty, co-branding, retention, small business, multicultural marketing, translation, localization, project management and strategic planning.