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Customer satisfaction in Conference interpreting


Customer satisfaction in Conference interpreting

Marketing experts state that customer satisfaction with a purchase depends upon the performance of that product/service and their expectations. If the product/service does not meet the expectations of the buyer, then s/he is dissatisfied. Otherwise, there is no problem at all. And if it exceeds expectations, the customer is extremely happy.


Why not use the same marketing principle in conference interpreting?

First, conference interpreting 101. To put it in a simple way, interpreting is all about communication. On one hand, you have a speaker (let’s say, a native French), and on the other, an audience (for the sake of the example, let’s assume they’re English natives, and that they don’t understand French). So, an interpreter steps in in order to facilitate the communication between the two parties. S/he goes in a booth, listens to the original speech in a headset and then translates from French to English for the audience. The audience has earphones in which they only hear the interpreter’s voice. This is simultaneous interpreting because the interpreter translates while the speaker delivers his speech. Consecutive interpreting occurs when the interpreter speaks after the original speech has been delivered (usually the interpreter uses a notepad to take notes).

In today’s world, when benchmarking, best practice sharing, process optimization, performance management and Total Quality Management reign all over industries, interpreters – as service providers – must keep up the pace, enhance their performance and choose the right key performance indicators in order not to just meet the expectations of the audience, but to exceed them.

To know what to put an emphasis on, interpreters must identify the requirements of the target customers in regards to the quality of the service.

AIIC (the International Association of Conference Interpreters), just like any other professional association, considers service quality to be one of its top objectives. It has strict criteria for admitting new members, so that quality would be ensured now and in the future.

We’ve been talking about service quality and customer expectation in conference interpreting, but without actually explaining what quality means in this field. To best paint the picture, we are going to use Déjean le Féal’s quote:

“What our listeners receive through their earphones should produce the same effect on them as the original speech does on the speaker’s audience. It should have the same cognitive content and be presented with equal clarity and precision in the same type of language.”

In order to determine the users’ expectations, questionnaires have been used, being the most straightforward scientific way to collect the data on quality perception. By using this questionnaires, the researchers have tried to determine the respondents’ opinions regarding the importance of various aspects, linguistic and non-linguistic. The surveys have proved to be useful also in terms of conveying messages and clarifying the role of the interpreter, correcting some prejudices that appeared over the years.

Just like in any other field, there is no such thing as a ‘universal survey’, as each researcher or entity decides how to create their own. But they do take into account, more or less, the same elements, which include: interpreter’s knowledge, coherence, logical cohesion, sense consistency, completeness of the speech, grammar, correct terminology, fluency, accuracy, accent, pleasant voice, speech rhythm, intonation.

But the users are not the only judges of the interpreters’ output. The interpreters themselves take a look at their performances and then make assessments. And as the studies have proven, they place greater demands on their own performances.

Assessment of quality criteria for simultaneous interpretation by conference interpreters and delegates

Criterion Interpreters (n=47) Delegates (n=124)
Accent 2.9 2.365
Voice 3.085 2.6
Fluency 3.486 3.1
Logical cohesion 3.8 3.458
Sense consistency 3.957 3.69
Completeness 3.426 3.2
Grammar 3.38 2.6
Terminology 3.489 3.4

As it can be seen, the interpreter’s ratings were higher than those of the delegates, which means that AIIC interpreters place greater demands on their performances. Besides this fact, the table shows another important thing: the interpreters’ ranking of the first six criteria coincides with that of the delegates; this means that they gave similar weights to these performance criteria. The situation was different in terms of grammar: interpreters considered grammar more important than the delegates did.  And for terminology, both groups were almost on the same page.

Instead of a conclusion, I will leave you with a quote than can be applied in everything (you can substitute the term ’interpreters’ with one that is relevant for your field of activity):

“With experience you learn to tell the difference between quite good, very good and excellent interpreters.” (Gebhard 1999)


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