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The Hidden Costs of Low-Cost Interpreting Services

When you seek out a language service provider (LSP), it can be tempting to simply go with the lowest price. But remote interpreting services are not a commodity.

They are complex and involve professional interpreters with specialized education, training, experience, and (in languages for which it’s available) certifications. There’s value in this expertise. And there’s value in how an LSP works with these interpreters, and how they work with you. 

If you automatically go with the lowest-priced vendor, it could expose your organization to potential liability, impact the quality of services you get, and ultimately cost more down the road.

These are what we call the “hidden costs” of low-cost interpreting. Not everyone is aware that the lowest per-minute price can have hidden costs that aren’t always quantifiable in a spreadsheet.

If you’re a decision-maker (or need support from decision-makers), you know how hard it can be to convince others of the value in using a quality LSP — especially if that means paying more than the budget option. 

To help, we’ve put together some things to look out for when exploring options for an LSP. We’ve also included questions to ask during the vetting process to help you focus on results instead of price. 

What that low price could actually mean 

When you partner with an LSP, you want to feel confident and informed, but you also want to feel like you’re not being taken advantage of. Here are ways some low-cost LSPs might be trying to cut corners — and what that means for you. 

A suboptimal call flow

Your optimal call flow will depend on the type of services you provide to your customers and on your language mix. Call centers want fast connections and usually don’t require much data collection. Using interactive voice response (IVR) or getting routed directly to an interpreter is probably a good option. On the other hand, organizations that support communities with lots of diverse languages might need more language identification assistance from live customer service reps (CSRs).

Your low per-minute cost might not afford you the human touch of reaching CSRs when you need them.

Ideally, you can partner with an LSP who can offer you the flexibility of both, tailoring your call flow in a way that provides the most benefits to your organization.

You charge for that?

You might initially get a low per-minute rate, but pay close attention to what is — and isn’t — included in that price. If an LSP charges you extra for things like implementation, custom call routing, support materials, training, monthly minimums, and third-party dial-outs, it might be time to look elsewhere.

Those extra fees can really add up, offsetting any perceived savings you get on the per-minute rate.

Interpreters with less experience

Less experienced interpreters are less efficient in facilitating conversations. This results in longer calls. And when you’re paying by the minute, it’s possible that your company will not realize any cost savings if calls are 25–30% longer.

In addition, a majority of the cost to provide interpreting services is in interpreter labor. Partnering with an LSP that hires the least expensive — and least experienced — interpreters can create a potential liability for your company when accuracy is vital. 

Not quality focused

Sacrificing quality for cost is a common factor in undercutting. Quantifying the quality of interpreters sounds easy (you work with one interpreter, and they were great. Job done!). But assessing the quality of interpreters as a whole — that is, the likely thousands of interpreters an LSP works with — is not.

So “quality” can be an easy metric to skate on: an LSP just has to say they’re doing quality performance audits on their interpreters, but then . . . might not. We’re not claiming this will always happen with a lower-cost provider, but it is a possibility.

LSPs without a quality assurance department in place with solid QA processes could lead to customer complaints and performance issues down the road. 

Future disruptions

Some providers are temporarily selling language services with little to no profit as an attempt to capture market share. Think about (or ask) why. What types of future disruptions might present themselves to you as their company ownership changes or prices are increased?

See also: Top 10 List — A Guide to Choosing an Interpreting Services Company

Questions to ask language service providers

Now that we’ve covered what possibly could be under the hood of those low-priced options, let’s look at how you can make sure you’re getting what you’re expecting.

To start, here are some useful questions to ask.

  • What fees exist in addition to the per-minute rate?
  • Do you charge for third-party dial-outs, training, customizations, support materials, or any additional features or services? If so, how much?
  • At which point does billing begin? 
  • Do interpreters gather data at the beginning of a call? Do you pay for those minutes of data collection?
  • How do you screen interpreters to make sure they provide accurate interpreting services and are fluent in industry-specific terminology?
  • What types of call flows do you offer? Can I reach a human if I’m having trouble?
  • Can you provide data on interpreter QA frequency and average scores achieved?

Related: 8 Reasons You Need Language Services for Your Business

Set yourself up for a successful partnership

Whether you’re looking to start interpreting services for the first time or exploring your options with a new provider, there’s a lot to consider. 

If you’re like us, you are thinking first and foremost about ensuring meaningful access to interpreters for your customers and patients whose preferred language is not English. We know that price is a big piece of that equation. 

But when you factor in matters of interpreter accuracy, potential liability, and hidden costs, it becomes clear that partnering with a quality interpreting provider is just as vital. Ultimately, the right provider will make sure both you and your customers are supported and protected.

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