CHAPTER 6 – CLIENTS
KEEPING CLIENTS HAPPY
Keep your promises. The deadline is sacred. If you discover something that can affect the delivery or the translation, inform your client immediately. Your client must be able to trust you to deliver the text when it was promised and in the format it was promised. Be prepared to get a colleague to step in and offer this solution to your client if you suddenly get sick ad can't deliver on time. It's always better to tell the client on Wednesday you won't be ready on Thursday's deadline than to call an hour after the deadline, blaming the flu. If you're proactive, there's time to fix the situation.
Follow the instructions. If your client has provided a glossary or emphasized certain expressions, use them even if you don't like them. If the client has established terms in their communication, it is not your job to change them. Of course, if you discover blatant mistakes in the provided terms, you can politely mention this. However, the client may still want to stick to their own terminology and that is their right. If the client has asked for non-formatted text, don't format the text. If the client wants the interpreter not to talk to the participants on breaks, don't engage in conversation. If a delegate starts a conversation with you, politely explain the situation and if necessary, report this to the client's representative or the head interpreter. Do not get creative when it is not needed.
Use proper tools. A professional translator has to have up-to-date office software and the most common translation tools, depending on your specialty: it may be InDesign, translation memory tools or subtitling software. It is imperative that your software and tools are compatible with those of your clients. And your computer and hardware have to be up-to-date. It's not the client's problem if your computer is from the stone age. An interpreter has to have a printer for the materials they receive from the clients. Be mentally and financially prepared to invest in your tools periodically. Hardware is often replaced every two to three years, software versions and licenses have to be updated as new versions are published. Every year, there will be something to update or replace.
See the project to the end. If your price includes one round of commentary, answer the comments and questions timely and implement eventual changes without delays. You have to be available and reachable during an ongoing project. If for some reason you can't be reached, let the client know appropriately either by e-mail, sharing a calendar - any which way you want, as long as they get the message. If the project is delayed at the client's end and your vacation is approaching, you can send a polite reminder of the open project in good time.
Be available during office hours. Answer your email and phone. Let your regular clients know about your vacation schedule. If a client calls about a potential job at 9.30 pm, of course you don't have to answer - very few clients pay a retainer for your 24/7 services. Let the clients know when you are available. If it seems there could be a problem keeping your deadline, inform your client immediately to minimize any eventual damages. The same goes for anyone who receives payments from you - the tax office, insurance company, your colleagues. There is an alternative to most things if you are the active party. In every client relationship, the worst possible solution is ghosting or radio silence.
Be consistent. If you've told a direct end client that two interpreters are needed for a full day of conference interpretation, don't accept a solo gig from an agency for the same job. If you have declined a job from a client citing your busy schedule, don't accept another assignment from them the next day with the same schedule, unless you can tell them there's been a cancellation that freed up your time.
Don't get mad. Don't take questions, comments or requests in the wrong light intentionally. Even the simplest question deserves an answer. The client may not know the right terminology or be able to specify what the question is about. Try to figure out what the aim of the question is and try to solve that problem instead of creating new problems. "Why does it say "a" instead of "the"" may simply mean the client wants to make sure there are no grammatical mistakes in the translation. You can explain why you chose the indefinite article or say that the text has been checked by a native editor of the target language. So make sure you understand where the client is coming from with their questions and comments, and answer them accordingly. After all, you're the professional and expert in your field.
Invoice without delay. For an entrepreneur, this is the most crucial part of the service process - a job is finished when the invoice has been sent. Get the invoicing information with the order, and send the invoice soon after returning the finished translation. Remember to attach all the necessary documents and information, including PO numbers and such. If for some reason you can't invoice in a timely manner, let the client know. If you send an invoice six months after delivering your translation, your contact may have moved on and getting your money will be more difficult. If the client is a big corporation and their fiscal year has ended before you send your invoice, your tardiness may cause problems in accounting. The client will remember this when they need language services the next time. Don't be the person they don't want to go to.
Deal with a reclamation professionally. A reclamation that has been managed well can strengthen the client relationship, whereas lousy management of it can lead to losing the client. Don't forget that direct end clients who are relatively new to commissioning translations may expect a text that they can agree with fully or a text that uses only words they recognize, for example. They may express their disappointment in very strict terms. "This is a horribly bad translation" from an inexperienced user of language services may lead to less corrections and editing than "I have some remarks and questions" from an experienced client.
Case: How to deal with a reclamation successfully
I translated a website for a small translation agency abroad. Weeks after my delivery, the project manager contacted me, because the Finnish offices of the end client were not happy with the translation. I suggested that if it it's OK with the agency, end client and the Finnish offices of the end client, I would prefer to discuss this directly with the Finnish contact person. This was fine with all parties.
I called the Finnish contact person of the end client, who was annoyed, saying it took them a lot of time to edit the texts to their liking. I asked if I could salvage the texts. We set up a meeting with the client and for a couple of hours, we went through their needs and expectations. The meeting revealed that the content of the source web site was not at all suited for the needs of the Finnish office, and the texts had to be modified and rewritten.
The client understood this was not a case of translating the site but rather producing new content, and they wanted me to write the Finnish texts on the basis of our conversation. I would bill the Finnish office directly. I promised to write the texts and get back to them about the invoicing, because of course I could not poach the translation agency's client.
After our meeting, I contacted the agency and explained the situation. The project manager was relieved that the client had been appeased and approved my suggestion. I offered to pay them a provision from my new assignment with the end client, but the agency didn't want that. I rewrote the texts and the end client published them, very happy with the product.