Professional subjects from a personal perspective

Lessons learned at the wordface: dealing with complaints

Many of us have experienced the awkward situation, where a client gets in touch after a project and is disappointed. The difficulty comes in dealing with this information. There are a number of possible reasons for the client’s reaction:

•You made an error
•The client is not able to judge the quality of the translation
•There is room for improvement in your pre-project workflow

I speak from personal experience when I say that everyone makes mistakes. This includes you. This also includes your clients. It pays to remember is that a mistake is an opportunity to improve. No matter how hard you work, how meticulous your translations are, how rigorous your QA processes, things can, and do, slip through the net. What marks you out as a professional is how you react.

Sometimes, it can be tempting to press the panic button:

Panic button - Speech Marks Translation


Instead, take a deep breath and consider the following options:


If the error is yours, own up and apologise. I have been surprised by some extremely defensive reactions to situations like this in the past. A lot can be gained (or salvaged) from taking responsibility for a mistake. The client is able to see that you are accountable for your actions, and this will most likely enhance your reputation, rather than damage it. In contrast, taking a defensive or even hostile approach when dealing with these situations will inevitably leave you looking for another client.

Client education

Dissatisfied clients are often no reflection on your skills. In fact, as I said earlier, situations like these can actually be opportunities for you to demonstrate exactly how skilled you are. The fact is that many translation buyers simply don’t have the ability to review the finished product. This is where problems with external ‘experts’ come in. I’m sure I’m not the only one, who has had to explain that a client’s doctor/aunt/friend, who spent a year in the UK in the 80s doesn’t necessarily know the ins and outs of the language as well as a native speaker. The trust that your client puts in you gives you a position of responsibility, which, given the right client (some just don’t care, sadly), can result in them gaining a better understanding of the industry, the translation process and your own capabilities.

Get an independent review

If you or your client feel that such a step would be productive, what about asking a colleague to review your translation? In this situation it might be a good idea to ask someone with either a high-level qualification, advanced membership of a professional association or a significant amount of experience in the industry. Remember, you are either trying to build or rebuild the trust between you and your client. He or she needs reassurance about your credentials, and appearances, numbers and figures will work in your favour. This backup will often be enough for the client to at least see your worth, which will then allow you to explain your translation choices and, hopefully, come to a satisfying conclusion for both parties.

If you feel that this step is worth it, the question then becomes who should pay for this service. If you have a professional collaboration with a colleague, this might be the time to call in a favour. However, if you pay for the reviser’s time yourself, justify it as a small expense, which may well pay off big time in the long run.

Improve your pre-project procedures

A lot of the problems that result in client complaints are linked to the parameters that are set before the translation actually begins. Imagine that a new client has phoned or emailed and you have agreed on rates and a deadline. What comes next? Do you just start translating? Or do you ask for reference material, a glossary of company or preferred terminology and the name of a person to contact with queries? This point is relevant to translators, who work primarily with direct clients, as (good) agencies will provide this information as a matter of course. In order to integrate these questions into your workflow, you could construct a series of short questions to send along with confirmation of the order in the form of a brief. Depending on the length, technicality and complexity of the project in hand, the brief can cover tone of voice, specific terms to avoid (perhaps competitor product names) and any images, which will accompany the translation.

This brief can be a solid foundation to fall back on in cases of client dissatisfaction, as you will have a record of his or her preferences.

How do you deal with dissatisfied clients?
Do you ask clients to fill out a brief?
As always, tips and comments are greatly appreciated!

Note: another great post on this topic is When a client is dissatisfied on Thoughts on Translation

Reflections on the ITI Conference

ITI Conference 2013, name tag

As you may know, I attended my first ITI Conference recently. As you may also know, if you are a fellow fan of Twitter, there was a dedicated hashtag for the event: #ITIConf13. If you didn’t have the time to keep up with all of the tweets from the conference (and there were a lot), you can search for the hashtag to catch up now.

As a newbie, I was a bit apprehensive, but the friendly atmosphere is one of the lasting impressions that I will take away from the event. One of my aims as an attendee was to put a lot of faces to Twitter handles, and I was delighted to meet so many of my colleagues in one place. The only downside was not having a lot of time to talk, as the programme was jam-packed with talks, consultations, a pop-up photography studio and even a choir. My choice of sessions covered specialisation, workflow, accuracy in translation, professional development and technology – a great mix of topics, which provided a lot of food for thought (and a to-do list!).

A particular highlight for me was meeting and listening to both Chris Durban and Jost Zetzsche, the latter of which delivered an extremely enjoyable and inspiring keynote speech, which really highlighted the great value of our profession. One quotation, which I considered to be particularly significant, and one which I tweeted at the time, is the following: “we don’t just create words, we create worlds”.

After two hectic days of networking, attending seminars and celebrating the profession that we love, I headed homewards with my ITI canvas bag laden with notes, business cards and even some caramels (a kind gift from a friend and colleague). I’ve been busy implementing advice and ideas ever since!

To read more about the conference from colleagues’ perspectives, Catherine of Lingua Greca has blogged about her highlights and José of Bluebird Translations also wrote a post about his experience. In addition, Alison Hughes has written a poem about the experience. Take a look and get a taste of the atmosphere.

If you’re heading to an industry event soon, these posts might be handy:

* WantWordstips for networking at events: before, during and after
* Drew’s Marketing Minute6 steps to success for conferences and networking events
*Thoughts on Translation – audio blog: finding direct clients through industry conferences