A situation came up this past week that I would like to share and get some feedback on, especially because I saw the situation one way and the main translator on the project saw it another. The situation involved not the translation process, but how far we would go to handle the client’s queries after that fact.
In my experience, we generally have two types of translation clients. There are clients who never question the translations we send back, they trust us and our processes and would never dare question our expertise. However, we also have the clients that question every single aspect of the completed translation, often using a very weak knowledge of the language. There is rarely an in-between.
I tend to be a person long on patience and I encourage clients to ask questions. We will review and explain and answer all their questions until they are satisfied.
However, this past month we did a rather large project for a particular company, English to French, in which their questions went well beyond the norm, lasting week after week, email after email. We had used a standard translation team of 3 linguists, a translator, editor, and proofreader, with the head translator being an ATA certified linguist who I have worked with for more than a decade. He is amazing and I trust his skills above and beyond many of the other translators I work with.
The final version of the translation looked great and the client was pleased with it at first glance. However, the client began to email us lists of questions about the translation, such as “should “am” and “pm” be translated? What does the word on page 16 line 12 mean?
The issue was not that questions were being asked. We were happy to answer the customer queries. However, none of the questions led to a single change being made to the completed document and the translator was emailing page after page of explanations for his work and word choice. My head translator felt that he was having to justify his work without cause as there were no legitimate customer concerns about quality, simply an almost line for line explanation of word choice.
In addition, it is notable that we are talking about a LOT of back and forth, email after email, lasting for about a 3 week period. We were unsure if this client, although new to us, was new to translations in general.
The translator finally called me and stated that he wouldn’t answer any other questions about this document without an additional fee. He made this case to me in an email:
My mentioning of a consulting rate follows this reasoning:
a) All clients, not just the new ones, have a right to a first round of reviews/questions, etc., within a reasonable period of time (say, up to 2 weeks after the job is delivered to client’s satisfaction). After that period of time, it is reasonable to charge for additional questions as an added service.
b) The customer, new or old, will learn to see me (or you, etc.) as a businessperson with valuable time, and not a “friend”. If your customer sees you more like a friend, she’ll find it irresistible to take advantage of your niceness and good nature.
And one more thing: telling the client you will be happy to entertain more questions for a fee saves you face in the sense that you don’t have to argue that you are right at every step. Does it make sense?
Interestingly enough, when the client was told that there would a fee, there were no complaints or further questions.
I know that, had the translator himself worked with this customer directly, he would not have entertained or allowed as many rounds of questions as he did because he was working with us.
Also, this client is a customer I hope we work with again. We enjoyed the project and we know we did a good job for them. I think the relationship and conversation will end with more work to come and hopefully they will trust us more in the future.
I suppose for translators it comes down to how they feel a client views them. One doesn’t normally question the word of a professional. When a lawyer tells you something, you don’t question it, right? Some people do!! What guidelines should we follow?
I ask of you all out there: what is your cut off for customer queries? How many is too many? Is there a “too many”? Is there a time limit to accepting questions? Is two week of questions reasonable or within two weeks reasonable? Have you had a similar experience and how did you manage it?