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How NOT to Lose Customers

Delivering good translations on time but finding it hard to retain your customers? Find out why!


Translators often assume that quality, cost and turnaround time are what make companies want to work with them again and again. Of course this triad plays a role, but there will always be someone able to work just as fast as you, someone cheaper than you or someone who has an eye for detail to match yours. If this is the case, how can you ensure your customers choose to keep working with you and are not tempted to work with your competition? Easy – make sure you focus on how you talk to your customers, as building REAL-ationships fosters lasting collaboration.

Earlier this week I had an enlightening discussion with one of my customers, who revealed that her main struggle when working with freelance translators, and something that is often overlooked, is….COMMUNICATION!

She revealed that the following bad practices would make her less likely to continue working with freelance translators:

1.       Not reading instructions

If customers provide a translator with clear instructions (e.g. character limits, reference materials, glossaries, etc.), they expect the translator to actually use them!

2.       Not asking questions

Customers would much rather take the time to answer your questions than for you to deliver something you are unsure about. Don’t be afraid to lose face, you actually appear far more professional if you raise doubts, as this shows you care about the translation you are delivering (and is much better than guessing and getting it wrong). It is also a good idea to ask where the document is to be published, as this may change the tone of your translation.

3.       Not reporting issues

If you are struggling with an aspect of your source text (formatting, lots of abbreviations, more transcreation required than you anticipated, etc.), let your customer know. Solutions can often be found but, once again, you need to COMMUNICATE!!

4.       Not passing on information

If you have spotted an error in the source text and simply corrected it, for example, although your translation will be correct, the original may still be published when it contains an error. Customers appreciate you pointing out mistakes in their documents (with tact, obviously), so that all published versions are correct. Do not take it for granted that your customers will spot every inconsistency in their texts – they are humans too and humans miss things!

5.       Having bad manners/not using common sense

As I already mentioned, customers are humans and they understand that LIFE HAPPENS. Your child is sick and you are going to miss a deadline? Completely understandable. Telling your customer this when you are already three hours late? No so much.

6.       Bad attitude

Some translators refuse to work with agencies (or language service providers). This is a matter of personal preference. However, if you do work with agencies don’t assume they are all out to exploit you because some translators have told you they have had bad experiences with some agencies. Check in with your project managers. Don’t ignore their emails after you have delivered. Ask them for help. Many project managers actually trained as translators and are more than happy to help you with your research when you are stuck on a tricky term, for example. Translators just don’t often think (or dare) to ask.

7.       Refusal to work with CAT tools

Customers do not expect you to have experience working with every CAT tool on the market, but they do expect you not to flat out refuse to work with any CAT tool. Often they will be happy to show you how one works if they like your work. A couple of hours spent learning how to use a CAT tool may result in much more work with a customer in the long run.

8.       Poor time management

Make sure you don’t take on more than you can chew. If you have to rush a job because you have taken on too much, you are more likely to make mistakes and your customer is sure to notice. It is much better to say no to a job or ask for an extension if you know you will struggle to deliver on time than to deliver something not up to your usual standards.

To create REAL-ationships and retain your customers, be:

INQUISITIVE (ask those questions),

DEDICATED (point out mistakes in source texts and answer queries further to delivering),

TRANSPARENT (let your customers know if you are experiencing personal issues, people are generally compassionate when you communicate),

HONEST (if you prefer not to work with a specific CAT tool or on a specific project, let your customer know your reasons - maybe they will put you on another project or allow you to use your CAT tool of choice),

ORGANISED (don’t take on more work than you can handle – you are not a machine),

PROFESSIONAL (communicate politely and use your common sense),

OPEN (if a customer asks you to try something new (post-editing, a different CAT tool, etc.), don’t just refuse flat out. You can always offer to try a small project for them and then if you really don’t like it, explain your reasons for preferring not to take on these projects in the future),

FLEXIBLE (the notion of quality includes customer expectations. If a certain style or specific terminology is preferred and the customer informs you, make sure you take this into account and you don’t impose your preferences – it is their product at the end of the day).

Most importantly, remember your customers are REAL people, not just a response at the end of an email. I hope these tips will help you create REAL-ationships to ensure your customers keep working with you in the future.




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