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You Can’t Make an Omelette Without Breaking Eggs

I really like that restaurant round the corner. They are always friendly, even if I arrive late. Once, my soup was tasteless. I complained with the waiter. He was sorry and promised to report immediately to the chef to find what went wrong, and brought me a free dessert. If he had acted defensively, probably I would not have come back. On the contrary, I will give them a second chance. If the waiter knows his job, next time he will recommend me the day’s specials.

Have you ever received a complaint from a client who was not happy with your translation?

If you are a freelancer, you probably had to deal with somebody criticising what you have done. In Italy, we say that “only those who do not work, do not get it wrong”.

However, is the client always right?

Even if you did everything right, something got wrong and the client was not happy with your work. It may be a question of miscommunication; maybe you did not meet his or her expectations!

Next time you receive an angry phone call or a file full of corrections, remember that 96% of clients do not complain, they change suppliers, while 70% of clients come back, if you solve the complaint and transform it in the opportunity to shine.

We often take a complaint personally and engage in a battle that nobody wins. When a client protests, you should thank him, because he is probably telling you that he cares. Customer complaints may be the best consulting advice you can get. Consider them an opportunity to improve both the relationship and your translation process.

How to deal with a complaint?

The first rule to limit complaints is probably to understand what the client expects from you. What is quality? Does your “quality” express the value the client wants? Is your translation the right solution for the destination market or for the end-reader? Does it fit the client’s purpose? Or was it just well written with no grammar mistakes though useless for the client’s end market?

You should also learn to spot the “red flags” – stressful, disrespectful, chaotic, reticent –  “problem clients” distinguishing them from clients with difficult projects that you can handle with your expertise. Once you have decided that you can work together on a translation project and have the necessary information, you may receive that undesired phone call.

My advice is to keep calm and show that you know. Do not take it personal. Try to get specifics, try to analyse what went wrong asking the right questions. When people are angry, they often make exaggerated and not objective comments. So, keep calm and try to understand who revised your work, if there are grammar mistakes, or if the client simply does not like your “style”.

Only when you have understood and analysed, you can reply and say you are sorry. Sure, you are sorry because your client is not satisfied with you work. If it is your fault, you will put a process in place to avoid future mistakes. If it is not your fault, explain it to your client and show that you care.

According to a survey among professional translators, more than 66% of translators do not ask for feedback systematically, approximately 30% ask for feedback only occasionally, depending on projects or clients. We translators just sit and wait for complaints, but do not ask for feedback.

Finally, you may also decide not to work with unreasonably picky and disrespectful clients any longer. In this case, the best business decision you can make (to avoid the feast and famine cycle) is to establish yourself as an expert and do not to rely on one single client!

Show that you care, that you are ready to find solutions. Complaints are the opportunity to improve! You can win over a client with your win-win approach, a client who will trust you.

Did it happen to you? How do you deal with problem clients? How do you reply to complaints?