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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Dealing with Complaints

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American Translators Association (ATA): Business Smarts-Dealing with Complaints

Dealing with Complaints


This month's column deals with complaints from management. No matter how carefully a delivery is checked for errors, complaints do happen for a variety of reasons. While dealing with dissatisfied customers is never pleasant, it is part of running a business and must be taken seriously.

Dear Business Smarts:

I frequently feel upset when I receive comments from editors and customers about my work. When I get a marked-up copy of my work with changes, I am often so irate that I cannot concentrate on my other work. I always make it a point to reply to the editor or customer to let them know why I chose a particular term or expression. Recently, the client of an agency I work for complained about my work, claiming it contained inaccuracies and terminology errors. This has been a source of great concern to me, since I usually check my work very carefully before it goes out. What would you advise?
— G.J. from New York

Dear G.J.:

Your letter brings up two different issues that are of equal importance for running a successful freelance business. First, no translator is above making mistakes, no matter how thoroughly a text is reviewed before delivery. An editor's role is to act as another checkpoint to ensure accuracy before a text goes out to the customer. A good editor brings the text to perfection and eliminates little flaws in punctuation, consistency, and style. An inexperienced editor may not fully recognize this role and attempt to rewrite a text unnecessarily. Nevertheless, you and the editor are on the same team, and your highest priority is to provide customer satisfaction. Consequently, your response to a marked-up text, be it from an editor or a direct customer, must reflect a professional attitude. Ideally, the tone of your response should not be irritated or defensive. Simply acknowledge receipt of the comments and promise to give them proper consideration in the future. If you feel truly upset about a correction or notice an error on the editor's or customer's part, it may be best not to respond immediately. Give yourself a little time to compose a mature, polite response that is in your best interest as a businessperson and shows you in a positive light. Discuss the issue with your colleagues on an electronic list for your language pair, or ask someone else to read a printout of your response before you send it out.

Even if you feel stung, try to make the most of the comments and impartially review the corrections. Save customer-specific terminology requests in an appropriately labeled folder for future reference, and enter the corrections into your translation memory. This turns the incident into a learning opportunity and helps avoid hard feelings.

By the same token, the comments you received from a client whom you serve through a translation agency bring up another problematic issue. While it is more than appropriate to send a polite response and acknowledge the complaint, ask yourself what kind of role the particular agency played in this transaction. Good translation agencies earn their money by adding value to the translator's work. They hire an editor, encourage and facilitate the exchange of information about the work, and ensure that the customer receives the best possible product. An agency that simply contracts with you to do a translation and then forwards your documents to the client without further review is not adding any value to your work. When there are complaints, such a business will simply forward the message to you and ask for an explanation. Since they have never read or reviewed your work, the project managers have no idea whether the claims of the customer are applicable. This puts you in a risky situation and you receive the full blame for potential errors, even though someone else took a share of your profits. It may be best to remove this type of business from your list of favorite employers, and to make it a point to work for reputable outfits that respect you and your work enough to set the highest standards.


Reprinted from The ATA Chronicle: July 2006, p 41