Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Don't Immediately Concede a Discount Just Because the Client Complains (and Seems to Expect One)

Sorry for the lousy title, but I need to focus on the contents.

In better times this is perhaps a rare oddity, if not unheard of, but these days whimsical and borderline incompetent checking and correcting of translations by clients and agencies is something we keep hearing about all the time. I've come to the conclusion it can't be just the coincidental subjective experience of a couple of people, there must be more of it, as in a trend, hence this post.

This is going to be a controversial statement, but in my opinion there is a general decline in competence, morality and manner (as in class act) worldwide, so no wonder professional ethics and courtesy also are slackening and people don't seen an ethical problem in biased adversarial examination of and complaints about goods and services they procure, in the hope of saving some money.

In our so-called translation industry (how I hate the term!), this is compounded by how agencies end up with cheap proofreaders due to all their cost-cutting, which means that senior external translators end up having their work checked and graded by junior inhouse staff. The same happens in corporations when, out of the same desire to cut costs, someone decides to DYI it. If not the translation, then the checking.

In either case it may be compounded by how the choice of expression is largely subjective, as are outlooks on equivalence, as are skill levels and judgements thereof. Egos are involved. Face-saving is involved, sometimes real cover-ups and damage control after someone botches the job, the project, notably by already having procedured translation on the cheap before, which not only backfired but also drained the budget.

Or, like in the old Indian tale of two wolves, there's not only good and evil in every single one of us but also intelligence and stupidity, controlled behaviour and freaking out, class act and poor manner. The one wolf that wins is the one we feed. Our clients and their staff, and brokers, also have wolves to feed and make their choices. Translation procurement tends to be inexplicably conducive to making just the wrong, stupid choices. And let's not forget about people who just don't know how bad they are, or at least not as highly qualified as they think, especially for work they haven't studied and trained for, or at least learned the language.

(This notably includes a great deal of native speakers of the target language in translation, retained by clients and brokers often for little merit beyond their native origin, who so often just don't know all the rules or just plain can't write. But it also includes a great deal of 'proficient' non-natives who think they're good enough to doubtless be the innocent party in a dispute with a qualified native writer or translator. And then loads of people who aren't particularly familiar with the field but go ahead and edit other people's writing anyway.)

The point? Stop overthinking. You won't likely find out which is the case, let alone find the comfort of certainty. What you need to realize is that shit happens — every day. Yes, it happens. Today, a fellow translator wrote about how an agency explicitly asked her to look for errors, find some, grade it down, help them save some buck. When confronted with this reality, you need to avoid compulsively looking for fault within yourself and taking the blame just to avoid having to acknowledge that the world is a bad place and people can be jerks.

Fend it off, cast off the fog, keep your mind clear. Check twice if you they don't have a point, but if you can't find legit errors, and serious enough, then you need to confront the reality that no, the client is not always right in general, and that your client is not right, right here and now, in particular.

If you still grant a discount, for example to avoid non-payment because you realistically need the money and have no other way to see at least some of it, or you just won't the client to go away without going out of his way to damage your reputation (you already damage it by making it look like you're admitting errors that just aren't there!), then I won't judge you, but it should be your decision, not an automatism.

Automatic discounts on every complaint — which is nb. sometimes the way things work with translation agencies — only encourage frivolous complaints. Remember, a lot of people are amoral in some degree in business. They just see numbers, cash flows, equations, impersonal operations to manage, they don't really think or feel much beyond that it makes sense to save money where you can. Which includes where a weaker 'vendor' will let you. So don't.

This said, I certainly don't encourage dismissing legitimate complaints, especially not as a matter of policy. And yes, this too is a policy companies have long discovered and tested in practice by now. Just consider how clients and brokers use the broken-record strategy to deflect your overdue payment requests, piling on outlandish excuses one after one, avoiding you or outright stalling. I certainly am not saying this is what we should do to our clients when they have cause to worry or outright complain or even demand a discount, a deserved one.

But simply wanting a discount covers exactly zero distance toward deserving it or proving that they do. Again, I'm not saying the burden of proof should by sky-high, but a nude demand or some sort of faux proofreading doesn't rise to the level. It doesn't rise much above floor level, and it rather goes quite lower than that. It's quite low indeed, and has no place from respected companies — as soon as you can establish it wasn't just an accident at work (you need to probe gently before they get defensive and start opposing you on principle), you need to let them know it won't fly and in fact it's quite bad of them to even have tried.

We need to send the message that changing times have not made the practice acceptable.


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