18 November 2014

Translation as a problem-solving service: a consumer's approach

I am a proud translator, but I do not live in a vacuum: I am also a consumer, and I find that my own experience as such is an essential tool in my dealings with any potential or actual clients.

It is a simple idea. Beyond languages, CAT tools and writing skills, customer service is one thing that can make me stand out from the global translation crowd. I still need to translate well but, all other things being equal, I will be a better translator if I am more customer-oriented.

Being a consumer in other works of life provides me with crucial information about my clients and their needs, and I make a point of keeping in mind that information at all times. What do I need when I need a service? When and how do I want it delivered? Who and why do I appreciate the most for the servicethey provide? Who do I call again, even if they have never actually worked for me?

As a consumer, I have dealt with a zillion unreliable and unfriendly service providers. There is the electrician who says he will show up on Tuesday and does not, and the plumber who says she will turn up at 2 pm and shows up at 3.30 pm, just as I am getting ready to pick up my children from school. There is the Internet company who says the line will be back to normal within two hours, which I can cope with, and again tells me it will take two hours when nothing happens and I call in again to report that things are still not working. And there is the lawyer who does not reply to my e-mails.

We have all been there, probably lots of times. In my case, the unreliability of my own service providers continues to drive me nuts whenever I have to endure it, but I have to admit that it also provides fantastic ongoing training in my effort to become a good translator. It is an always timely reminder of the kind of professional I do not want to be.

When I call a plumber, an electrician or a lawyer, it is because I need to get something fixed or sorted out. I need the job done sooner rather than later, although I can accept that I am probably not the only person in town with a problem that needs to be solved. In most cases, I can wait at least a bit, but I do need to feel that the service provider in question is taking me seriously, that they acknowledge the problem I am facing, that they will try to fix it as soon as possible.

I need them to be pleasant in their dealings with me - not to buy me lunch or sing my favourite song, just to be civil and helpful. I need them to show up when they said they would, to have with them any tools they might foreseeably have to work with, to acnowledge the fact that I know nothing about their trade without making me feel stupid or cheated.

I assume that potential clients who approach me as a translator want the same things, and I make a point of responding as I wish the electrician, the plumber and the lawyer would. Whether they are agencies or direct clients, people who seek out my translation services come up to me with a need, and it is essential that I respond to that need. I may not always be able to meet it, but I can always try, and I can certainly always aim to remain pleasant and point clients in the direction of a solution.

Responding means acknowledging the need, returning e-mails and calls, perhaps explaining why I cannot translate a document on aircraft engines at all or why I cannot translate a 5,000-word report by tomorrow morning, or noting that I am busy until a certain date. I may be able to provide a referral, or say I cannot do the job by Thursday but can do it by lunchtime on Friday.

It is hardly rocket science. All you need to do is to remember your dealings with your last two computer repair people, the annoying one you dropped and the one who saved your life. Presumably you, like me, know who of those you want to be.

At the end of the day, being nice will not make you translate better, but it will ensure that you provide a better service, and it will help you run a better business. As freelance translators, that is surely part of our job, and a major part of our job at that.

Friendliness is simply business savvy, even without considering its positive personal effects on ourselves and those around us. So... be pleasant, be helpful, be thoughtful, for your own sake as well as your clients'!

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