I’m starting to feel like I’ve wandered into some sort of Customer Service Bermuda Triangle. I place orders, submit my payment, and the item inexplicably disappears. Last week I wrote about a run-in with a local company. Yesterday I checked on an online order I placed with a different company two weeks ago, only to discover that unbeknownst to me, it had been cancelled because the order form was apparently incomplete.
Fair enough, but my question to them is: you had my email, so why did no one bother to tell me that the order had been cancelled, or better yet, ask me for the missing information so the order could be completed? Their only response was that they were very sorry to hear about my problem, and that next time perhaps I should order by phone so a representative can place the order for me. Translation: “You are clearly an idiot who should not be using a computer. Next time pick up the phone. Can you handle that?” Thank you, but I don’t think there will be a next time.
Lack of responsiveness and accountability is a huge frustration when dealing with big companies. Would it have killed the customer “service” representative to get the missing information from me and reinstate the order? I’m not even asking for free shipping or a discount here, just a minimum effort to solve the problem. Instead, they opted for the most passive, least helpful response they thought they could get away with.
Freelancers and small business owners, on the other hand, are not insulated by layers of departments and minions who deal with clients for us. Many of us, myself included, use this accessibility as an asset: clients know exactly what they get and who they will be dealing with, and there is immediate accountability in all transactions. But I have to admit … with clients in almost every time zone the demands are never-ending, and when that *Urgent!!!* e-mail comes in at 3 a.m. I sure wish I had a customer-service minion of my own. “We’re very sorry to hear about your problem. Next time, please call us first so you don’t end up in this mess in the first place… bye-bye now.”
Just kidding. I value my clients and would like to keep them.
My question is serious, though: how do we deal with the round-the-clock demands of a 24/7 economy with our finite small-business resources? Is there such a thing as too much responsiveness and availability? A few months into my first year as a translator the phone rang in the middle of the night. It was a Dutch client who had some questions about the terminology in my translation. Now I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but I’ve lived in the US for over 20 years, and my Dutch needs a little lubing when I’m startled from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. Not optimal when you’re trying to justify your linguistic choices and you’re having a hard time putting a coherent sentence together.
The following are some scenarios I encounter on a regular basis. How would you respond?
- A deadline is approaching, your computer is freezing up, and right then the phone rings: it’s a client.
- You already rejected a job offer from a big company because your schedule is full, yet project managers keep e-mailing: Can you take part of it if we split it up? Can you do it if we extend the deadline? Can you take the proofreading?
- You get a job offer via e-mail on a complex project. While you’re still trying to figure out what your quote is going to be, they call.
- You’re in the middle of a project with a tight deadline and you get an email with questions about a translation you finished earlier.
- You get a quick question about a few words from an established client, offering to pay a min. fee.
- It’s a busy day and you get an email from a potential new client asking if you’re interested in collaboration.
- You get an e-mail that does not address you by name.
- A client in a different time zone calls in the middle of the night.
Some of these are easy, like emails that don’t even use your name. Unless you’re a beginner who needs to build up a resume and may therefore need to bid on jobs, it’s pretty safe to ignore these mass emails. But what about some of the other ones. Do you ignore them? Get back to them later? Answer the phone? I’d love to hear how others have handled these or similar situations.
Very good questions! I am a project manager and my job is to resolve such situations in a way that vendors participating in a project do work in their standard working hours. Very rarely there is a situation which could not be resolved. Even 50k words within 3 days or 5k words within 1 day. There’s always a way for an experienced PM to organise the project in the most convenient way for the linguists, typesetters, engineers and client.
If you experience too many of these situations with a client, then you might consider educating or letting this client go. No matter how important they are for your income, they are rarely essential for your long-term freelancing and even the client. Clients know when they ask for insanities and they understand the idea of personal and business boundaries. However, very often when you work with LSPs you work with not experience enough PMs or PMs without the right qualities for a l10n, t9n PM. That’s why they act like the telephone switchboard operators rather than project managers.
One of the reasons why pretty big LSPs outsource companies like The i-Mind, formed around experience, to handle their complex projects and their tough clients. Despite LSPs all-over-the-world offices, the capabilities of their PMs is quite diversified and limited. Usually only the headquarter can handle some of the tough clients and projects. In such cases they outsource the work to PMs who do more than switchboard operations.
Unfortunately, for linguists, there is not much they could do in such cases. They are asked to say Yes or No to so set project instructions and workflow. It is not linguists work to make this work for all parties and definitely not linguists duty to agree with such instructions and workflow. The more linguists say No in such situations the better the PMs and clients will be in doing their part in setting up a linguistic project.
Thank you for offering a perspective from the other side of the equation, Stefan. I often wonder what these situations are like for PMs. You’re right in that the most stressful situations involve big agencies with PMs who themselves are under pressure. That said, I have worked with many brilliant PMs who are skilled managers and organizers. They make my life easier and as far as I’m concerned they are worth their weight in gold. Judging from your insights it sounds like The i-Mind belongs to the latter category. Thank you for taking the time to share from your experience; very helpful!
It’s funny, I once thought about writing a similar post. It can be very challenging to be everywhere at the same time and to give the same amount of attention and accuracy to everyone or every project. One thing that could help is writing an automatic reply that you can send the person asking for a query (a not so urgent one, obviously) to let them know that you will be taking care of their request as soon as possible. But I guess the best thing that one can do is prioritize, over and over again, and try not to get too stressed about it – not easy, I know!
Hi Emeline, yes, I think part of the pressure is that it’s hard to combine the laser focus required for top-quality translations with the multitasking and occasional chaos of running a business. I want an office manager for Christmas 🙂 In the meantime, though, your suggestion of setting up an automatic response is a good one; don’t know why I haven’t done it yet but I’m going to now. Thanks for your input!
Excellent post. Having worked as a freelance translator and now running an agency, I will try to answer the issues you raised from both points of view. It is usually a lot easier for an agency to deal with these issues than it is for a freelancer.
• A deadline is approaching, your computer is freezing up, and right then the phone rings: it’s a client.
In an agency, there’s always someone else to take the call. As a freelancer, if you are working with a tight deadline and don’t want to be interrupted, voice mail is the answer. For the computer freezing, making sure there’s always back-up in place and ideally an additional computer to work on in case the first one lets you down can work like a charm.
• You already rejected a job offer from a big company because your schedule is full, yet project managers keep e-mailing: Can you take part of it if we split it up? Can you do it if we extend the deadline? Can you take the proofreading?
First, when you reject a job, let them know you’d be fully booked-up until XXX (date) and cannot take on any projects. If they keep emailing: first of all, you don’t need to reply immediately if you are working on something urgent; secondly, you may want to keep sending them the same message if they don’t seem to get it the first time (as in copy and paste from your first email – Unfortunately, I am fully booked-up…….).
• You get a job offer via e-mail on a complex project. While you’re still trying to figure out what your quote is going to be, they call.
Tell them the truth. The project is quite complex and you are working on the quote, but will get back to them shortly (even better of you can approximate when). Emeline’s solution is perfect. I see no issue here.
• You’re in the middle of a project with a tight deadline and you get an email with questions about a translation you finished earlier.
Just like with the voice mail, you can set up an automatic response saying you’re working on a project but would be available to reply to any emails within a certain period of time.
• You get a quick question about a few words from an established client, offering to pay a min. fee.
There’s no straight answer here, it depends on your relationship with the client. As a freelancer, there have been situations where I did small jobs for free for clients I’d been collaborating for a while. As an agency, we can never ask our freelancers to work for free even if we don’t charge the end client (of course, if we’ve been collaborating for a while, they may decide not to charge us either). We actually had this recently – the client wanted a small sample translated before assigning the project. We didn’t charge them, but we did pay the freelancer who translated it.
• It’s a busy day and you get an email from a potential new client asking if you’re interested in collaboration.
Either automated email or a short reply saying you’d get back to them. It depends on the sort of project they need, their deadline etc.
• You get an e-mail that does not address you by name.
Usually ignore, especially as a freelancer. As an agency, it may be difficult for them to know who to contact (not for our agency though, it should be pretty clear). Speaking of that, I received an email yesterday staring with: ‘Dear Example Title Example Surname’ :))
• A client in a different time zone calls in the middle of the night.
Way too long a comment, I know, I should stop. Hope it helps though.
Hi Alina, thank you for addressing these issues in detail. Not too long at all; I appreciate you taking the time! I think the pattern I see emerging here is that it’s okay to not be personally available to everyone all the time. I think the inner pressure I feel is that it’s rude/unprofessional to not respond right away, but you’re saying that it’s perfectly fine to respond with some version of “hold on, will get back to you later.” I like your suggestion of copy/pasting the original response because I usually specify a time frame when I say I’m not available, yet sometimes the emails keep coming about proofreading/another job, etc. And the “Dear Example Title Example Surname” is priceless, thanks for a good laugh to start off my day!
Yes, no one can or should be available 24/7. It is neither rude nor unprofessional not to pick up the phone at midnight. Sure, there are agencies offering this kind of service, but it is impossible for a freelancer to do so. I have received applications in which translators said they were available 24/7, but I don’t think it’s a healthy attitude. Yes, I am also aware that there are plenty of agencies that make unrealistic promises to their clients (in terms of turnaround) and then are desperately looking for a translator, therefore expecting them to respond immediately. Even worse, some send mass emails and see who responds first. I’m not even go there, or I’ll have another very long comment. Since we don’t have this approach, we don’t expect our freelancers to be at our beck and call 24/7.
Oh, and the ‘Dear Example Title Example Surname’ had me in tears (of laughter that is). I almost fell off my chair.
Sounds like Inbox Translations knows how to treat its linguists, but that’s perhaps not surprising since you have been in the trenches yourself. Thanks again for your perspective!