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What do you do when you receive a justified complaint about your work?
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:09
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 16, 2007

Hi everyone,

A couple of days ago I translated a short (4 page) medical report for an agency with which i have a very good relationship. This morning, I received an email from them, following a complaint from their client. The client in fact speaks the source and target languages well, but given the medical nature of the text had wanted a professional tarnslator to do it.

The mistake I had made was small in itself, but the result was significant - I had missed out the word "absent", creating the difference between:

The patient has this condition, and, the patient doesn't have this condition.

The client realised this was not a translation error, but a "mistake due to sloppy reading". He was absolutely right, and the only thing I could do was hold my hands up, apologise profusely, and say that although not an excuse, it was human error. Hopefully the standard of the rest of the document is sufficient to reassure him of my work.

This got me wondering however - what do other people do when they make mistakes; and moreover what do they do when these mistakes are spotted?

Is there anything you can do apart from apologise?


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:09
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Human nature... Aug 16, 2007

Wendy Leech wrote:
This got me wondering however - what do other people do when they make mistakes; and moreover what do they do when these mistakes are spotted?


It is human nature to make excuses, and hope that the client is fool. But the professional thing to do is to apologise.

Just don't apologise if you haven't checked that the mistake is actually your (or if there is actually a mistake).


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Deschant
Local time: 00:09
Apologise... Aug 16, 2007

... and learn from it!

The first thing to do when you receive a complain would be to ask for actual examples of poor performance, so that you have the opportunity to defend your work (for example, some proofreaders make a lot of merely stylistic changes, and if the PM doesn't speak the target language, he might be lead to think that there were actually a lot of mistakes). In your case, it seems this has been done...

I wonder whether it would be the polite thing to do to offer a reduction in the invoice? Maybe not in your case, but I've heard of people who do it...

Regards,
Eva


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:09
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
always check Aug 16, 2007

Samuel Murray wrote:

Just don't apologise if you haven't checked that the mistake is actually your (or if there is actually a mistake).



The first thing I did was to check the error, and it was my fault. I have had this occur before where the complaint was unfounded, and when this happens i just respectfully point out that the error is not mine, but that i will help explain anything they don't understand.


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:09
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
how do you quantify an error? Aug 16, 2007

emoreda wrote:

I wonder whether it would be the polite thing to do to offer a reduction in the invoice? Maybe not in your case, but I've heard of people who do it...



The thought had crossed my mind. And i'm sure we all work for some agencies who put a "invoice reduction due to bad quality" clause as standard on their POs.

This is perhaps a special case where, as I said, the error itself was singular (one error in 4 pages) and minor (in other circumstances it would not have mattered). But the meaning of the particular word omitted was enough to entirely change the meaning of the sentence. So how would you rate the error in terms of seriousness?

I haven't offered any reduction in invoice - i am waiting for their response to my apology.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:09
French to English
Take it on the chin ! Aug 16, 2007

As you already have - apologise profusely, with the old "to err is human" point chucked in for good measure. Hope that, as you've said, they can see the mistake for what it is, a mistake, and are still happy to continue the working relationship.

I do think, however, that within reason, it's kinda up to the client to decide how serious it is. I certainly wouldn't go volunteering reductions. BUT (and this is one reason I don't touch medical), you did say that someone did (or didn't) have a condition that they didn't (or do) have.
(It's not clear which direction the mistake was!)
Now, speaking personally, if I was getting treated for a condition I didn't have, or not getting treated for a condition I did have, as the result of a one-word translation mistake, I would not be a happy camper.
Luckily, of course, your mistake was spotted, but I don't think you'd be doing yourself any favours to downplay it IF they decide to make a meal of things. It could have been pretty serious.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:09
Flemish to English
+ ...
How to quantify an error Aug 16, 2007

Wendy Leech wrote:
So how would you rate the error in terms of seriousness?


I"ve worked for a big agency and they had a list of errors to which they attributed a figure:
ex.:
grammatical error : 4/5, as a professional you are supposed to master your target-language.
ommssions : : 2/5
inconsistency : 3/5
spelling error : 3/5
wrong translation : 5/5
typo : 1/5
Average 18/30.
If you dropped below 20/30, your place on their ranking of translators went down. It was only when there were serious mistakes, they asked for a reduction.
---
Nobody is perfect. That is why it is prudent to convene a period of say 10 days, during which you will be available to correct mistakes and discuss remarks.
If you don't limit that period, you stand a chance that the customer keeps looking for mistakes just to reduce his/her invoice.


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Spencer Allman
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:09
Finnish to English
Always admit it Aug 16, 2007

BUT

many errors are just slips, as in your case. The onus is on the agency to provide a revision service to check for slips, which are just that and NOT translation mistakes as such (if you see what I mean)

If the agency did not have the translation checked they can hardly ask for a reduction (my philosophy, anyway)

best

s


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 01:09
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
That's what I have professional indemnity insurance for! Aug 16, 2007

But I've never had any claims on it.

Your error was caught in time, so you won't have an unhappy patient suffering or any question of compensation.

So often the technical magnitude of a translation error is way out of proportion to the results it can have. Medicine is not really more risky than other kinds of technology, engineering etc. Or thousands of glossy brochures printed with some disastrous boob... I have had similar things caught by a proofreader, and found them when proofreading other people's work.

Unfortunately I don't get everything proofread by someone else, and one or two errors have slipped through for me too. It does hurt, I know! So console yourself that you're not the only one and it could have been worse.

On the bright side, it is lucky that you have a good relationship with the agency. My favourite agencies accept the fact that we're only human, often working under pressure of time... and leave it at that.

Give yourself a break, and review your proofing routines (which are probably fine, but it's a healthy exercise).
Then get back to work and don't let it put you off your stroke!






[Edited at 2007-08-16 13:05]


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Kemal Mustajbegovic  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:09
English to Croatian
+ ...
It's not a "small mistake" Aug 16, 2007

I'm afraid Wendy that was a big mistake.

"The mistake I had made was small in itself, but the result was significant - I had missed out the word "absent", creating the difference between:

The patient has this condition, and, the patient doesn't have this condition."

You spelled it out yourself - your mistake makes a significant difference. Can you imagine situation when someone's life might be in danger due to mistake like that.

I am translator specialized in health/medicine and I always make sure that my translation is 100% correct before delivery.

We, translators, are not surgeons whose mistakes are hidden 6 feet under the ground, our mistakes are visible "black on white".

I feel sorry for you. Fortunately, as it looks, you've been lucky this time. No major damage has been caused, but...

Good luck!


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Honeybunny
Local time: 01:09
English to French
+ ...
Ooops Aug 16, 2007

I agree the best thing to do was apologise, I suppose it'll make you cringe with embarrassment for some time, something to tell your grandkids when you're old and withered!

I made a mistake once, too. It was not something critical, but I had definitely missed a point. I did the same as you: I apologised profusely and then tried to forget about it.

As for the rating of your error, well, you slipped, and that's that. The only reason it could have been serious was because it was a medical document. Fortunately, it was spotted in time : accident avoided.

I don't think it's serious, as you and many others said : it's only human. I wouldn't offer a discount, I think they might get the wrong idea.

Honeybun



[Edited at 2007-08-16 13:16]


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Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:09
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
- Aug 16, 2007

Kemal Mustajbegovic wrote:

I'm afraid Wendy that was a big mistake.

Good luck!


Kemal - I am not disputing the gravity of the error. What I mean by saying a "small mistake in itself" was referring to the fact that it involved the omissioni of one word - which is a small action, as opposed to the omission of a paragraph, or consistent errors throughout the document.

My awareness of the possible gravity of the consequences is partly what led me to write this post, as I felt very bad about it and was unsure how others would act in a similar situation.

I am supported by others' comments that "to err is human", and I am hoping that the agency adheres to the adage that "to forgive is divine". I suppose I will have to wait and see on that note.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:09
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Don't offer discounts upfront Aug 16, 2007

emoreda wrote:
I wonder whether it would be the polite thing to do to offer a reduction in the invoice? Maybe not in your case, but I've heard of people who do it...


I would not offer discounts unless it appears after a few tos and fros that there is a possible breakdown of relations in the works.

In some cases it would seem that the client is looking for an apology only (or sometimes the agency wants to make you aware of the mistake, and please be more careful next time).


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Kemal Mustajbegovic  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:09
English to Croatian
+ ...
Working under pressure... Aug 16, 2007

I cannot accept "working under pressure" as an excuse for mistake(s) made doing the job accepted, and apparently qualified for.
Every trades person (and translation is a trade, don't get me wrong) works under pressure - plumber's mistake will leak, electrician's mistake may set your house on fire, lawyer's mistake can send you to jail despite you pleaded not guilty...
And they might say, "sorry I was working under pressure".
What I'm saying is - make sure you're confident to put your signature under your work as much as your are sure when signing a mortgage on your house.
Or, take a break, extensive break ... rethink ... reconsider ... recharge...
... and then get back to whatever you decided to.


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xxxzsuzsa369
Local time: 00:09
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Didn't the agency proof-read the document? Aug 16, 2007

In my opinion, you are only partially to blame. The agency should have had the document proof-read, especially as it contained hands-on medical instructions.

It is possible, I guess, that the client declined the agency's proof-reading service to save money, and decided to do the proof-reading themselves, in which case they shouldn't really make too much of a fuss over the mistake, however big or small.

Either way, you alone cannot be held accountable for the mistake. If I were you, I might offer a 50% reduction on the invoice, just to make me feel better. Then again, if money's tight I may not.

Believe me, we've all been there! I know you must feel uneasy about this whole thing right now, but it will soon wear off. Focus on your next project and try to move on.

Zsuzsa


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