Dealing with the Customer's Customer
Thread poster: Mervyn Henderson

Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:01
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 19, 2007

What I mean here is when a customer with payment outstanding says, after a few emails and phone calls, "Oh, I haven't paid you because my customer hasn't paid me yet."

It has been a while since this happened to me because, in the same way as it is made crystal clear to me before work starts exactly when the translation is due, it is made crystal clear to the customer, and usually more politely too, when my payment is due.

I also monitor payments and chase up overdue bills (like some customers do with translations, even before the deadline expires).

It is clear, however, that a translator handing in late (LATE! that terrible word - late! it was late! you sent it late, are you out of your mind? how could you? etc.) is still much more heinous than a customer paying late.

I do not recommend the following method, because I have a better one now. The last time I was told I would have to wait for payment while my customer's customer got his act together (this was a first-time customer, with whom all the delivery deadline and payment deadline conditions had been specifically agreed in advance by email), my reaction was admittedly childish, but it certainly helped my mood ...

I suggested my customer drop in for lunch at a rather nice restaurant where he was not known, that he ask the price of the menu, say "that'll be fine, thanks" and then eat his fill. Satisfied with the grub and faced with the bill, he should then say to the owner of the restaurant, "Oh no, I've just remembered that I have a lot of expenses this month, and I simply can't pay for this until next week at the earliest". I further suggested he try this on with the telephone company, the electricity company, the dentist, the plumber, the butcher, the baker and perhaps even the candlestick-maker, and he would see that people don't take that attitude in other professions.

As I said, I don't do that any more (but I think it). What do the rest of you do when suddenly you have to deal with the figure of The Customer's Customer?


Mervyn


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 15:01
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
The best defence is a good quality translation Jul 19, 2007

Hi Mervyn,

We cannot change people who take this attitude. The best defence, I find, is carried out in advance of the payment problems. You do the very best, most polished translation you have ever done, for your new customer, and then you wait and see what happens. If payment does not arrive, you initiate the reminder procedure. If, in the course of the reminder/payment collection procedure, you get a reaction from your customer, explaining that your invoice can only be paid once your customer's customer pays, then (you can please yourself whether or not you inform your customer at that point) you make a note never to work for that customer again.

Then one day, that customer comes back again (if you did not mention that he/she/it is on your blacklist) and wants another high quality translation, just like the first one. Alas, that is not available to that customer, and never will be, ever....

.....however, the punishment only exists if you provided a particularly well done translation in the first place.

In this way, you will gradually have NO customers who do not pay on time.

Astrid


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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 14:01
Dutch to English
+ ...
Precisely Jul 19, 2007

Astrid Elke Johnson wrote:

Hi Mervyn,

We cannot change people who take this attitude. The best defence, I find, is carried out in advance of the payment problems. You do the very best, most polished translation you have ever done, for your new customer, and then you wait and see what happens. If payment does not arrive, you initiate the reminder procedure. If, in the course of the reminder/payment collection procedure, you get a reaction from your customer, explaining that your invoice can only be paid once your customer's customer pays, then (you can please yourself whether or not you inform your customer at that point) you make a note never to work for that customer again.

Then one day, that customer comes back again (if you did not mention that he/she/it is on your blacklist) and wants another high quality translation, just like the first one. Alas, that is not available to that customer, and never will be, ever....

.....however, the punishment only exists if you provided a particularly well done translation in the first place.

In this way, you will gradually have NO customers who do not pay on time.

Astrid


I agree, we all know the legal argument about who you contracted with and the customer's customer's payment issues not being an excuse but some still try it on. Every industry has its cowboys and under-capitalised losers.

Astrid's long-term approach is spot on. Cut them short in their tracks.

It's all a question of managing risk. If you start out with smaller jobs until the relationship is cemented and, at the same time, deliver quality work on time, making yourself as indispensible as a single individual can possibly be, it's the surest way of avoiding these problems.

Once bitten, twice shy - there are enough good agencies / end-clients out there for an accurate, specialised and punctual translator to be choosy about who he/she deals with.

I'm perhaps luckier than most in the sense agencies/direct clients know I'm also a lawyer from the outset, so they tend not to try their luck, but even so it boils down to sorting out the wheat from the chaff early on in the relationship.

It's happened to me once here in Portugal and I simply took the decision to end the relationship there and then, warning I would phone the end-client (the provincial Tourism Board) the following day if I didn't receive confirmation that the amount had been transferred by close of business.

Agency was furious, had their lawyer call me and after a short conversation and a rather dismal attempt at intimidating me he backed off. I had given his client forewarning of my intentions before the fact, it was up to them to limit their damage.

Needless to say it was sorted by the end of the day. I don't work for charity.

Zero tolerance as far as I'm concerned - let the bottom feeders of this industry find someone else to give them interest-free credit.

[Edited at 2007-07-19 16:31]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 15:01
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
It does depend on the relationship, though Jul 19, 2007

Mervyn Henderson wrote:
What do the rest of you do when suddenly you have to deal with the figure of The Customer's Customer?


If I don't have a personal, personal relationship with the client, I'd follow the longterm once-bitten-twice-shy approach, but if there is a more personal relationship, then I'd be willing to accept a slip-up or two.

It's all a matter of trust.

(On the other hand one must be wary of scammers who build a trusting relationship and then hit you hard.)


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Suzette Martin-Johnson
Canada
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
once bitten, twice shy Jul 19, 2007

I agree with the "once bitten" approach because in freelancing it should be your rule of thumb. Otherwise, you need to go (back) into in-house translation with your steady monthly salary.

I remember two personal experiences of one large client who paid me 7 months after the fact, and another, a friend, who casually paid me a year later.

The friend kept on "forgetting". Scream!! I told her to keep it when she finally contacted me because it was a small amount now that I look at it in this better period of my life, but at the time it was actually due I had really needed it to pay my electricity and phone bills. *Sigh* She insisted on giving it to me and laid on the guilt because I didn't hide my annoyance from her.

As to the large client, I coicidentally met the head of the company in a social context and realised that with the vehicles they drove and the house they own, they could have more than paid me. They were using the 'interest-free credit' they were getting from not paying others on time to get on with their lives. Moral of the story: Don't have any sympathy for these people as many have no regard for you.

And make sure you have a written contract. I confess that I didn't in either of those cases.


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Suzette Martin-Johnson
Canada
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
charities Jul 19, 2007

P.S. I love working for charity sometimes but I have to know in advance that it is a charity!

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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 14:01
Dutch to English
+ ...
Granted, but ... Jul 19, 2007

Samuel Murray wrote:

... but if there is a more personal relationship, then I'd be willing to accept a slip-up or two.



... a slip up - e.g. an accounting error - is one thing Samuel (and there I agree where you've had an otherwise good relationship, you can consider cutting them a bit of slack), but I'm advocating zero tolerance here in the specific context of an agency using the "our client hasn't paid us yet" excuse.

That's no slip-up. It's deliberately moving the goalposts, trying to introduce contractual terms that never existed.

At very best they are hopelessly under-capitalised. otherwise scammers, and should be avoided like the plague in either case (IMNSHO)

[Edited at 2007-07-19 21:58]


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megane_wang  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:01
English to Spanish
+ ...
Your customer's customer is NOT your customer Jul 20, 2007

Your customer X is your customer X, not their final customer F.

The general conditions I attach to my formal offers sate it very clearly. The contract is between X and me, not between X and F. Therefore, unless X has some extremely understandable reason to delay a payment, a delay in the payment by F is never a reason for a delay by X.

In any case, though, I always check for payment terms before. In practice, I usually agree to the F terms, which in Spain can be 30, 60, 90 and even 120 days (NO: I don't accept the last one).

BTW: I would never invite a customer who does not pay. I'm civilised, but not so much. I'd better send a burofax to them as a final warning prior to sending a payment request to their final customer...

[A history starts here...]
Once a customer did not want to talk me regarding a payment (he was always "on travel", "in a meeting", or "busy" for almost 6 months).

Finally I was absolutely fed up. I talked to the receptionist by 100th time on the phone. I told her I was fed up with her lies, and asked her for a fax number so that my lawyer could send a burofax to request for that payment. I also gave some lawyer's name.

(... then I called this lawyer to warn him, because I had not done it yet!!!)

The best comes here: 2 minutes later I received a call from my customer to give the soundest apology I ever heard from a customer. 5 minutes later an accounting man callled me to tell what had happened to the payment (my interpretation: my invoice had been in a drawer bottom for 6 months). 2 hours later I received the payment by urgent bank transfer (It was a huge amount; that bank transfer must have costed a lot).

After all, they are still valuable and loyal customers to me.
[/... and ends here]


... sometimes It's better to PUSH them a little bit

Ruth @ MW


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 16:01
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
there are better excuses Jul 20, 2007

like "our boss is on a holiday in Outer Mongolia", "our accountant is giving a birth" (usually each time a translator emails or calls for a delayed payment), "the cat has eaten the invoice", or a most efficient - "who are you?"

tell them not to be so boring and non-inventive.

Seriously speaking - if you are in good relations with that direct client, simply ask for the date as when their readlly expect the payment and that is it (if you can wait). If they are just frauds, their clients are their problems.


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Prima Vista
Russian Federation
Local time: 18:01
Russian to English
+ ...
No excuse for that Jul 20, 2007

I am absolutely sure that "My customer have not paid me yet" is not an exuse! Customer's relationship with his Client is HIS PROBLEM! and it must not affect the translator in any way! When taking an order, ask when the payment is to be expected, and don't take "as soon as our client pays us" for an answer!

Best wishes,

Tatiana


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Mervyn Henderson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 15:01
Member
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Island screams Jul 21, 2007

Hi Islander,

Very funny, your one-word comment on non-payment - "Scream!!". I read it quite a while ago now, but I'm still laughing. It sums everything up nicely.

Mervyn


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Suzette Martin-Johnson
Canada
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
lol Jul 28, 2007

Indeed, it is hilarious when you think of these things afterwards. After your (in my case, inner) screaming comes to an end, the trick is not to make the same mistake twice. I guess we learn as we get older.

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