The 'Substandard Quality' Chestnut
Thread poster: Tim Sheedy

Tim Sheedy  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:12
Member (2010)
German to English
+ ...
Oct 21, 2011

Dear colleagues,

I recently experienced my first non-payment for a translation job I did for an outsourcer in Italy. It appears I'm going to lose out on around 80EUR, which is negligible when compared with some sums cited on this forum, but grating nonetheless. Anyway, I'm bringing it up chiefly to ask a question about the excuse this outsourcer provided me for non-payment. First, here is an explanation of what happened in my case.

In mid-September, having experienced a slow day work-wise, I responded to a job ad on this website from an outsourcer which checked out quite favourably on the BB with glowing translator feedback. A short while later I received an email from a translation agency - also in Italy - claiming that they had received my details from the company I had applied to, explaining they were “part of the same group”. This new translation agency had a BB record, but no translator feedback. They said they had a job for me and asked if I would do it. We agreed a price, a deadline was set and I translated the text for them delivering the job within time.

This is going to sound silly, but I had a strong inkling I was not going to get paid for this job from the very beginning. Certain alarm bells were ringing. Firstly, the roundabout way the agency got my details and offered me the job obviously would not fill anyone with confidence: why not just advertise it using your own BB record? Why feel the need to use another company's BB record seemingly based on a glowing LWA rating?

Secondly, I was not too impressed with the quality of communication I had with the contact at the agency. She did not have (or at least did not use) a formal email signature at the foot of her emails - no full name and title or contact details. Generally speaking, I am very impressed by the standard of written English I see in email communication between myself and non-English-native-speaking language service professionals that I deal with on a day-to-day basis: This contact's standard of English was actually very poor, which made me suspicious about the quality of the agency. However, I am also guilty of not demanding a purchase order. When I requested one, I received an email reply with no 'Dear Tim' or 'Regards' or even a name: just the words "ok,proceed".

I'm confident most of you reading this would have by now been very uneasy about doing a job for this company, and possibly none would have commenced with a PO. But having had a slow week, I betrayed my instincts and better judgement and did the job. I regret that now.

As soon as they received the Word document they lost all interest in me. After a couple of emails they finally confirmed receipt of the document, but ignored my request for their address so I could make out an invoice to them. The final response to that question that I got was a one-line email: "we will contact you".

Already fully convinced that they had no intention of paying me, I started to wonder how this affair would pan out, and tried to plan for all eventualities. I read this forum, and the rules regarding making BB entries, and the potential tit-for-tat belligerence that might ensue. I made a point of not contacting the agency for a whole 3 weeks after the invoice was sent and sent a reminder requesting advice on payment. I did this purposely so that I could avoid the inevitable - and seemingly ubiquitous - charge that the translation was of a poor quality, which would provide an excuse for non-payment. Their not raising any quality issues three weeks after delivery would mean they had failed to register any complaint within a reasonable amount of time.

A week went by and I received no response from them. Accordingly, a month after having delivered the job, I then felt justified in finally making negative LWA entries on the BB pages of both companies on the Friday. On the Monday evening just gone, I received an email - again with no name, but at least this time with some contact numbers - saying that they were disappointed with my negative feedback on BB, and that my translation - drumroll !!! - "was of a very poor quality, and looked like it had been translated using Google translate". It was clear, therefore, that they could not pay me, because they had to pay another translator to re-translate it and the customer was very angry, and refused to pay. They complained that I was "unprofessional".

I sent a response immediately, stating I had at no time in the past month received any feedback regarding the translation's quality, and that it was highly conspicuous that they felt the need to highlight this now after I had sent a reminder for payment and provided negative feedback on their Proz profiles. Not missing a beat, I also promised - being the model professional that I am - to look into any quality issues that they had identified. To this end, I requested that they forward me the end-customer's complaints via email and that they send me the revised translation and any translators' / proofreaders' comments regarding the terrible job submitted by my accomplice Google and I. My hunch was that if they weren't going to pay me for the job, there's not a snowball in hell's chance they'd pay proofreaders and translators to go at the job again, and I can still feel confident in this and the job I did: They have not responded since.

Substantially, I am to blame for this, because I failed to heed the warnings. The money is comparatively small and can be written off as a valuable lesson for me professionally. But it's made me wonder just what kind of recourse I have, if any, for such an easily made claim. Usually, when an agency delivers the "it was a poor translation" card, the old 'substandard quality' chestnut, you would expect the document back with a proofreader’s red pen all over it. That would go a long way to convincing you that a complaint is genuine.

So apart from what I have done already, does anybody have any suggestion of what more I could do about this situation? Apart from the bleeding obvious, what tactics are there really to avoid such situations in the future? Your thoughts are very welcome.

Thanks for reading,

Tim


 

Chris Hall
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:12
Member (2008)
French to English
+ ...
NO purchase order and poor communication from the outset = avoid like the bubonic plague... Oct 21, 2011

My title sums everything up really. It appears strange to me that you agreed to do the job if, and I quote, "but I had a strong inkling I was not going to get paid for this job from the very beginning".

If you had this strong inkling, then why do the job in the first place? There are lots of charitable causes where you can do free translation work (Translations Without Borders etc.).

My suggestion is trust your inkling in the future and do not waste your time with such "cowboy" translation agencies.

Just write the €80 and learn a valuable lesson. You won't be the first and won't be the last to have been conned by such dirty tactics.


Chris Hall.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:12
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Just the one thing Oct 21, 2011

Hello Tim,

You sound as though you've got your head squarely on your shoulders - not the fluffy-headed sort who will just start translating on the basis of a request for a quote and then cry about not getting paid. I can identify with everything you said. Fortunately for me, I can't say "Been there, done that, got the T-shirt" but it's not for want of trying! I try to cover every base, normally, but sometimes I simply don't follow my own good advice or even my own gut reaction.

However, there's just one thing that I can't imagine doing:
Tim Sheedy wrote:
As soon as they received the Word document they lost all interest in me. After a couple of emails they finally confirmed receipt of the document, but ignored my request for their address so I could make out an invoice to them. The final response to that question that I got was a one-line email: "we will contact you".

Without the address, you can't send them a proper invoice. Without a proper invoice in the chain of evidence, you can't chase them through the courts. I wouldn't feel as though I had a professional relationship with them at all if I didn't have that essential piece of information. Being such a small amount, I doubt you will want to take it far, but imagine it was 800€. For that amount, and the two of you being in EU countries, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to chase them through the European Small Claims Court. It would then have been up to them to prove to the court's satisfaction that there were quality issues. I suspect they would simply have paid up at the first knock on the door. BUT, this could only happen if you have their registered address and that address was on the invoice.

I agree that they probably never had any intention of paying. I imagine you will end up putting it down to experience, but I'd like to suggest that you throw a small amount of good money after bad - and invest in a hearing aid!icon_smile.gif

Sheila


 

Neil Coffey  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:12
French to English
+ ...
As well as the lessons, another back-burner project? Oct 21, 2011

As Sheila says, we've all been in that "I'm not sure, but it's a quiet week so I've got nothing to lose" frame of mind.

It sounds like you've already learnt the lessons to be learnt. One other thing you might consider is that there are always going to be slow days. So what back-burner project can you have, that will eventually be profitable but with no specific deadline, for those slow days to remove the motivation for taking up these more "iffy" projects? Maybe it's revamping your web site or brochure, or even writing an e-book or whatever. But I think whatever lessons you think you've learnt, also removing the initial temptation is part of the battle.


 

José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 16:12
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Procedure for quality issues Oct 22, 2011

Tim Sheedy wrote:
... a month after having delivered the job, I then felt justified in finally making negative LWA entries on the BB pages of both companies on the Friday. On the Monday evening just gone, I received an email - again with no name, but at least this time with some contact numbers - saying that they were disappointed with my negative feedback on BB, and that my translation - drumroll !!! - "was of a very poor quality, and looked like it had been translated using Google translate". It was clear, therefore, that they could not pay me, because they had to pay another translator to re-translate it and the customer was very angry, and refused to pay. They complained that I was "unprofessional".


I'm human too, so if any imperfection is found in my work, I guarantee to fix it immediately (and not ASAP) at no charge. Fortunately, this happens less often than I'm prepared to handle. However I will never tolerate any one-sided deduction from my pay on the grounds of bad quality, especially if unsubstantiated with evidence, and that assertion being merely subjective. If I am expected to deliver poor quality work (e.g. if the client insists in having me single-handedly translate complex medical stuff - happens now and then with video for dubbing), I make sure that my client is obnoxiously forewarned that expert reviewing will be needed.

On the other hand, whenever I'm hired to review/revise/salvage/whatever an existing translation, even if they don't ask for it, my client will get a "track-changes-on" file, to immediately see what I've done, and a clean file as well.

From such experiences, I can tell that Google Translate is often better (I'm not talking about your translation, Tim) than some cheap human translators, for GT being consistent throughout. So whenever such comparison is made, I know immediately that it's a scam.

I think that any outsourcer attempting to reduce or default on a translator's pay on unevidenced 'poor quality' grounds should get an irrevocable "1" on their Blue Board record.


 

Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:12
Member
French to English
+ ...
Complaints about quality and groups of companies Oct 22, 2011

I read in another thread not so long ago that if an outsourcer makes a complaint about the quality of a translation, the translator is not allowed to post a BB entry (though I don't know whether, or to what extent, ProZ investigates quality complaints - can anyone tell us?) The cynic in me wonders if perhaps that's the reason for the negative feedback, which was so mysteriously long in coming.

On another note: groups of companies *can* be perfectly trustworthy, but I must admit that I try to be circumspect when dealing with them, as one company's BB profile can be used to circumvent the poor track record of another company. Links between affiliated companies can be found on the BB, but in one case that I can remember, it took some time for a connection to be made between a certain pair of companies for - I suspect - precisely the reason given above. Moral: don't assume that a good BB record means you'll be okay!


 

The Misha
Local time: 13:12
Russian to English
+ ...
Beware a new client! Oct 23, 2011

I mean, any new client. Any day, slow or otherwise. Accepting a job advertised in a public forum is like, er, picking up a practitioner of the world's oldest profession off the street and bringing her home. To be fair though, this is also true for an outsourcer. There's always a risk, PO or no PO, good English or bad, especially if the client/contractor sits on the other end of the world where you have no easy recourse. Ideally, taking a new client on should be like a courting process in the old times - slow and scripted.

This is precisely the reason I do not solicit or ordinarily even accept jobs directly from the countries where my source language is spoken. Most of my income comes from a very limited number of clients I have worked with for years. Yes, I am fully aware of that old adage about putting all your eggs in the same basket, but I'd rather not work at all than work for free.

As to the slow days (weeks, months), relax, we all have them. Personally, I have plenty of things to do in my spare time - when I can get it.

Good luck to you.

MK


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:12
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
They waited too long -- you are in the right Oct 23, 2011

Tim Sheedy wrote:
Their not raising any quality issues three weeks after delivery would mean they had failed to register any complaint within a reasonable amount of time.


I agree completely. It may take an agency a week or two to verify that a suspected bad translation is indeed bad, but three weeks is too long.

In their defense, however, if they truly believe your translation to be a machine translation, it may be that they don't have a "reviewed" version of it. I have on occasion told an agency that a translation they sent me for review is probably machine translated, and in some cases the agency just accepted my word for it without asking me to prove it. In such a case, the agency would have no reviewed version of the text to shows the errors to the original translator.

My hunch was that if they weren't going to pay me for the job, there's not a snowball in hell's chance they'd pay proofreaders and translators to go at the job again...


No, this is false logic. The fact that they don't want to pay you doesn't mean that they didn't pay someone else.

But it's made me wonder just what kind of recourse I have, if any, for such an easily made claim.


None, unfortunately. That's the risk of doing business internationally.


 

Eleftherios Kritikakis  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:12
Member (2003)
Greek to English
+ ...
Reality check Oct 26, 2011

"But it's made me wonder just what kind of recourse I have, if any, for such an easily made claim."

You can't. This is not a regulated industry and has no standards, not even in proofreading (final proofreader does whatever they want - nobody checks them out). And the ISO organization never asks translators what the standards should be. They treat translations as any other service.

You are not a "business". You can't leverage and expand (unless you become an agency yourself - you already have the PC, all you need is time).

What you are, is a paid contractor (labor). Prices vs. cost of living are dropping for 10 years now, without a brake. Soon to be "relative cheap labor".

Besides collection agencies (which I have used in the past), there is no other way to defend yourself.

Ah, well, there is a way: do something else as well. Don't commit all your working hours in this trap.

Because, when you finally get enough jobs to be really busy, it's such a lonesome and demanding job, that you will destroy all your relationships with other people, and your life and health, and you won't even be able to stop it (how will you be able to stop it if it's your only source of income?). Everyone will just leave, and it will be just you, your computer and the impression of your "associates" that you are nothing more than a machine for them.

Of course that's a message to all of us.


 

DZiW
Ukraine
English to Russian
+ ...
found a mare's nest Oct 26, 2011

Tim, it's a pity that not asking PO or having any papers as a proof is like putting your foot in it, but sending them the whole translation without any official papers was exactly what made you all wet.

Unfortunately you did everything to help them out at your expense. Although you could try to make them find faults with your work, but this will be a proof they really have got it (without payment), so they'd rather deny it... Should you only be more carefulicon_wink.gif


 


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