Frustrations dealing with an uncooperative client
Thread poster: Anne Key

Anne Key
Local time: 08:36
Dutch to English
+ ...
Mar 13, 2009

Dear all,

I'm not a regular Forum user, so I hope I'm posting in the right Forum!

In a nutshell, I'm a little frustrated at the moment...

Over a month ago, I accepted a 40,000-word semi-technical translation through an agency. As the client had provided no reference material, they agreed to answer any queries (via the agency).

Three weeks ago, I e-mailed a list of queries to the agency; to date, I have had very little response. The deadline is next Tuesday.

My agency has been very helpful, but it appears that the client is dragging his/her heels.

I'm tempted to e-mail a "Disclaimer" when I deliver the translation next week. Is this accepted practice?

I've never had this problem before, so am a little concerned.

Does anyone have any experience of situations such as these?

All the best,



xxxXX789  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:36
English to Dutch
+ ...
Familiar Mar 13, 2009

Hi Anne!

Great to see you hereicon_smile.gif This sounds vaguely familiar.

I'd be clear and concise. No answers, no responsibility for the quality of the translation.


Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:36
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
You have to bang on their doors Mar 13, 2009

I have had my share of this kind of experience. One of the most ridiculous occasions was when I had to wait 3 months(!!!) for the client (direct client) to give a response to my queries.
There were no reference materials, except for an old translation that was completely useless, no terminology list, no list of abbreviations/acronyms (and there were a lot of those in the text).
I sent regular reminders, and arranged the queries into a format where they could have answered most of them with just a Yes or No - meanwhile I worked on other files, it was a large job. After 3 months, I got a chance to indicate the problem to my contact's boss, who inquired about the delay with the file, and finally he made my contact talk to me about the questions. So, I got the response, which was: "I don't know the answer right away, so just leave those in English"... And that's what I did. (You can imagine what I thought about that "solution".)

Hopefully your situation is not as bad as this, but I would not let them sit on their laurels, I would send regular reminders or call. I would even ask the agency if you could talk directly with the end client (of course, you would keep the agency in the loop), that may help speeding up things. In my experience, end clients are often very busy and if they are confronted with a list of queries that they need to answer in writing, they may freak out. They may be more willing to discuss them over the phone, as it is faster. In any case, you need to make it clear to the agency (and/or the client) that there are still pending issues that affect X% of the translation.
You need to ask the agency for instructions on what to do in case the end client does not respond in time before the deadline is over. By doing this, you place the ball in their court, it is their responsibility to communicate this to the end client.
The options are:
1. extending the deadline ad wait more for the answers
2. take your best guess
3. leave the questionable parts untranslated
In the case of 2 and 3 you would probably need to attach the list of pending queries and mark the related text in the translation somehow (highlight or comment).

Either way, you should talk to the agency right now about this, and get things straight - it is Friday and your deadline is Tuesday.

Good luck!


Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:36
Italian to English
+ ...
Ask the agency what to do Mar 13, 2009

I agree with Katalin - you need to ask the agency if they would prefer you to deliver (highlighting the terms you're waiting for a response on) or wait until the end client has provided an answer. Either way, make sure that the agency continues to be aware that you're waiting on the client, not dragging your own heels.


Local time: 09:36
English to Serbian
+ ...
Been there, got scars, and valuable experience.... Mar 13, 2009

The client may not respond on time also for any of the following reasons:
- the client may not know the answers but is reluctant to admit it, so just keeps a low profile;
- your e-mail is sent to several staff members with the client and everyone assumes that the other one is tackling it;
- the staff member who could provide you the answers is absent/have resigned/too busy;
- the client is convinced that the provider of translation services should know these;
- the client does not care.

So what can be done?
- By all means get the green light to contact the client directly. Send the e-mail with your list, but call the client and see if they have somebody available who can deal with it. Explain in person over the phone or by instant messaging what it is that you need and why; they might realize that providing you with the right response is not so time-consuming and that it is for their benefit to provide you with the requested clarifications or TM. (Agencies and freelancers also need to educate their clients! We should not assume that the clients know what we are asking for and why it is important for their business.)
- Do not put together a multi-page query and send it to a new client. Start with sending a small parcel containig just a couple of items, so as not to scare them. Once you got a reply from the right person working for the client, be free to send them the entire thing - now you know who could provide you the answers you need or who is at least somwhat knowledgeable about the matter.

If still no response, you can mark the items that you feel like putting a disclaimer on and add an explanation, e.g. the sources you relied on, and, as an act of goodwill, send the client (through the agency) the TM you created for them with an explanatory note so that the client would know what you are talking about when putting such queries in future. (It can also aid the work on adjusting the work based on the now-fianlly-cooperative client's feedback after the translation had been sent.

(In such cases it is always easier when working directly for a client and not through an agency.)

The most trivial response I had to wait for three weeks was whether the client wanted the translation of a book to be done in cyrillic or latin letters.

[Edited at 2009-03-13 18:02 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-03-13 18:12 GMT]


Anne Key
Local time: 08:36
Dutch to English
+ ...
Hopefully settled Mar 13, 2009

Many thanks Marie-Hélène, Katalin and Loek (good to see you too!icon_smile.gif),

I've contacted the agency for the umpteenth time - they've informed me that the person dealing with the translation is still unavailable.

I've agreed to deliver on Tuesday and to highlight all the outstanding queries. The client will deal with these queries after Tuesday.

The agency was very understanding, so hopefully this can be resolved.

Thanks again for your suggestions!



autor  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:36
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Highlight and Itemise Mar 13, 2009

I regularly do large technical translations. The best agencies protect the translator and themselves by insisting on translation memories or glossaries, or they issue the client with a disclaimer.

If I get no help, I give it my best shot but highlight the terms where there is any doubt, and then itemise them all in the delivery email - source text/target text pairs, to make it easy for someone to provide some useful feedback, because like most translators, I would still like to learn!


Anne Key
Local time: 08:36
Dutch to English
+ ...
Compiling a list Mar 13, 2009

Many thanks Autor, I'm compiling a list as we speakicon_smile.gif

With best wishes,



Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:36
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Pass the buck Mar 13, 2009

Katalin puts it nicely, place the ball in their court and ensure they know it is their fault if you do not meet the deadline.

The agency is your client so have them decide what they want you to do.


Anjo Sterringa  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:36
Member (2003)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Been there! Mar 13, 2009

Oh yes, been there, done that.
Make sure you have extensive terminology lists, your suggestions, alternative solutions (and why/why not use them).

I got so frustrated I even wrote about it in my blog (and I hardly ever sit down and actually write about my work instead of trying to get dogs adopted).

When I look back on it, the adrenaline rush gone down - it wasn't such a big deal in the end. It did look like that when I was in the middle of it of course.

It happened again a short while ago with a 50,000 words legal review - there had to be a lot of company-specific terms but the in-company reviewer did not give any feed-back. The translator had not highlighted any problems either. So I followed the same procedure I always follow: longish Excel files with the terminology used and any possible issues.

Good luck - you are definitely not alone! And in a few months you'll hardly remember what it was all about.


J Chae  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:36
English to Korean
+ ...
Been there too. Mar 14, 2009

Anjo Sterringa wrote:
Good luck - you are definitely not alone! And in a few months you'll hardly remember what it was all about.

Couldn't agree more!icon_biggrin.gif


Anne Key
Local time: 08:36
Dutch to English
+ ...
Client finally replies...a day after the translation being delivered! Mar 19, 2009

Hello everyone,

Just a quick update...

I managed to complete the translation in time, complete with a list of terminology suggestions.

The translation was delivered yesterday.

The client has finally responded to my!

They would like me to change all my suggestions. Unfortunately this means digging through all 105 files...icon_frown.gif

I've agreed to re-read everything (hopefully DVX will enable me to do this reasonably quickly).

I have pointed out to the agency that this situation could have been avoided if the client had responded to my queries (and repeated requests) 3 weeks ago.

I've certainly learned my lesson...

Many thanks again for your suggestions, and for putting up with my whingeing!

Anne (frustrated at the moment, but will laugh it off in a few months' time)

[Edited at 2009-03-19 12:32 GMT]


Local time: 14:36
English to French
Why isn't the person in charge of proofreading amending the translation? Apr 17, 2009

You sent back your translation on Tuesday, and the answers arrived on Wednesday. So my guess is the agency sent your translation to another translator for proofreading on Tuesday or Wednesday. This person should be in charge of amending your translation according to the customer's requests, not you.


Anne Key
Local time: 08:36
Dutch to English
+ ...
Issue resolved Apr 22, 2009

Hello Yeti_fr,

Many thanks for your reply - the issue has since been resolvedicon_smile.gif

With kind regards,



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