We have all had that uneasy feeling that arises when we are contacted by or meet with a person who gives off all the signs of being a problem client. The foundation of any thriving enterprise, including translation and interpretation businesses, that provides excellent service and has pride in its work is, no doubt, in part due to strong customer relations. This article will provide a series of scenarios explaining the behaviour of challenging clients, as well as methods for handling them successfully.
Scenario One: The potential client who has a prejudice
Unfortunately, despite decades of diversity and equity training programs, there are still those who, upon seeing you or hearing your voice over the phone, will automatically dislike you due to your race, gender, creed, ethnicity, and a multiplicity of other factors over which human beings have no control. This type of client shows their prejudice normally in their body language and questions, such as, "Did you really graduate from that school?" and, "Where are you from?" It is important to remember that such a client is comfortable with the fact that they are prejudiced, but at the same time, ashamed to admit it. They will want to hire you because they are too embarrassed to back out for shame of being labelled a prejudiced person. They are typically good payers, and want value for their money.
This type of person will not likely blatantly articulate their bias on paper or verbally to the translator or interpreter, but turn their energies to criticizing and "finding" non-existent errors, or magnifying inconsequential problems that can be fixed. They are also prone to having an inordinate amount of time available to constantly call and complain, and unfortunately, are not afraid of making threats, usually to report individuals to their respective governing bodies.
Avoid this client from the outset if possible by advising that your schedule is too full, as we should always be unavailable to energy vampires. If, unfortunately, this type of client is taken on, document everything you do and make sure, as much as possible, that there are no problems that will cause unending communication with these types of individuals. Future projects with these types of individuals should be avoided as their behaviour is highly unlikely to change.
Scenario Two: The potential client who takes all your time and won't pay
This type of client is friendly and personable, but calls or e-mails consistently. They truly represent a "never-ending free initial consultation". No matter how many times you advise them of fees, timelines, and quality controls, they continue to ask a multitude of questions without compensating you for time spent.
As translators and interpreters, particularly those whose are freelancers and responsible for funding their entire income themselves, spending inordinate amounts of time with those who ask, ask, and ask some more is not financially profitable, particularly when there is a sense that just having conversation is enough for this potential client.
Set an internal limit in your business which provides a certain amount of time that can be allocated to speaking to potential clients. Having a well-done, informative website that they can be referred to, or marketing documents that can be sent to them by e-mail, is also a way of saving your time and providing them with the information they need to make a decision.
Scenario Three: The potential client who has mental health issues
As delicate as this issue may be, it must be recognized that there are who may have diminished mental capabilities that prevent them from making proper decisions. Such individuals, however, may be able to live independently and hold positions for companies without causing too many problems, but just enough to cause concerns.
The issue in these situations is solely whether or not this individual has the capacity to enter into a contract for services. If not, work completed may not be paid for as agreed if the individual suddenly changes their mind, without reason, and efforts to enforce prove costly if lawyers and litigation guardians become involved.
Due to the delicacy and potential legal liabilities of the situation, if a translator or interpreter has serious concerns regarding the mental capacity of a potential or current client, it is best to avoid entering into a contractual relationship with them, as they may not have the capacity to do so. Consulting a lawyer can give peace of mind in terms of how to deal with such situations in your jurisdiction.
In short, sometimes the joys of translating and interpreting can be temporarily interrupted by those, whether intentionally or not, who behave in such a manner as to distract you from happily practicing your craft. Knowing how to manage these types of clients can minimize the frequency and length of these interruptions, allowing you to focus on the projects at hand.