Translator Gone Wild

In our experience, the vast majority of our fellow translators are highly professional individuals who like to go the extra mile to make their clients happy, especially in times like these. However, there seem to be linguists who either do not need more clients or who are, unfortunately, willing to ruin their reputation (and, by extension, our profession's) with unprofessional behavior.

True story: one of our most treasured clients asked us to help him find a translator for German->Chinese, which we happily did through the Austrian Interpreters' and Translators' Association's directory. Our client then contacted the Chinese translator, sent him the source text, and expected to get the translation back in a Word file, as is customary. Instead, some time later, our mild-mannered client received notification from the Austrian Post, inviting him to pick up a cash on delivery item, requiring him to pay approximately EUR 500.00. Since he wasn't expecting any such item, the client called the post office for more information. It turns out that the Chinese translator had sent the translation as a hard copy (the postal service employee on the phone agreed to bend the envelope: there was no CD inside). Our client – rightfully so -- decided not to spend the money on a translation he had no use for because he needed the electronic version. He sent the translator an e-mail asking for clarification and kindly asked him to e-mail him the Word file, after which he would gladly pick up the item at the post office and pay for the translation. Since the translator never responded to any of the client’s e-mails, he finally called the translator who immediately started yelling at him, accusing the client (!) of being unprofessional and threatening to sue him if he didn't pick up the item without delay. Client explained once again that he needed the electronic version, after which translator, having told him that he needed "to make do with the paper copy" hung up.

The good news is that the Austrian Interpreters' and Translators' Association won't tolerate such behavior that is detrimental to the industry as a whole. The issue is already on the agenda of our upcoming board meeting on Wednesday.


bonnjill on January 19, 2009 at 12:18 PM said...

There's all kinds out there. A friend of mine needed a small text (one page) translated for his website. I gave him the names of local native speaker translators to contact. He told me they all charged him around $45 - except for the Polish translator who quoted him $200. He decided he didn't need the text in Polish after all, and she didn't get the job. Your story is worse, but when you hear things like that it makes you appreciate your quality vendors.

Nadine Touzet on January 19, 2009 at 2:39 PM said...

In what era does this person live? I haven't provided a single translation on paper for... well I can't remember how long.

Nadine Touzet on January 19, 2009 at 2:40 PM said...

In what era does this translator live? I haven't delivered a single translation on paper for... well I can't remember how long! :)

Michael on January 19, 2009 at 9:47 PM said...

This seems a good moment to reiterate the importance of a work order (written by the client and acknowledged by the translator or the other way around), which states in what form the job is to be delivered, how payment is handled, and any other special circumstances. Especially with new or occasional clients, those parameters need to be clarified and written down.

Thomas Gruber on January 20, 2009 at 1:46 AM said...

Dose industry standard have to be clarified or can i assume that the client whants his car with 4 weels or translations in a digital format?

If i need a translation in indesign, it's clear that i've to say it beforehand. But to think that paper format makes sense for a client is something i cant follow.

Kevin Lossner on January 20, 2009 at 10:12 AM said...

Oh my God. I can't begin to imagine what is wrong with that translator. There are some considerable differences among those I know as to how customer service any payment issues should be approached, but this case goes beyond any limits I have heard of. Unless a certified translation is needed, there is no call for hardcopy! And screaming at the customer over this? Disgusting.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on January 20, 2009 at 10:33 AM said...

@Thomas: agreed, I don't think the industry standard on electronic copies needs to be clarified. It's, well, standard. :) As is a car with four wheels -- great analogy!

@Kevin: I know, we are cringing at the fact that we share a profession with this highly unprofessional linguist. We are truly mortified that there are "professionals" who behave like this. Luckily, his actions will have repercussions, as they should. On a side note, our mild-mannered client was just completely stunned and dismayed -- he's so nice that he couldn't get as angry as we did -- but he called to get our feedback on this.

@Michael: excellent point about purchase orders. We usually send complete quotes with delivery date, format, time frame, etc., and with his/her signature, the client approves those terms.

@Nadine: it appears that this translator lives in an era where customer service isn't important. :(

@Jill: that price is steep for the Polish translation. Hopefully the translator didn't yell at the client when she did not get the project!

Abigail Dahlberg on January 22, 2009 at 8:59 AM said...

Chiming in a little late, but oh my! I was just looking at the document that I use to draw up work orders and wondering whether I should just erase the snail mail/e-mail delivery category. It truly makes me cringe that a client would be dealt with that way by a "professional" translator.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on January 22, 2009 at 5:03 PM said...

@Abigail: It's never too late to chime in! We know, we are still mortified about this fellow linguists' behavior. We think it totally makes sense to remove snail mail from your purchase order/work order/quote -- it is so 20th century! :)

Client update: We are happy to report that we have purchased some special gifts for our client here in Vegas to take to him in Vienna. He deserves something nice after his negative experience.

MT on January 26, 2009 at 11:42 PM said...

That is a completely bizarre story. Wow.

As for hard copy delivery: that option is still needed on occasion when one does certified translations, which comes up for me a few times a year. I break out my neato stamp and everything. Even then, however, I always also e-mail my client a noncertified soft copy of the file.


Anonymous said...

That story is indeed bizarre. Perhaps has something to do with a wider culture gap than we realize between Chinese and Western cultures (and that person being particularly bizarre).

I personally have had translators call me up and yell at me once or twice over the years for weird stuff (but not as weird as your story). You think I would ever use their services again or refer them? No way. They need to follow Chris Durban's advice of "don't talk down to your clients/rant/rave/lecture - just be professional".

Also, Judy, perhaps another time it may be wise to refer your client to translator listings, but not get personally involved in the referral to avoid any taint? That way, you are being helpful, but you are not getting involved of your client's selection of a specific vendor to whom you have no actual ties, and for whom you cannot vouch.

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on February 20, 2009 at 1:11 AM said...

@Eve: good point about just referring clients to translator listings. We do that occassionally, but our favorite client just wanted us to take over and pick someone. We did emphasize that we did not know this person. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of Chinese translators in all of Austria registered with the Austrian Translators Association.

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