If running a small business were easy, we'd all be our own bosses. Running a small business is challenging and we have to make many difficult decisions on an everyday basis. Perhaps the hardest part is managing customer (and potential customer) relationships. While it's impossible to make everyone happy, we need to strive to attract and retain customers and turn them into repeat customers. However, sometimes there are potential clients with whom you should choose not to work. We don't really believe in the term "firing clients," but you do need to choose your customers very carefully.
This is the first in a series of short examples meant to illustrate one particular point and what we can learn from them.
Today, we received a phone call from a potential customer saying that he had several documents to be translated. They were, according to the caller, "simple, informal, not hard, do not need to be certified." We informed the customer that we'd be happy to look at them electronically and then issue a free, non-binding quote.
Customer: "That's really not necessary. Just tell me how much it costs. It's six, of seven, or eight pages, and they are only half-full. If you have been doing this for more than a month, you should know how much this costs."
Judy: "Actually, in order to give you an accurate price quote, we will need to get a word count, as translation is charged by the word. I am unable to issue a quote on a document I haven't seen. We need to evaluate the document, look at the subject matter, consider the format (PDF? handwritten?) and confirm that we are the right providers for your project. If not, we would be happy to recommend a colleague."
Customer: "Ah, forget it, you can't help me here." Click.
Why we feel we did the right thing:
- Quoting on a project sight unseen always sets you up for failure, unless you are working with a trusted repeat customer whose projects are very similar. A page could be 800 words or 50 words.
- Working with a customer who does not want to follow the proper procedure to ensure an accurate product is probably not ideal. Just imagine: if he can't even send us the document he wants translated, will he pay us?
- We don't like to be bullied. Perhaps the customer's tone was not the one he wanted to choose, but our request was reasonable, is standard in the industry, and is also meant to protect the customer by providing accurate estimates.
- We protected our business interests. We'd set ourselves up to fail by providing a legally binding quote on something we haven't seen.
Although it's disappointing to have an uncomfortable conversation with a potential customer and to not be able to help him, in this case, it all worked out for the better.With that, we are off to translate documents from another customer who had the same inquiry and promptly scanned and e-mailed the document for our evaluation.
Dear fellow linguists: what would you have done in this situation? We'd love to hear your input in the comments section.