Mortifying: Mistake of the Week

Perhaps Judy needs new glasses. 
Just like every other business professional, we occasionally make mistakes. We don't make too many mistakes, otherwise we wouldn't be in business, but every once in a while, we make a mistake that's so mortifying that we can't help but share it with all of you -- for both entertainment and learning purposes. Read on for the most recent error (all identifying details have been changed).

A week or so ago, Judy was working on preparing two quotes for personal document translations for two different clients. One was a divorce decree and one was a university diploma. To save some time, Judy used one quote that she generated using TranslationOffice 3000 and simply replaced the key terms (bad idea!), including the client's name. Judy quickly sent off both quotes and waited for the customers to respond. One of them did respond very quickly, and he wasn't happy (understandably so).

The customer, who is completely lovely, said, basically, that he didn't really speak any Spanish, but that he was quite certain the document he needed translated for his client (he was a lawyer) was a university degree and not a divorce decree, as his client was happily married. You guessed it -- Judy did not replace that essential term when she sent the quote. We usually have a section that defines the project to be undertaken, and on this potential client's quote, it read: "Translation of a three-page divorce decree from Spanish into German." Well, this customer had submitted a one-page university diploma to us. Needless to say, we were mortified and apologized to the client. Judy sent this to Dagy: "Completely my fault. I am fully responsible for this error -- no excuses. We really don't deserve to get this project." 

We told the customer that we certainly didn't think that we deserved his business, but turns out he told us that he appreciated our obvious remorse and contracted with us for this small project anyway. We are extremely grateful to have understanding customers.

What about you, dear colleagues? Have you made a mistake that you would be willing to share? Please do so by leaving a comment. 


Megan (@speechmarksxl8) on July 29, 2013 at 12:30 PM said...

As embarrassing as these little mistakes can be, I have found that my reaction can actually work in my favour, as it clearly did in your case. There's a lot to be said for taking responsibility for our actions as professionals, and even just being polite and friendly! The way some contractors treat their colleagues and clients never fails to shock me.

Alina on July 29, 2013 at 12:45 PM said...

A recent one was a typo that made a lot of difference. I normally check everything, especially when it comes to names, but in this particular instance, since the name was a common one, clearly I was more laid back than I should have been. So, instead of writing 'Dear Bobby' with one 'O' and two 'B's, I wrote two 'O's and one 'B' (ahem). And sent it. I only realised when he got back to me with LOLs telling me his sister used to call him that. Mortifying, but luckily he had a sense of humour and we both had a laugh.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 29, 2013 at 3:22 PM said...

@Megan: Very well said -- excellent point! We are the first ones to take responsibility when we make an error, and as you say, that's quite important. One has to treat clients like the kings and queens that they are! Thanks for reading and for commenting.

@Alina: Oh, how fab! Thanks for sharing this story -- quite funny indeed. Very happy to hear that your client had a sense of humor about this.

Lindsay Skipper on July 30, 2013 at 8:56 AM said...

I think being transparent with both colleagues (like you did by sharing this post) and clients (owning up to a mistake) is always the best method. Thanks for reminding us that human errors will happen from time to time and that it's not the end of the world, for us or even for gracious clients.

Tim Windhof on July 30, 2013 at 9:31 AM said...

But you never heard anything back from the other - potential - client?

Marie Brotnov said...

Thanks for the stories; it's comforting to be in such good company! I recently worked on a series of files for an established client, and there had been a lot of moving parts with deadlines being changed, files added, removed and switched to make them all fit in on a rolling basis before I left to go on vacation. On the morning of my departure I woke up to the dreaded subject line: "Urgent! File overdue!" My heart stops when I see something like that, but I have never actually missed a deadline and it has always turned out to be a misunderstanding easily solved by quickly resubmitting the file. But not this time ... this file had actually completely fallen between the cracks. Needless to say I was beyond mortified and offered to postpone my trip to get the file done asap. But fortunately my client was extremely gracious, even shouldering part of the blame (unnecessarily) for switching things around on me so much and telling me not to worry about it and enjoy my vacation. It's true, as some of you already pointed out, that treating your clients well results in goodwill when you need it!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 30, 2013 at 1:15 PM said...

@Linday: Thanks for the kind comment, much appreciated. We agree that this seems to be the best policy. We are all about fessing up! :) And yes, humans mare errors and we are human.

@Tim: We did also hear back from the other potential client (she confirmed), but that wasn't too relevant for this particular story, which is why we hadn't mentioned it. ;)Thanks for reading!

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on July 30, 2013 at 1:20 PM said...

@Marie: Thanks so much for reading and for sharing this story. Yes, it's happened to all of us, and we are delighted to hear that your client was so lovely about it. We've also had deadline-related nightmares, more than one, so we know how tough this is. We hope you did indeed have a lovely vacation after this stressful experience. And it sure sounds like you've built fantastic business relationships with your customers, so kudos to you!

Elisa Bonora on July 30, 2013 at 2:54 PM said...

Thanks Judy for sharing this story! Like you said, we are human and mistakes happen. But your reaction definitely says it all about your professionalism, way more than your occasional mistake did. While we cannot avoid some errors, we can choose how to handle them - and your reaction really made the difference. That's why you absolutely deserved the client's business ;)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on August 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM said...

@Elisa: Thanks for your sweet note; it really made my day. You are absolutely right that it's paramount to know how to handle problems when they arise, because avoiding them entirely simply isn't realistic in the business world. Thanks again for commenting and for reading!

Join the conversation! Commenting is a great way to become part of the translation and interpretation community. Your comments don’t have to be overly academic to get published. We usually publish all comments that aren't spam, self-promotional or offensive to others. Agreeing or not agreeing with the issue at hand and stating why is a good way to start. Social media is all about interaction, so don’t limit yourself to reading and start commenting! We very much look forward to your comments and insight. Let's learn from each other and continue these important conversations.

Subscribe by email:


Twitter update

Site Info

The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

Translation Times