How to Lose a Client in 10 Easy Steps

Most of the time, we are the individuals who provide translation and interpreting services to our clients.  Many times, we are also the client because we frequently outsource work to our fabulous colleagues around the world. Throughout the years, through our own mistakes, others’ mistakes and clients' praise and criticism, we have learned a thing or two. We would like to introduce you to our (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) lists of how to lose a client in 10 easy steps. Take it with a grain of salt, but it’s (probably) all happened before.

  1. Consider the deadline a mere suggestion
Deadlines are for suckers! You don’t even know what time 5 PM Pacific Daylight Savings Time is in your time zone (hint: try You don’t care that your client’s career depends on her getting this contract translated. Surely she can wait an hour or two for you to finish. It was a tight deadline, so she’s lucky that you finish the thing in the first place.

  1. Complain about the client on the internet
The internet is a fantastic place to share your frustration about your client, whether you choose to name them (why not?) or just refer to them as “client from hell.” Surely your Twitter followers will back you up on this: your client is a jerk and you hope she loses her job.

  1. Never apologize for your mistakes
Your customer requested American English and you delivered the project in British English, because it sounds more sophisticated. After the client points this out, be sure to start your e-mail with ‘’Let me explain…” and do not take any responsibility. After all, it’s always the customer’s fault.

  1. Make excuses
The reason you did not read up on domestic violence legislation in your state for a temporary protection order hearing or the reason you didn’t research airbag technology for an automotive translation include: the dog attacked your computer, the cat peed on your dictionaries, you locked yourself in your garage or you ate bad sushi. Try the excuse about not being able to attach a file to e-mail because your computer had a virus.

  1. Don’t follow directions
Why bother reading all the instructions? It doesn’t matter that your client is legally obligated to publish forms that are no smaller than 12-point font or that she wanted to save some money by not translating the text highlighted in red. It’s perfectly fine to deliver a PowerPoint translation in OpenOffice format, because you hate Microsoft.

  1. Don’t turn in tax forms
It’s not important that your client has to have certain information about their providers. You will get around to turning in those annoying tax forms when you have a minute. It really doesn’t matter that your client will get in trouble with the accounting department. Let them sort it out.

  1. Show up late
Judges are always running late, so you have plenty of time for a venti mocha latte with almond milk. Conventioneers are typically asleep for the first half hour of presentations, so if needed, your booth partner can cover for you.

  1. Don’t respond in a timely manner
E-mail and phone calls are annoying. You need your mid-afternoon beauty sleep, so it’s perfectly acceptable not to return a customer’s frantic calls until 48 hours later. It probably wasn’t that important anyway.

  1. Get defensive
You don’t understand why the customer insists on using “happy” when you think the term “content” is highly superior. Tell the customer that he’s just some little cubicle slave who should leave the big language questions to you, the brilliant linguist.

  1. Have your customer solve your technical problems
Your translation environment tools just let you down, so call up your customer and tell her about your terminology memory troubles. Since you are at it, perhaps she can help you format those pesky text boxes, because the translation doesn’t fit.

Dear readers: are there any other ways of losing a client that come to mind? We'd love to hear them. Happy Friday and here's to keeping your customers happy!


Caitilin on March 2, 2012 at 1:47 PM said...

You missed my favorite: poach the end client! Why bother with that pesky middleman, when you're sure they're not doing anything to add value that you couldn't easily do yourself.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 2, 2012 at 2:42 PM said...

@Caitilin: that's a good one for sure! We didn't think of it because we work with direct clients. You are right, poaching the end client is a fantastic way to lose an agency client. :)

Meg on March 5, 2012 at 12:46 AM said...

I loved the "brilliant linguist" attitude. And only after I read it in your post, I realised that it does happen really often...

Ekaterina on March 5, 2012 at 1:41 AM said...

Why bother yourself with asking your client for permission to include an extract from his order into your portfolio?
Why care about deleting names and figures from a contract when you include that into your portfolio?

I wouldn't say that breach of confidentiality is wide-spread but as for the Russian low-end translation services market it's an true issue.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 5, 2012 at 7:43 AM said...

@Meg: thanks for reading and commenting. Yep, we think it's really important to portray to the customer that you are the expert without being arrogant or wagging your finger. It's a delicate balance, but one that can be achieved.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 5, 2012 at 9:06 AM said...

@Ekaterina: that's a good one, thanks. That's right: not bothering to ask for the client's permission before you use any of their property for purposes other than translating the document is a sure-fire way to lose the client in question. Thanks for reading!

EP on March 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM said...

Ouch. Reading that made me cringe. I've done one or two of those myself in the past (honest) and knew it was wrong even then. Those are some very good points, and very true.

Karen Tkaczyk on March 15, 2012 at 2:05 PM said...

Great post ladies. I particularly like the one about whining online. Too many translators complain about clients or colleagues on the internet. I'm always amazed how much open criticism I see.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on March 15, 2012 at 2:25 PM said...

@EP: sorry to bring back bad memories. :) The great thing is that we can all learn from past mistakes... we've made many, too!

@Karen: glad you like. It seems that providers let go of their inhibitions online. The internet is a very, very public place, and we think it's essential to behave professionally at all times, whether it's offline or online.

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.

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

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