How Not to Treat Your Customers

We really enjoy learning from other businesses -- or learning what not to do . We think it's important to occasionally look outside our own profession for customer service inspiration or marketing ideas, and once in a while, we get treated the way we wouldn't want to get treated, and we make a mental note. Here's a recent conversation (slightly changed to protect the innocent) that Judy had with a pest control company. It reminded us how important it is to explain one's product or service to the potential customer without sounding condescending.

Pest control place: (mumbling) Pest control.

Judy: Um, hello, is this XYZ pest control on Bugkiller Avenue?

Pest control place: Yes.

Judy (thinking: "I don't feel very welcome here"): Well, um, I have ants everywhere, can you come out and give me an estimate? How much would it cost to get rid of them? I feel bad for killing them, but I don't want them in my cereal....

Pest control place (cutting Judy off): We don't need to come out to give you an estimate. We can just tell you over the phone.

Judy (annoyed): Well, OK, do tell me, then.

Pest control place: I need more information.

Judy (annoyed): OK, what do you need to know?

Pest control place (annoyed): Well, you know, the basics.

Judy (annoyed): Basics? I don't know anything about your business, so I don't know what the basics are. You haven't told me how you charge, so I don't know which information you need from me. Just ask and I will tell you.

Pest control place (annoyed): Well, my dear, it's by square footage, so I need the square footage of your house.

Judy: OK, why didn't you tell me that sooner? It's 1,800 square foot with a big yard. I also have a 100-pound Labranard, her name is Luna, and she doesn't like the ants, either, but I am not sure that matters.

Pest control place: That would be $150.

Judy: $150 for what?

Pest control place: To spray for ants. Or did you say you had cockroaches?

Judy: I get that, but how many times? How long will it take? What kind of products do you use? Is it safe for my dog? Do I have to leave the house? You seem very reluctant to give me information here, and I don't understand that. I am trying to give you business here. Where do you spray the chemicals? On the wall?

Pest control place: Why would we spray the chemical on the wall?

Judy (exasperated): I have no idea where you spray it -- I am not in the pest control business. I am merely asking questions, but you are not answering them.

Pest control place: I am sorry, I am just not feeling very good today. I apologize if I've been grouchy.

Judy: I hope you feel better, but I really don't think this is going to work out. I feel like I've inconvenienced you terribly with this phone call, so I don't want to inconvenience you any further by giving you my business.

Pest control place: I am so sorry! Look, we use an all-natural spray that's safe for pets and children. You don't have to leave the house at all. It will take about 20 minutes and we spray the baseboards in the house and also in the backyard.

Judy: I appreciate that, but I don't think your company is a good fit for me.

Pest control place: Please give us another chance!

Judy: I will think about it. Have a lovely day!

We think it's a powerful lesson to remind ourselves that our customers -- the direct clients purchasing translation and interpreting services -- most likely don't know anything about translation and interpretation. That's where we come in. It's our job to explain to them what a source word is, why we bill by the word, etc. It doesn't make them uneducated not to know these details; rather, it's simply not their area of expertise, and as providers, we need to clearly explain the process to them. This is something linguists oftentimes forget, but instead of complaining about clients who are unfamiliar with our processes, we should see the situation as an opportunity for client education. 

We would love to hear your thoughts on this!


Mykhailo on September 5, 2013 at 3:46 AM said...

They should charge per target ant! If all the ants are the same, they are repetitions, so there should be a discount. ;)

Yes, translators should be able to explain how they charge and why. We should also explain what our services include, not just marketing fluff like "we solve your problem and add value".

Thanks for the story.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The most frequent correction I have had to make is to explain the difference between an interpreter and translator. The general public has probably never had reason to know there is a difference between the two which is fine. What is not fine though is the media getting it wrong. The number of BBC reports talking about a "translator" when they clearly mean "interpreter" are too numerous to mention.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The most frequent correction I have had to make is to explain the difference between an interpreter and translator. The general public has probably never had reason to know there is a difference between the two which is fine. What is not fine though is the media getting it wrong. The number of BBC reports talking about a "translator" when they clearly mean "interpreter" are too numerous to mention.

Michael Schubert on September 5, 2013 at 11:45 AM said...

LOL :-) I've spoken with dozens of contractors over the past four years during my ongoing home renovations. The good ones - the ones I've hired - take the time to educate and involve me but also make me feel confident that the experts are in control. I always think about this when I interact with my clients - how translation services may be as scary and mystifying to them as foundation repair or electrical wiring is to me!

By the way, it is estimated that the insects of the world not only outnumber us (duh!) but mostly likely outweigh us by a factor of tens or hundreds. So good luck with those ants ...

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on September 8, 2013 at 1:37 PM said...

@Mykhailo: Thanks so much for the great laugh -- we love the "target ants" comment. Too funny. You made our day! We also like your point about really explaining things instead of hiding behind the typical nonsense along the lines of value, etc. Excellent point.

@Turkishbusinesstranslations: Thanks so much for your comment. The BBC messes this up quite frequently, and we've written about this -- very recently, actually. You might want to check out our blog post titled "Warriors Needed." Thanks for reading!

@Michael: Fantastic point about how translation can be as scary to clients as home repair stuff can be to not-very-practical translators (that's us). You illustrate this point quite well; thanks for sharing. And yes, scary about the amount of insects indeed. They will be around when we have been gone for a long, long time. See you in San Antonio!

Jane on September 9, 2013 at 2:18 AM said...

Good post. It seems that there are two kinds of translator - the kind who get offended by everything and seem to spend most of their time fuming (ridiculously low rates! people asking stupidly simple terminology questions! agencies not replying to my emails! people offering to pay after 45 days when I only accept 30! etc. etc.) and those who have a professional approach and know when to explain their business, to which clients, and what "insults" to simply consign to the recycle bin.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on September 9, 2013 at 12:39 PM said...

@Jane: Thanks for reading and for commenting. You bring up a great point and we'd like to add that while complaining can be cleansing and healthy, we think it's best to complain effectively (mainly to whomever is wronging you) and to otherwise focus on the positive. :) And yes, we sure like our "delete" button. It comes in very handy.

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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