Our Questions Empower Clients
Experts know everything, right?
I often see translators online asking whether they should let clients know about questions or issues that arise with a translation. They fear that asking questions might make them look unprofessional.
When we hire experts, we want them to take charge. It’s their job to confidently guide us through the process. We don’t want to feel that we have to hold their hand. If they keep bombarding us with questions, we might wonder if they really know what they’re doing.
Similarly, clients sometimes feel unsettled when we ask questions. Maybe they just want a nice translation to arrive in their inbox without having to be involved in the process. Leave everything else to the expert! If clients are surprised when we ask questions, then they don’t know why we’re asking (and we need to tell them). What they may not be aware of: Every word put to paper in a translation is already the outcome of a chain of decisions, interpreting the source text, choosing to word headlines a certain way, breaking up sentence structures or perhaps even leaving something out. Translators constantly decide things on behalf of clients and their target audience. In fact, when I discuss my translations with clients, they are often surprised that I can reel off several different ways of translating something and then supply clear reasons for settling on a certain translation.
Asking questions as a sign of our expertise
Some questions, however, need to be discussed with clients. They aren’t really questions – they are points of concern we are raising in a dialog of equals. We’re not asking our clients for help. Instead, we’re sharing our expertise and making them aware of something that our more experienced eye has caught. We’re careful readers and can point out unclear, contradictory or even wrong passages in a text. We’re cultural ambassadors and can explain how a text or copy should be adapted to conform to the expectations of the translation’s target audience. We’re a step ahead of our clients and see things beyond the translation at hand that might need to be handled.
Discussing these points does not make us look unprofessional – on the contrary. Many a client has remarked to me that other translators they previously worked with didn’t really ask questions. They got the text, translated it and delivered the translation. When I ask these clients how happy they were with the translations, they shuffle their feet and admit that that they weren’t always too thrilled with the results. Questions, comments and feedback are vital ingredients for creating translations that work.
If clients don’t want to be involved, then they at least need to understand that they are trusting an outsider – who may not have the whole picture – with a very important aspect of how the world perceives them. (This is of course a case in point for long-standing relationships between clients and translators). I can understand that clients are sometimes reluctant if they feel that translators are shunting work back to them in the form of questions. It’s our job to help them understand that this dialog is an important step in determining the quality of the current translation as well as of future ones. After all, many questions only need to be asked once.
4 replies on “Our Questions Empower Clients”
Hi Else, thank you very much for sharing this.
I subscribe to this post, word by word. Questions are indeed a powerful resource for the translator, which also becomes added value for the customer. However, the benefits of questions are often invisible to the customer, who might not be aware of what’s behind them – and then it’s up to us to let them know the whys and hows. As an example, I have included a “questions” clause on my T&Cs, to let my customers know right from the start that these are a natural part of the project (when used wisely, that is)
Down to your questions, in my experience it depends on my customer’s preferences, and on the individual circumstance. Sometimes you really need to talk things through (e.g. when it comes to specific nuances of the content), in other cases a simple note will do. In case of notes in the file, I always notify them in the delivery email, to make sure the customer won’t miss them out.
Enjoy the weekend!
including questions in your terms and conditions is a great idea. Food for thought 🙂
Have a lovely weekend yourself!
Great post, Else! I agree that asking questions doesn’t make look unprofessional. When you ask questions you show that you care about your clients, that you’re there for them and want them to get the best possible results. Many of my clients understand that and feel very grateful when I ask questions. Because that they they know that their translation is in safe hands.
I’ve found that my favorite clients are happy to spend some time talking about any questions or comments I might have – even if they’re initially confused why I don’t already know all the answers. These tend to be clients who are invested in the quality of the translation. Clients who shy away from talking with me usually don’t understand that there are a number of factors that influence the translation outcome. They’re looking for a one-size-fits-all product and will usually drift away to someone who provides what they are looking for – no questions asked 🙂