Translation Culture

If the Customer is Always Right, Must You Always Say Yes?

Should we always say yes?

I worked for a boss once who used to say “just say yes to everything and then work out how to do it”.  She ran her own business, and this was clearly the strategy she had taken to grow it, and more often than not she had come up with a way to make something happen once she had agreed to do it.  As a start-up, getting work can be hard, so it is possible to see how this approach could work.  It is also very easy to see the possible pitfalls.  If you fail to deliver, letting somebody down will quickly result in your name becoming mud not just with them, but with everybody they know.  It is a high-risk strategy.

One of the most important things to understand is what you are saying yes to.  In order to deliver customer service that successfully meets, you are obviously going to need to have a complete grasp of what those expectations are first.  The Languages Services Industry is by nature typically driven by tight deadlines.  This can sometimes mean that less time is invested in relationship management than in other industries, but also that less care is taken at the front end to ensure that the task is properly understood.  While there does need to be a careful balance between the time invested in scoping out a project versus actually completing the project, there is no point rushing ahead with a project without understanding its goals properly.  Otherwise, there is a very real risk that what is produced will not satisfy the client.  Even if you have said “yes” and taken the work, accepting a tight deadline that another firm may have refused, your client will not be satisfied if the end product does not meet the specifications that they were looking for.

This is where the art of negotiation can be very useful and the use of “yes, but”.  “We would love to help you, client X, but how about instead of….” and offer a counter proposal.  Instead of simply saying no, you are saying yes to some parts of their request, and showing willing.  Maybe you can accommodate some aspects of what they are looking for but not others.  Maybe you can manage a tighter turnaround for a higher fee as you could then have another person working on the translation simultaneously?  Or you could charge the lower fee – but they will need to allow another 2 days for example.  Clients often respond well to understanding clearly what their options are and choosing for themselves.  In this way you are in fact saying yes to everything – but for a price.

So can everything be brought?  The simple answer is no.  There will be some services you simply cannot offer.  For example, languages you don’t speak or copy editing for example when this is a service that you have never offered.  It would be foolhardy to take on agree to undertake any professional service like this without any training or experience whatsoever obviously.  What you can do however is build a network of professional contacts that you can recommend people to if you do not offer a service.  You will often find that they will reciprocate.

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