Beyond the interpretation contract

I provide interpretation services for large events. The job — I’m going to put a positive spin on it here — offers endless opportunities to practice flexibility and resourcefulness. Or, alternatively, to go out of one’s mind. Corporate clients hold conventions and conferences that sometimes involve a dozen or more languages. These events range in size from a hundred or so attendees to several thousand. Unexpected developments happen frequently.

When random changes come at me on the job, it’s usually not even the client’s fault. The poor corporate event manager has to juggle so many different things that our part — language services — barely registers among the many components she must orchestrate. As she’s wading through all of this stuff, and adapting to her own curve balls, she usually has no choice but to ask her subcontractors to adapt along with her. And this presents an opportunity. If I’m able to keep up with my clients’ needs, they remember me and appreciate it. I’m no longer just another vendor, I’m a trusted friend and associate.

Here are a few of the things that can go wrong. My fellow project managers and I have dealt with almost all of them — sometimes more than once.

Hotels mess up reservations for my interpreters

Flights are delayed or canceled

Interpretation equipment gets lost in transport to an event

The client needs more languages than the contract specified

The client needs fewer languages than the contract specified

The client dislikes some aspect of an interpreter and I scramble for a                                                   replacement

An interpreter is too sick to work the day of an event (rare)

A client holds more breakout sessions than planned, which necessitates                                            additional equipment, technicians, interpreters or all of the above

The event gets extended beyond the original scope

The event gets shortened

The client makes any number of arbitrary and unforeseeable requests

Equipment malfunctions occur (rare)

On paper, my interpretation clients hire me to do a specific job. If I did only the job for which they hired me, they would be satisfied. However, I want them to be more than satisfied. I actively look for ways they can save money or do things more efficiently. If they don’t really need a piece of equipment that they think they need, I tell them my opinion on the matter, even if it lessens the scope of work. For example, a recent client thought she needed Finnish interpreters for a large conference. However, she had only two Finnish conference attendees and because Finnish interpreters are quite rare, the cost was going to be exorbitant for such a small audience. I reached out to a colleague in Finland and he confirmed that English is widely spoken in Finland, and that likely the two Finnish attendees spoke English. Based on this intel, the client decided to forego the Finnish interpretation.

In another event, I recommended that my client buy her own interpretation headsets directly from our supplier rather than renting them from us. She was a bit surprised, but it was clearly the best thing for her to do.

Post-interpretation, I always circle back to debrief with my client. We discuss what went right, what went wrong, if I could have done better, and whether anything could be handled differently next time. We part ways with my client (hopefully) knowing that I’m genuinely looking out for them. If you go the extra mile for your clients, they’re bound to notice.