Perspectives: How to (not) kill a translation client

Did you know that according to Gallup, 86% of buyers would pay more for a better service experience, and Forbes magazine reports that only 1% of them feel that they are getting it? As a result, they ask for reductions in rates, an increase in additional non-paid services (more Excel reports, anyone?) and they complain more often about translation quality — most often with change requests that are preferential.

How does this impact your bottom line? You are missing a big chunk of additional revenue and could lose what you already have. Happy customers spend an average of 23% more of their budget with an engaging localization vendor.

Figure 1 shows how that process works. Disengaged clients become more demanding. They may ask for a reduction in rates for individual services, an increase in the scope of projects without wanting to pay for it and they might voice concerns over the quality of your translations. If you grant those requests, you will experience losses in either real revenue (18% on average) or opportunities (23% on average).

In turn your operations will be stressed even more, leading to yet less client engagement. And so, the circle of death continues. Little by little you will kill your client account.

As a small business owner, I have felt the impact of both an 18% revenue loss with a client and an increase of 23% with the same account. It’s the difference between doing very well and struggling to make ends meet. It lets your thoughts sway from “I can do anything I put my mind to” to “What was I thinking? I can’t do this!”

Often we are just throwing things onto the wall to see what sticks. We pretend we have it all together, hoping one day we actually will.

Until then, we face countless setbacks — lost clients, overly demanding ones, quality disputes with vendors, increased competition and pressure to reduce rates. Until we get to the point where anyone will jump to take our phone call or reply to our email.

It is also true that there is a battle-proven way of getting there as a localization service provider (LSP). I have observed LSPs from all angles for over 20 years: as managing director, as a client and as a consultant. The number-one reason that I have seen translation bureaus and LSPs kill a client is a desire to operate like a black box — often with the good intention of offering “turn-key solutions” and bothering the client as little as possible.

But if not implemented well, this approach backfires. The client simply does not feel engaged, and slowly but surely drifts away.

To the contrary, successful localizers and translators will:

 Proactively reach out to share queries from translators and resolve them effectively.

 Ask customers for additional information and resources, such as terminology, reference documents, product info and so on.

 Communicate progress, manage expectations and make the work easier for the next person in the process.

In other words, engaging your clients well is the key factor to winning and growing more business.

This insight may go against what some project managers observe. I often hear pushback to the idea of client engagement. People believe that many buyers of localization services are not willing to do what it takes to get better services, but instead, want the least number of requests and queries from their service provider.

I call this kind of thinking the “monkey house.” Fashion consultant and television personality Tim Gunn has said, “I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god, this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for 20 minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all.”  Anyone else entering the monkey house will think, “this stinks!” but you can’t tell, because you’ve stayed too long in the monkey house.

Keep in mind that 86% of customers are not engaged, and we all think it’s normal. In fact, it stinks. Thus, it is also true that if you do not engage your clients, they will not engage with you. A disengaged client is one that easily leaves. A quiet client often builds new capacity or develops new vendors on covert operations.