Q: How do you remain professional in a disagreement with your client and when do I skip signing that NDA?
I’m very grateful for this opportunity to ask you about our profession. I’d like to have your advice or opinion on a couple of questions. The first one is about customer service. As entrepreneurs, I think we should deliver the best customer service possible, both with direct clients and providers (agencies and publishing companies). How would you manage this? What devices would you use in your daily communication to give the most professional image possible? How would you deal with complaints and rea-arrangements? How would you express your disagreement as well? And how to show your gratitude when things turn down well? The other point is negotiating with your clients/agencies on price and conditions. Do you have a special technique? How would you manage a reduction on the rates proposed by the agency/client? Is it ok to accept below your standard rates? What would you consider restrictive conditions on the agency’s NDA? Thank you very much in advance!! All the best 🙂
A: Hi there Anonymous,
You’ve asked tons of questions and that’s awesome, but I hope you don’t mind me shortening it for the purposes of my response here. 😊 I love this question because it really focuses on something that I don’t think we can ever think enough about, and that’s how to truly embrace the fact that we are running a business with everything that entails…including customer service. So, let’s start there.
First, I want my customers (as you mentioned both direct clients and agencies, etc.) to feel taken care of. I want them to get answers to their questions as quickly as possible and I want to make their lives easier, not harder.
The easiest “quick fix” we can implement here is to make sure we have a professional e-mail address that is easy to remember and use. If your name is extremely difficult to pronounce or remember in your customers’ language(s), restrict use of your name in things like your e-mail address. For example, I use firstname.lastname@example.org as my e-mail because “Jenae” is often not that easy for people to remember or spell both when I’m telling someone my e-mail address verbally and when they are trying to remember it from having seen it somewhere. I also have email@example.com which is even easier. This also holds true for Gmail and other free services…I do have an address I don’t use that often that uses my full name, but again, I don’t use it that often (and I’ve had it since before I started freelancing).
Next, make sure you have an e-mail signature that looks professional and includes helpful information. Have you ever gone to try to call someone in an emergency only to realize even their phone number isn’t in their signature? Include your phone number (and an after-hours number if you have one, but specify it’s for emergencies only!), Skype or other useful contact method and I include some social media as well. The other thing I cannot believe I barely ever see in a signature is current time zone and working hours. Lots of freelancers work with clients all over the world and some choose to work late at night or early in the morning and leave their afternoons free…that’s great but it makes you difficult to work with if clients have no idea how to contact you or when you’re working.
Use auto-responses and out-of-office (OOO) messages. Yes, they’re two different things. OOO messages are great when you’re on vacation or out of the office for a day, half a day, etc. Auto-responses can be a huge asset in customer service. I’ve used a variety of them. I had one client that would frequently contact me while I was sleeping, and by the time I was in the office, they’d moved on to someone else because they didn’t know I was available and needed to place it at least within their workday. So, I set up an auto-response for them and they could simply ping that address (send any email at all) and get an auto-response with my availability so they’d know if I was available no matter the time of day. They LOVED this and even sent an e-mail to all of their vendors asking them to all set up something similar. If you have customers that need information while you’re not available to give it, use auto-responses.
Be really clear about how to reach you and when. My voicemail mentions sending me a text is the best way to get a fast response, and I’ve been able to be a lot more responsive this way, plus have things in writing so it’s easy to reference information when needed after I transition to e-mailing them. I also have a separate business line (Google voice), which I can put on “do not disturb” and I can have a voicemail that’s tailored to my customers.
Regarding devices I use to help me with all of this, I use Quickbooks (online version) which allows me to invoice easily, track bookkeeping and any of my own vendors (purchase orders). I can also easily send quotes to customers that look professional.
Now, let’s talk about complaints and terms. I wrote a blog post here about handling customer complaints so I won’t go into detail about that but I will say that it’s really important to try your best to say “yes” to customers with whom you want to keep a good working relationship. Now, that doesn’t mean “accept any terms the customer throws at you.” Instead, really ask yourself what terms would take it from a begrudging “well, okay” to a “hell yes!” and whether any terms exist at all that can do that for you. As an example, I was once asked to drive about 30 minutes from where I live each way and work on site for a client for a period of time. My initial reaction was to say “no” but after some careful thought I put together the rate and terms that would make this a good arrangement for me and my client.
Next, you asked about expressing gratitude and again, this is another topic that rarely gets covered. It’s so important to let your customers know when things go right and not just when they go wrong. For agency clients, I will usually let project managers know when they’ve sent me a job I love. In one instance, it happened to be a type of file other translators don’t like that much and my simple expression of gratitude meant a significant portion of those jobs were suddenly sent to me. For direct clients, it’s also so important to let them know when you’re enjoying working with them. A simple note about how much you’ve enjoyed the experience with a delivery can really make someone’s day.
I think I’ve answered the rest of your question in my response to the last letter except for your NDA question. Since I’m not an attorney, that’s a tough one to answer without giving actual legal advice, which I can’t and won’t do, but what I will say here is to remember to first, actually read the NDA no matter how much you want to work with a customer – this cannot be overstated! Please don’t be another horror story of those who have signed without understanding what they are agreeing to! Second, remember that almost everything is negotiable. If there’s a part that doesn’t work for you, don’t hesitate to contact your customer before signing and let them know you’re happy to sign an edited version of the NDA. Open a dialogue and negotiate before you sign. I’ve done this successfully on multiple occasions.
Thanks so much for writing!
Readers — what are your thoughts? How do you handle this?
Best of luck and hang in there, Gabi!
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Author: Jenae Spry
Jenae has been a French > English translator for over 10 years and a productivity and performance coach for freelancers for over 5 years. Jenae launched the Success by Rx blog to help freelancers achieve success.
Jenae – Thanks for the helpful advice. I’d like to add a bit more about maintaining a professional attitude with my translation clients when disagreements arise.
My first client-management trick is that, when I’m not happy about an agency client situation (such as feeling forced into job terms I’m not happy about), I reduce the lengths of my emails to the client. If I accepted the job, I don’t necessarily have to be gushing in my appreciation for it, but at least I shouldn’t complain. When I’m upset with a client, it often means that my responses become very short: “OK”, “Will deliver on-schedule”, etc… Saying nothing more than the bare minimum is at least better than opening a can of worms with a long reply that sounds resentful.
The second trick I follow is to avoid responding to anything when I’m particularly angry or feeling defensive. This is most common if the end client has complained about a quality issue or something. Complaints that seem career threatening when they first come in have a way of being surprisingly manageable once my emotions settle down. I’ll often not even open an email right away if I have a hunch it may contain a message I’m not ready to hear during business hours.