I’m a Translator, NOT a Machine: When It’s Time to Say Goodbye to a Client

I’ve written previously about parting company with clients. Sometimes this happens over time, maybe because you’ve raised your rates, or said “No” too often and they’ve looked elsewhere. Or perhaps they’ve imposed unreasonable demands on you as a freelancer, or you just don’t want to work for them any more because the relationship has become untenable. It’s never nice losing a client, whether you’ve instigated it or the decision comes from them, but sometimes you just have to take the plunge.

I had just such a case recently with a long-standing client I’ve been working with on excellent terms for many years. Unfortunately, the original owner had retired and sold the company to an international translation concern, and although things initially continued along the same lines, the atmosphere slowly began to change. They introduced a translation portal (which I hate!), through which jobs were issued and returned, invoices submitted, and availability updated. At first, the project managers would contact you by phone or email to see whether you could do a certain job, asking you to log onto the portal to accept or reject, but gradually that personal element slipped by the wayside. Now I just receive a barrage of automated email from the portal at all times of day or night, especially in the evenings and during the weekends when no self-respecting professional should expect to be poised over the computer.

The portal itself was unwieldy to use and definitely not translator-friendly. I rarely looked at the job emails, since they arrived at inappropriate times and were sent to everyone. Whenever I did try to log in, my log-in details wouldn’t work and I had to contact the project managers to reset my account (a painful process in itself). Then again, when I tried to update my availability on the portal, notifying them of holiday dates so that I wouldn’t be swamped with email while I was away, it made no difference to the avalanche of mail. I even contacted one of the local project managers the last time I went away, asking them to update my availability manually as I had little success with the portal. All in vain—I still received the barrage of email during my holiday.

At this point, I decided to pick up the phone and call my local office to ask to be taken off their mailing list, as I was becoming increasingly frustrated at being treated like a nameless cog in a huge machine. Despite being cut off three times during the call (and this was landline to landline, so we can’t even blame dodgy reception!), I did eventually speak to a human being and was asked to email my request. This I duly did, but again it made no difference. Finally, this week, after comparing notes with other frustrated colleagues who also worked or had worked with this agency, I emailed again, forwarding my original email. This time I pointed out that the correspondence I was receiving from them could conceivably be construed as spam, seeing as I had specifically asked them not to send it. Result! The email has finally stopped. Not the way I would have wanted to end a long-term relationship, but I felt they left me with no other choice.

As a professional translator, I don’t want to work for an outfit that regards me as an interchangeable cog in a large machine. By sending automated email to everyone on their mailing list for a specific language pair, regardless of time zone, quality of work, or specialization, and presumably accepting responses on a first-come, first-served basis, the emphasis has shifted from quality to logistics. I don’t want to work on that basis. I would rather work with people (not machines) who treat me as a valued contributor who can add something special to the translation process. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I take a lot of time and effort to do a good job and it’s nice to think that’s appreciated. I certainly have plenty of clients, both direct and agencies, who do interact personally, albeit by email in many cases, sometimes by phone, proving that it’s still possible to maintain human relationships even in today’s high-tech world.

A deluge of spam-like email may be when the rot sets in, but ignoring my (not unreasonable) request not to be contacted at all hours or during holidays was the final straw for me. Has anything similar pushed you beyond your limits? I’m sure I can’t be the only one to feel this way about the dehumanization of some aspects of our profession. When all’s said and done, I’m a translator, not a machine, and I’d appreciate being treated accordingly.

Claire Cox is a French>English and German>English translator based in the U.K. She works primarily in the fields of energy, nuclear technology, and health and safety, but has a soft spot for translations in the fields of food and horticulture. She has been translating professionally for over 30 years and is a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting. You can find her blog, ClaireCoxTranslations, at https://clairecoxtranslations.wordpress.com. Contact: claire@cctranslations.co.uk.

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