How Does a Translation Agency Build Successful Client Relationships?
By: SDL plc-
You’re about to work with a new customer. How do you get off to a good start and what do you do if things go wrong? We talked to thriving Belgium translation agency Lexitech, for insights on what to do towards making client relationships as successful as possible. Geert Vanderhaeghe, General Manager and Daphné Modrzewski, Sales Manager at Lexitech are in conversation with Fiona Merwood, Senior Marketing Executive at SDL.
FIONA: What is your process when you first work with a client?
GEERT: We do some research to understand a bit about them, their business and activities, look at what information is publicly available and that includes their financial status too.
DAPHNÉ: Once you start talking to them you can then ask questions to validate what you’ve already learned and find out more.
GEERT: I have a background in banking where it’s all about building lasting relationships. The same applies in translation. It’s most beneficial for both parties when you can work with clients over many years so that means telling them about what you do, where you’re heading, and asking what their aspirations are. That way you can see if you will complement each other, be aligned and work well over time.
DAPHNÉ: Yes you must tell them about what you do and how you work so that you can establish your process and credentials. That way they will listen when you suggest how to approach a project.
FIONA: What’s your preferred way to communicate?
DAPHNÉ: We like to discuss by phone and then follow up by email afterwards. To do things by email alone can be too slow in our business!
FIONA: How do you keep clients happy?
GEERT: The work is done at the outset, be clear up front. Be candid with people. A good example is if a client comes out of the blue and you want pre-payment — just be open and tell them straight. Ultimately it’s really the production process that keeps your client happy, the quality of the processes you have and of the technology around it, and making sure that that works really, really well. That means you manage expectations, stay honest and deliver what’s promised.
FIONA: How do you stay reliable? What about when things go wrong?
DAPHNÉ: Yes, of course, things happen! A few years ago there was a gas explosion close to the office, so for a few hours we didn’t have electricity. We had to call our customers to say, “Look, we won’t get our translations out. What extra time can you give us?” People were understanding. We had a good shutdown process so no work was lost.
GEERT: Today, our approach to disaster recovery is that we work from home – within an hour we can work again. So we have good systems and robust processes in place. We are honest with our clients about delivery so that we set, or reset expectations and if you have a good reputation, then people know that they can rely on you.
DAPHNÉ: In general, from the moment someone knows they are having a problem on a project, I want to know what it is and how they’re going to solve it. So, take action immediately but inform the customer, keep on top of it. People often look for excuses but don’t waste energy on that, just be honest.
FIONA: What’s your style when dealing with people? What works best?
DAPHNÉ: Do whatever feels comfortable with you. Be authentic as long as you’re polite, use whatever style you want.
GEERT: It’s your own personality that will come across in a long-term relationship or under pressure. There’s a certain moment in which your personality will come through anyway, so don’t try to be something you’re not. What you say and do has to be in tune with your own personality, and that is something that you only discover over time. Be yourself.
FIONA: What if you keep having questions and problems on a project?
DAPHNÉ: If you have questions, ask them. With problems – we’re here not only as a service provider, but we’re also in this together, so tell the customer, “Let’s try and resolve this together” — that works extremely well, and usually is appreciated by people. Make sure that you gather as much information as possible at the start, before starting the project and manage everybody’s expectations.
GEERT: What needs to be done isn’t always understood very well. For example, they might not appreciate the complexity. When people send a PDF they don’t realise the work involved, so you need to educate the customer, in a nice way, explain and talk them through the process.
FIONA: Can you give me an example of how you have worked through a mistake and how you moved past it. What the relationship was like with your client after?
DAPHNÉ: We had a mix up with languages, and it was with a regular customer. Somehow we made a mistake with the list of required languages and translated into Thai when it was supposed to be Taiwanese. It was very unfortunate and embarrassing.
DAPHNÉ: We accepted full responsibility and of course didn’t charge. The relationship was a bit awkward for a while but it did recover, and after about a month or so, it was back to normal. We’re all human and it only takes a slip of attention for a few seconds and mistakes can be made. We have changed our processes so it won’t happen again.
GEERT: You must create a culture where people can talk about things and raise problems. We are solution-oriented and that way people don’t feel threatened and can speak out. If there’s a customer problem let’s talk about it right away to see what can be done. And so it becomes part of the culture that if things go wrong you integrate the learning and change the process.
FIONA: How do you keep the work coming in?
GEERT: Talk to your customers. Ask about their plans and what they’re working on so you can find out what may come your way. My sales people have these conversations all the time.
It’s also about all your other activities, you’re looking after your website, search engine optimization, social media, networking, events, contacting professional bodies and prospecting for new business. Also look to expand your business either through what you offer, different services, or physically. We’ve also opened a new office in Paris.
FIONA: Any last piece of advice you would like to pass on?
GEERT: Just be who you are and take the approach that suits you. Follow your heart but have good processes as well.
Read our previous blog on building a good relationship between a translation agency and a freelance translator.