How to ask clients for feedback

Working as a freelance translator means working in a bit of a vacuum. The upside: no pointy-haired boss! The downside: no on-location colleagues off whom to bounce ideas, and very little feedback on how you’re doing. If you work as an in-house translator, your work is probably reviewed by a senior translator or in-house reviser. Hopefully you receive a performance review now and again. But as a freelancer, you’re often on your own when it comes to soliciting feedback on your translations.

Sometimes, a client’s behavior speaks for itself. A client who sends you a steady flow of work is mostly likely very happy with your translations. A one-and-done client, perhaps not so much. Freelancers often work with little to no meaningful feedback from clients, for various reasons. Perhaps the client doesn’t read the source or target language; perhaps they don’t want to get in the middle of a translator-editor UFC match; perhaps they’re simply too busy.

You can’t force a client to tell you what they thought of your translation. Some people are personally or culturally allergic to giving feedback that isn’t glowing. Still, feedback is an important element of keeping clients happy and becoming a better translator, so let’s look at how to at least encourage feedback from clients.

Set the tone at the start of the relationship. I tell every new client that:

  • I want to build a long-term relationship with them, and honest feedback is part of that (from them to me and from me to them).
  • I really value their feedback, even if it’s negative or critical. I really appreciate any client who takes the time to thoroughly read and review my work.
  • I never want a client to be afraid of hurting my feelings: if they have feedback about the translation, positive or negative, they should just say it.

If you add one element to your feedback-solicitation process, I think it should be this: at least tell your clients that you value their feedback and you’re open to it.

Reiterate the request for feedback every time you return a translation to a client. In my experience, direct clients are much more willing to provide feedback than most agencies are. Still, even if you work exclusively with agencies, put the offer out there. “Thank you for contacting me for this, and I look forward to your feedback so that I know what worked well in this translation and how I can better serve you in the future.”

Agency-specific tip. If you think you can stick to it, offer to read the final version of the translation without responding to it. Here’s where things get tricky. In my experience, many agencies provide almost no feedback other than something cursory (“The client was happy with it”), and generally do not allow the translator to see the editor’s changes or the final version of the document. My guess is that they don’t want to get in the middle of a dispute between the translator and the editor–the changes get sent to the translator, the translator objects to them, gets angry, and insists that the agency reverse the changes, or fire the editor, or whatever. Some agencies might be amenable to showing you the changes or the final document, if you promise not to respond. Before you propose that type of arrangement, you have to think it through: what will you do if you see that the editor introduced an error or made stylistic changes that you don’t agree with? Still, it could be worth a shot.

Add a customer satisfaction survey to your process. I gleaned this tip from a student in my Marketing to Direct Clients class; it’s fast and basic, and gives clients a little nudge to comment on your services if they want to. Start by creating a very simple survey in a tool like Survey Monkey, so that it can be anonymous. The translator who taught me this technique used three questions:

  • On a scale of 1-5, how satisfied were you with my services?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how likely would you be to recommend me to a friend or colleague?
  • Would you like to offer any comments about my services?

Then, include a link to this survey when you return a translation to a client: “If you’d like to offer any feedback about my services, I have a very short customer satisfaction survey that you can complete.” This gives clients an easy way to provide feedback if they want to.

Ask for a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile. This is more in the testimonial category than the feedback category, but it’s a good way to ask for client input in a way that is not pushy. If you e-mail a client directly and ask for a testimonial, it’s somewhat awkward if they don’t want to provide one. Some clients just do not provide testimonials or references to freelancers, end of story. And, as long as they pay the bills, that’s their prerogative. Asking for a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile has a few advantages: it’s not pushy (the client just doesn’t do it if they don’t want to), and, if the client does do it, it’s public, so it’s easy to show to potential clients.

Ask for feedback from all of your clients once a year. You could apply one of the techniques above, but frame it as “an end-of-year request for feedback from all of my clients.” Again, part of the goal is to encourage your clients to provide feedback while not stressing them out if they don’t want to say anything. Making the request seem like part of your standard client relations process can help in that department.

Readers, over to you: any other ideas on asking for feedback from clients?

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