Is the client always right?
I am not just trying to be provocative here. Of course we all want to satisfy our clients and we should not tell them they are wrong, but what if a client does not know what she wants or is asking for the wrong thing?
I once was asked to review a translation project that had gone very wrong. A PowerPoint that was translated had been critiqued by the interpreters who worked at the event, and then the translator had been asked to defend himself. The file was very long and the translation, its critique and the translator's response were all flawed. My client was an agency and there were one or two more layers in between the person I was talking to and the end client. The end users--the people reading the translated text--were light years away.
We talked about the project and the solutions I could offer, and even though neither of us was entirely happy (my client was going to have to spend even more money on a project that had already been costly in both money and reputation, and I was not looking forward to the grunt work ahead of me), I sat down at the beginning of my work day to start the review. And then it hit me: I don't know the purpose of this task and I don't understand the audience. The basics of any translator training, especially in academics, is audience and purpose; I had learned this years ago during my Masters program in Translation Studies and always used it as the guiding light for classes I taught. But somehow, during the short and unscheduled discussions I had had with my client, I had forgotten this basic principle. And because I didn't know the purpose and didn't understand the audience, I had a pretty good hunch that my client was wrong. If I delivered what she was asking for, she wouldn't get what she wanted.
I still had a choice: I could deliver what she was asking for and hope it would all turn out all right, or I could restart the discussion and focus on purpose and audience. It could result in less money for me in the short-term, but higher satisfaction on both parts in the long-term.
Clients come to us for a solution to a problem, and we need to be prepared to solve it--even if the problem itself is not well defined. Translating or reviewing words is a task that thousands can accomplish with a little training, but it takes vision and purpose to see the forest for the trees.
What to find out how it turned out? Post a comment here and I will let you know!