In your quotes /contracts, always include a clause on accepting the delivered translation/interpretation and how to file a complaint.  “X is considered accepted if the customer does not notify by date Y that they are filing a complaint about it and deliver an itemized written complaint by date Z”. This is how you prevent complaints after a year of delivering your service or the “was there a mistake here” emails 6 months from delivery. Make it clear from the start that the complaint must be submitted in writing and itemized, so you can refer to it if the customer keeps insisting on the phone that “the translation was lousy / bad English” or “even a child knows you don’t say it like that”. It is easier to respond calmly and analytically to a written and itemized complaint.


Ask the customer who complains to put it in writing and specify as precisely as possible which aspects they are not satisfied with and (very importantly) why. Explain each point to the customer as clearly and matter-of-factly as possible. First, compare the customer’s comments with what was agreed: does the complaint arise from the fact that a rough translation was ordered  and charged for, but they still expect a polished result. If so, then you should calmly and kindly tell them that you delivered what they ordered, but if they still want a more polished translation, it will certainly be possible. State the additional cost and schedule and try to secure additional income. If, on the other hand, the complaint concerns a choice of words (open to interpretation), explain why you chose that particular wording instead of any other wording. For example, when translating to English, adjectives are typical subjects of a question. Your client may be used to more literal interpretations of adjectives or may not know all the synonyms in an English text. Explain and open up the matter to the customer. Often at this point the customer calms down and the matter is resolved. If not, offer alternatives and ask which one they prefer. If, on the other hand, changing the wording causes major effects or it cannot be changed without affecting the content of the message, then explain the situation. For example, if the client wants to change all “chairs” to read “table”, then the customer must be aware of the effects of the change. When you do this in writing, you reduce or eliminate your own responsibility for the consequences of the changes.

If the complaint is not justified, i.e. it is not clearly a mistake, there is no particular reason to give a discount. If, on the other hand, it is your own mistake, correct it immediately and sincerely apologize for the situation. There is no need to offer reasons from private life (my cat is sick and that’s why I was a bit distracted), but if the reason is e.g. a particularly tight schedule, you can mention it, but you still have to assume the responsibility – you have accepted the turnover time and in doing so, you’ve led the client to believe you can deliver the agreed service in that time.

A complaint caused by an error may trigger a contractual liability for damages and/or a contractual fine and/or entitle the client to a refund or discount. Damage compensation is activated if there is an error in the delivered product/service and this error has caused damage (i.e. there is a so-called cause-and-effect relationship). A penalty clause in the contract may be activated if the contract has been breached, e.g. the agreed service has been delivered late. It does not require any damages to have be caused, so it is possible that the error activates both liabilities at once. The size of the damage compensation depends on many factors, e.g. the extent of the work done (invoiced amount) and the extent of the mistake. The penalty stipulated in the contract does not depend on these and is often a set sum or a percentage of the invoice.

For example, if the translation is delivered late, the printing house the client has booked won’t be able to do the printing work on time. The printer might charge for the delay and this additional cost might have to be borne by the translator. In addition, a delay can affect e.g. mailing costs or, for example, delay the sending out of meeting invitations in a way that causes problems to the customer. These additional costs may also be the responsibility of the translator. In addition to these direct costs, there may be indirect costs, e.g. reputational damage, which adversely affects the development of the stock market price, for example. You should look to limit your liability in your contracts, say, limited only only to direct damages and at most, the invoiced sum for the assignment, minus the VAT. 

A contractual penalty may be activated if the contract is breached. Therefore, it does not require a mistake or damage (cause-and-effect relationship).

Try to make sure these situations won’t arise by being careful and foreseeing any eventual problems.