The Worst Types of Clients
As a design professional, you are working in a client-driven industry. This means that your ability to do your job successfully is dependent upon your ability to work well with clients and master the complicated art of balancing their wishes with your professional knowledge and skill. Navigating your way through a design project with a client can be a pleasant and rewarding experience, and if you’re truly passionate about your work, you’ll find a way to make even challenging client relationships work! There are some types of clients, however, that can be particularly difficult to work with even in the best of situations. Here are some behaviors to keep an eye out for, and tips on how to handle clients who might test your patience!
1. “We’re doing it my way”
Even though they’ve made the choice to hire a professional, some clients are hesitant to give you control of the project. Most can be coaxed into letting you steer the boat if you are informative and respectful of their concerns, but every once in a while, you’ll encounter a client who just won’t take your professional advice and insists on doing things their way, even if you’ve warned them that their way isn’t the best option. Some design professionals find this particularly frustrating when the client opposing all of their decisions has questionable taste! Don’t question your knowledge simply because a client won’t listen. In the end, they are paying the bill and therefore have the final word in most cases, but you are still the professional and you are justified in telling them why you recommend doing things differently and what you think would be best.
2. “You’re charging me for THAT?”
Some clients have misgivings about paying money for professional services, even though they’re the ones who hired you! At the outset they might agree to your pricing, but as the project moves forward, you might find certain clients resisting the topic of payment, especially where additional charges are involved. You will have to practice patience and respectfully remind them that aspects of the project naturally cost more if they decide they want additional services, or if unavoidable complications arise. Don’t let a client who is afraid to invest in their project devalue your services and stop you from charging appropriately. You are a professional and you provide a specialized service. Whether or not the client thinks that you should be charging them for an unscheduled consultation meeting they requested last minute doesn’t mean that you should be providing your expertise for free.
3. “You can make that work, right?”
Because they aren’t professionals in your industry, it’s understandable that some clients might be confused about precisely which services are actually within your scope. This can result in their expectations not aligning with what you’re actually prepared to do on their projects. You can try to manage this by asking them right away, during your first consultation, what their expectations of you actually are. Some clients, however, might continue to operate on the assumption that you will be able to pull any service they want out of a hat at any time. Politely but firmly remind these clients that you specialize in certain services, and also that these services take time and cannot be provided on a whim. Reiterate this at each step and suggest any contacts you have that might be able to provide them with the additional services they’re looking for. If the problem is that they’re expecting things from you on an unrealistic timeline, try updating them frequently and providing them with as firm of an idea of how much time you’ll need to complete current tasks as possible.
4. “But the customer is always right!”
Sometimes, no matter how reasonably you deal with a client’s demands or how good you are at accommodating high expectations, you will encounter people who are still very difficult to satisfy. You may have heard the old saying “The customer is always right”, and it’s likely that your client has as well! Unfortunately, there’s no secret handbook for helping difficult clients realize that, even though design professionals must cater to their paying clients, they are not obligated to accept disrespect. Standing your ground when you are handling the situation correctly and remaining respectful yourself are your best tactics for helping a client realize that your decisions are made for a reason and that you aren’t just there to mindlessly do their bidding.
5. The one who doesn’t say anything
Perhaps the most difficult client to deal with is the one who fails to communicate. Most tactics for dealing with challenging clients involve interacting with the person, which is very difficult if they aren’t answering any lines of contact! Clients who don’t answer their phone and miss meetings, but still insist that they want to go ahead with the contract when you do see them, force design professionals to choose between procrastinating until they can get more information or ‘winging it’ on very little information in the interest of finishing the project. If you choose to wait on certain decisions until you can get a hold of the client, you risk dragging the project out much longer than your schedule can afford. If you move ahead without clarification from the client, however, you risk wasting money and effort on something that they will make you change later. You will have to do your best to balance completing your work to the best of your ability with keeping in contact with the client as well as you can under the circumstances.
Take a deep breath!
Remember, these behaviors aren’t standard for every client! Don’t let the prospect of dealing with difficult people prevent you from doing the work you enjoy. If you can remain collected and concentrate on doing your job to the best of your ability in any circumstance, your clients will see how professional you are and how much you care about your craft. This might not solve the problem for you, but it will certainly help you avoid aggravating a tense situation. The positive contracts and wonderful clients that most of your business will be made up of will balance out the rest!