How to Deal with Difficult Clients

Every client is different; many are delightful but others can be a little more challenging.

As a customer you want a website and not just any old cookie-cutter website, but one that will reflect your business and make you stand out from your competition. In order to get the result you want you might be wondering how on earth you can get there. The answer is simple, you just need to be prepared!

You will also want a good relationship with your website designer, and a reputable web designer will do their best for you, but there may be some hurdles to overcome along the way.
After more than 25 years working with a variety of design customers, I think I have met a good range of personalities from easy to less so. As designers we work with tried and tested design processes which should help make things easier for the client, however there are occasional surprises.

So how to deal with difficult clients?

Here are five common customer types and how to manage with them.

How to deal with difficult clients - Read my mind

1. Read-my-mind Raymond

Ray thinks that websites are easy, because he’s done one or two himself and ‘knows’ how they work. So you should be able to know what he wants without him having to say much as his business is very simple. You take a brief from him and give him a price that he is happy with, then you wait for his content. You can’t get started until you receive his images and his text that he is convinced he can write himself. After a bit of prodding, you get a few images and a few words for the homepage and are promised the rest is coming over soon.

For good will, you start the homepage and wait for the rest. The rest doesn’t arrive, it comes in dribs and drabs. This is a very inefficient way of working.

How to deal with Raymond.
Set out a schedule of work – dates for the content to be given by the client, and dates for stages of the website to be completed by. It is best not to do it page by page, but to schedule the site into chunks to make more efficient use of time.


How to deal with difficult clients - Time running out

2. Mr Manic

Always in a hurry! His jobs are urgent because he is trying to fit too much into the working week and the design work gets pushed to the back of the queue. He rings you late in the day and talks with the speed of a machine gun. He expects you to drop everything for him every time and wants it done yesterday. But the real reason Mr Manic is in such a hurry is that he is disorganised and excitable.

Of course you don’t mind it when there is a genuine need to get something done quickly, and feel a certain amount of pride when a project gets turned around quickly. But if it’s every project, then something needs to be addressed.

How to deal with Mr Manic.
You need to educate Mr Manic and explain in friendly terms how he can get organised. Clients like this can be very stressful and you certainly don’t want more than one at a time. They usually don’t realise how their disorganisation disorganises you too, so you need to educate them thoroughly. If he continues to be in a rush, sack him!


How to deal with difficult clients - Fear and choices

3. Technophobe Tina

Lots of people are still nervous of technology and technology can a be daunting for someone who is not used to it. Add a layer of ‘Website’ onto this and you can see that there will be a lot of hand-holding and explaining to do. We are used to working with people who are a little afraid of technology and have found that explaining things in simple English, instead of ‘tech-speak’ usually helps a great deal. However, be prepared for the project to last longer than it should.

How to deal with Tina.
Patience is the key, once your nervous customer understands the processes, they will be your biggest fan. You will want to create a well constructed, logical website for them that is good looking and user-friendly. Getting a good brief from them will pay dividends going forward with their project, so understanding what they do is key to success.


How to deal with difficult clients - Choices

4. Wobbly Wendy

Wendy doesn’t really know exactly what she wants. But she’ll know it when she sees it! The potential for this tends to fit closer with logo design rather than Websites, but sometimes a person simply needs help getting the concept for their website in some kind of order. Devising a plan and a structure can be quite exciting if you strike up a good relationship with them and your discussion creates a clear path.

How to deal with Wendy.
Ask questions! The customer may not know where to start with their website, so you need to ask relevant questions that draws out what they want to achieve. Their website should also be a way to make money for them, or give credibility in their field. One key question to ask is what is the purpose of the website / business? Once you understand that, then the website should begin to take shape in your minds.

But if Wendy changes her mind on images or text, you will need to explain that revisions will cost more time, this needs to be made clear at the beginning and be monitored throughout the project. It is very easy for the uninitiated to think that the perceived tiny amends won’t take long, they often look very simple, but in reality may have involved finding a new plugin, testing a few and getting the best one working.

Getting a detailed brief and outlining the process should help keep the project under control.


How to deal with difficult clients -Clamped wallet

5. Closed-purse Candy

This one is harder to spot up front and can include one or more of the characters above which will make for double trouble! Customers want a website, and not any old website, but one that will suit their business, look professional and stand out from their competition. If this is what they want, then it should be paid for.

How to deal with Candy.
To stop the worst from happening you can get a part payment upfront, this is not unreasonable and shows willingness on the side of both the client. Subsequent scheduled pay dates should be set up and if are missed, then work should cease until payment has been received.


How to deal with difficult clients – from the customer’s point of view.

Customers – what to expect

Of course you don’t want to become the client from hell!
Perhaps the web designer hasn’t made themselves clear on what they need, or maybe you didn’t quite understand the process. Either way, many of the difficulties outlined here can be overcome with a good brief and project delivery schedule. Of course, if a client is not happy or is uncertain with what has been created, then there may be delays or a change of direction is inevitable. A change of direction with the project may happen for a number of reasons, possibly the business idea has evolved from the original brief and this may be exactly what is needed at an early stage in the life of the business. Perhaps the business idea didn’t hold water and needs to go back to the drawing board.

Be prepared to be asked a lot of questions, your web designer should be thinking about your potential customers and their journey through your site.

Here is a short list of some questions that may be asked of you:

What do you want your site to achieve for you?
How will your website earn money?
What is it you offer that will benefit your customers?
How will people find your website?
Have you engaged a copywriter?
Why should people choose you over your competition?

Whether you are a potential customer or a new designer just setting out, this article is intended to act as food for thought and remind us that with any design project, whether it is Logo design or website design, teamwork and communication is crucial to your success.


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