How to Handle Difficult Clients

angry client

Freelancers work with many different types of clients. Unfortunately, not every client or potential client is friendly and easy to work with. If you were picky and avoided clients merely because they were "difficult," you may find yourself without many clients.

While difficult clients may never be your favorite clients, it's essential to your career that you learn how to work with everyone. Here are a few tips for dealing with challenging clients (whether you find them in projects on crowdspring or in your offline work):


1. Know the signs of a difficult client. Then decide whether to avoid them or engage.

Watch for the signs: profanity, sarcasm, and overt anger are pretty easy to spot but sometimes a difficult client might not be so immediately evident. Difficult clients may provide way too much information or not enough. Also be on the lookout for clients who seem very judgmental about what they don't like, but provide very little guidance about what they do like.

When you see such signs, try to differentiate between people who are not polished communicators and those who are simply obnoxious and difficult. And, ask yourself if this is a particular form of "difficult" that you can stomach. This is not an easy choice because freelancers are always looking for more projects. But, you may need to decide not to participate in that project.

As a general rule, avoid a project if you feel that you couldn't do your best work or remain professional under the circumstances. You don't want (understandably) poor performance to impact your career later down the line if someone hears about it out of context.


2. Stay on the lookout for trouble throughout a project.

Occasionally difficult clients only reveal their true selves when something has gone wrong. But, chances are good that the client may have given you clues throughout the project. So stay on alert.

Start by examining the brief - typically, clients who are invested in their projects take the time to develop an informative brief. If the brief is short, full of spelling errors, or is vague - those are all signs of possible problems later.

Other things to consider... Is the client a prompt communicator or do they ignore you? Does the client communicate with other creatives in their project? (Check out the client's project stats to learn more.) Are the client's comments polite or unpleasant?

And finally, if the client has previously posted projects on crowdspring, has the client been reviewed by the winning creative(s)? And, has the client followed-through and completed all of their projects on crowdSPRING or did some projects result in a refund?


3. In service, the hare wins the race.

In the ancient fable the slow, steady tortoise wins the race. But in service, fast responses win hearts. Some clients are difficult because they are impatient and in a hurry. 

This doesn't mean that you must immediately respond to every comment from the client or that you should spend all your time focused on that one client. But, it does mean that setting expectations with such clients is extremely important. Establish the deadline the client is trying to meet. And then, be honest if you can't meet it.

If you are unable to accommodate the client's schedule, let them know this in advance and help the client understand the schedule that you can meet.

It's best to set these expectations in advance. But what happens if you don't do that and find yourself in a bad situation when it's already too late?

Apologize, explain what happened, and do your best to make up for the problem. Sometimes, offering extra services without cost will salvage a poor client relationship.


4. Get personal.

When we view another person as an object it is easy to treat them rudely and to express anger in ways we would never express it in person. This is even easier to do in an anonymous online transaction.

For this reason, it's critical that you find ways to let that demanding client know that you're a real human being.

One good way to start is to use an avatar on crowdspring containing your photo. Customize your responses, and consider telling them your real name and asking for theirs. It's harder to yell at a designer named Tiffany than a "user" named "crowdspring_creative." Finally, set an example for how you would like to be treated by showing the client the same respect you would like to receive.


5. Give 'em what they want. Or stop.

At the end of the day, the best way to turn an angry client around is to simply to give them what they are asking for. If they want a refund, give them their money back. If they want an apology, then apologize - like you mean it. And if they want you to admit that you were wrong and they were right, well go on and do that.

At the end of the day, an unhappy client can do damage to your reputation that is far more expensive than a refund.

Importantly, if you are not prepared to give the client what they want/need, stop engaging with them. Be firm, but polite, and explain your position. Then walk away. You can invest a lot of time trying to please a very difficult client, lose many opportunity costs in doing so, and still end up with an unsatisfied, ungrateful client.


6. Always tell the truth and be accurate.

Please be honest - if it was your mistake that led to the customer's distress, 'fess up. And, if you don't know an answer, be honest about it. The find the answer quickly and get back to them ASAP. People appreciate transparency, but they appreciate humility even more. A healthy dose of both will often help to calm a tense client and build the trust you need to find a great resolution.

Stay professional at all times. Ultimately, the client will decide what they like and don't like. Your job is to clearly explain your decisions. For example, if you've created a design, you might explain the visual hierarchy, typography, color choices, etc. The best you can and should do is offer your professional recommendation. If the client disagrees, do your very best to meet the client's requirements.

Your interactions with clients should build on one another - after all, you're ultimately interested in a long term relationship with your clients. Honesty, transparency and solid communication build a very strong foundation for that future relationship.


7. Say please. Also say thank you.

When you deal with clients, you're providing customer service. You can call it freelancing. You can call it designing. You can call it writing. But when you interact with a customer - it's all about service.

Remember your manners when engaging with customers. Say please. Say thank you. And do you best to be as polite and respectful as possible.

So, no matter the voice volume, tone or inappropriate words directed your way... stay polite, be civil, and maintain equanimity. Few things are more difficult than staying calm in the face of hostility, but your career will thank you.

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