Client is NOT always right!


Title is just shocking — I know!

From the moment you start working with clients and customers, the “client is always right” ideology is hammered into your thinking process. This philosophy is necessary in most of customer-related business, but sometimes it can be severely detrimental for your work and general well-being.

Don’t get me wrong, having a good relationship with people that you work for is a must. From first contact to ongoing correspondence, you should always strive for a way of communication that is comfortable for all parties involved. It is self-evident, but we have to follow the instructions of our customers, we have to meet their needs and we have to react to their feedbacks. Sometimes it’s hard to meet the expectations of customers and sometimes being nice to them simply doesn’t pay off. The foremost thing that has to be developed is a relationship of mutual trust, respect and reliability. Ultimately, without clients there is no work. Obviously.

That being said, acknowledging all whims and wishes of a client is a slippery slope. Clients know what they need, but they don’t always know the whys and hows of a product or a service. Let me tell you about a shitty experience of my own.

Meet my no-longer-friend Richard, or Dick for short. Dick was a bad client with a classic Dick-like attitude. After working with me for a couple of projects that were all a success — he pressured me into doing a short deadline urgent thing for him. After 5 days of work, a night before deadline, before he seen anything I received an email from him saying something along the lines of:

Please take a couple of hours of your day tomorrow so we can go trough all the mistakes YOU will make so we can correct them.

That was the moment I decided it’s time to fire my first client. And If you ever come across a Dick of your own you should do the same. You can easily spot him in the first couple conversations. Phrases like “logo should throb” or “can you make the text more money making” are immediate red flags with “RUN AWAY” written in big menacing letters on them.

If you somehow miss those signs of assholeness, here are some typical Dick-like behaviours:
* Sending minor unrelated mail and then calling frantically to make sure you got it
* Questioning your rates and asking for a discount on the basis of some undefined future work
* “Everything you did is great except of all the things that you did”
* Curious case of a client popping in and out of existence
* Changing the scope of the project every couple of hours (if it’s days, it’s not much better, either)

If one or more of the above described your client you have a Dick on your hands. Fire him. Now.

Unreasonable clients eat away at your finite resources, and no matter how much they are paying, your most valuable resource is time. Besides, if you don’t back out you will consequently snap and damage your relation with client, or mess up your inner peace and zen and go nuts.

Sometimes, firing a customer won’t be easy — it may be a big or important client, good job with him may be an entrance to secure freelance work for other customers for months, even years, or it may be a friend of a friend to whom you owe a favor. Finding a new client can be far more expensive than keeping the existing one, so firing one is a tough decision to make. However, sometimes it’s the right one. The most important thing when firing a customer is staying sensible, professional and, most importantly, calm.

Deadlines are always a good excuse — you simply have too much work on your hands already and you won’t make it by the time he wants it done. There’s also a possibility of sending him to a fellow freelancer who has experience and nerves for that kind of client. Different people communicate differently, they may be better client to someone you know.

Focusing only on bad things can lead to cognitive bias. Not every quirk or minor eccentricity is a telltale sign of oncoming bad business. People you work for also have bad days, sometimes aren’t certain exactly what they want or get dazed and confused. The first meeting may be a disaster, but a couple of meetings later you could be working for your best and most normal client who was that confused and awkward person in the beginning. Always approach in a positive manner and maybe you will make your client’s day better with just that one meeting.

Stay cautious, though — if you have repeated bad experiences it may be you who is a Dick. Reflect on yourself regularly. Revise your conversations and ask more experienced colleagues for advice in dealing with clients. Everyone makes rookie mistakes, but be careful so they leave as little damage as possible.

Client may always be right but it’s your choice who your client is. Accepting clients from hell means it’s your own mistake if you have to deal with a Dick.

Quote of the day:

Don’t dwell on what went wrong. Instead, focus on what to do next. Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer. — Denis Waitley


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Tom Kozacinski
Tom Kozacinski
I'm a London based product designer, creative entrepreneur, freelancer and advocate of remote work with over 12 years in the industry. I also have 12 years of experience as a stand-up comedian and I love to share my experience.
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