Design Gone Wrong: What To Do When Your Clients Turn Against You

By . Filed in Web 2.0

It’s a designer’s worst nightmare. The perfect working relationship between you and and an awesome client suddenly turns sour. All their former praise and encouragement dries up, and they may even be threatening legal action.

What happened? Where did the relationship go so wrong, and what can you do to fix it? Today, we’re going to find out how designers can turn these types of situations around, and prevent them from happening in the first place.

It’s Probably Your Fault

Even if you don’t think so, there’s an excellent chance that the relationship between you and this client could have been saved had you – not they – done something differently. This doesn’t mean you did it on purpose – no one goes into any working relationship expecting to treat the other person badly.

Your client came to you because they had a problem they genuinely wanted you to solve. And you took on the job because you genuinely believed you could help them. Accepting the blame at the outset can go a long way in keeping clients from getting defensive and resentful.

Damage Control

If you want to save the relationship with this client, you’re going to have to do some serious backtracking to figure out exactly what went wrong, and what you can do immediately to make it better. A sincere apology can work wonders, especially if the falling out was due to a simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Even if you believe the client is at fault, it does you no good to become accusatory.

Arguing is never the best way to go about repairing a relationship. This goes for one’s personal as well as professional life. In most cases, even if you’re completely in the right, it’s far more effective to be heard than it is to be “right”.

Focusing on getting through to your client in a calm, reasonable manner is the key to getting them to actually listen to you. Getting argumentative will only make them more defensive, and they will close their ears to whatever you’re trying to communicate to them.

Always Make Your Clients Look Good

If your client’s business looks bad as a result of your design, then you’ve failed as a designer. Even if the design itself is beautiful – if it conveys the wrong message to your client’s users, they won’t care about your design. They may even infer that there is something wrong with the product or service your client is providing, which can have devastating consequences both to your client and your own professional reputation.

If your client feels you’ve misrepresented them somehow, this can result in a very serious rift between you and them which will be difficult to repair completely. This is because the client has lost trust in you. Trust, as everyone knows, is one of the most vital keys to any relationship. It may be the most important, in fact.

If your client no longer trusts you, it can have serious repercussions on your ability to attract future clients, which will in turn threaten your entire livelihood as a freelance designer.

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

But what if you encounter a malicious client who, for whatever reason, is purposely spreading poisonous information about you to other potential clients? Perhaps they carry some kind of grudge against you, or they feel you mistreated them somehow. This can happen in the form of a poor review of your services, or a series of frantic warnings to their peers to avoid you at all costs.

If you encounter this kind of situation, it’s important again to keep your cool before proceeding. Relationships with clients of this type probably can never be repaired, and, if you’re truly innocent of the charges they level at you, it’s probably pointless to try.

There’s no telling why a client might develop a problem with you if you’ve done nothing wrong. However, just to be on the safe side, it’s probably a good idea to have another designer friend review your correspondence with this client. A fresh perspective can often point out areas you’ve missed, and can provide the key insight you need to set the record straight with your client.

What Do You Think?

Over to you. How do you handle client relationships that go awry? Are there specific techniques or methods you use to de-escalate a perilous situation, and repair potentially career-wrecking disagreements? Let us know in the comments.

Author:

Addison is the author of Food Identities, a blog that explores the crossroads of food, design, and culture. She's written some things, designed other things, and eaten a whole lot of food.

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