Most clients are great. But have you had one that wasn’t? One that stresses you to the max? That causes you to stay awake at night trying to figure out how to deal with them?

Just one bad client can really mess up your life, and your business. Trying to figure out how to please and appease them can be like navigating a mine-field.

We rolled back through our collective “bad client” memories, and had some fun telling stories, and naming our less-than-desirable client archetypes. Not that this isn’t serious business. Clients are the backbone of the interior design industry, and we all need them to survive.

But, learning how to deal with these difficult client types can be a real challenge. We’re offering up our best shot here. We’d sure like to hear any suggestions you might have.

The “move the cheese” every week.

Photo: Alexander Maasch on Unsplash

Ever had a mind-changer? Or a client that shifts the vision of the project on a regular basis? This one makes it nearly impossible to keep things moving forward, and to make money.

Obviously, putting everything in writing with this client is a must. Conference reports confirming decisions with detailed action steps are a given. But often, even this isn’t enough.

If it’s just you and the client working on a project, that’s extra tough. If the client is part of a larger team, set up meetings with multiple people from the client team present. Take the time to clearly and meticulously recap what has been decided to this point, both at the beginning and the end of each meeting.

Spend extra time to enroll them and others on the team. Daily emails or phone calls that keep decisions and next steps top of mind will help.

The “give me the sky”.

This client constantly asks you to jump through hoops. Accomplish the impossible. Lays ridiculous and unrealistic expectations on you every week (usually on Friday afternoon).

When you get to your wits end telling them what’s doable, and delivering more than you ever thought possible, over and over again, but it’s never enough–consider a break-up.

The “turn up the volume”. AKA the yeller.

Photo: Samuel Scrimshaw on Unsplash

I once had a client fire our firm because I interrupted him (with kind supportive words) when he was in the middle of his verbal tirade. Seriously. I learned to let the yellers yell. To get it all out. To complete their “reaction”.

Once a client gets into this space, they can’t hear anything you say anyway. So, keep quiet.

When they’re done, own up to any mistakes, then tell them you heard everything they said, and will circle back with solutions at a given time and date. Give them time to shake off their “mood”.

When you come back, make sure you have a support team with you. You shouldn’t have to face this kind of toxic abuse, and certainly not alone.

The “I never said that”.

Maybe liar is too strong a word. Sometimes it isn’t. Usually, it’s just a case of selective memory loss. Even if you’ve decided never to have a conversation with this client without someone else from your team present, this is a tough one to win.

Beyond putting things in writing, drop a few reminders to see if that triggers their memory. If not, drop it. Move on. Get clear on what it is they think they said, and work with that. This one falls into the client is always right category. Sometimes we just have to suck it up.

The “take-over” client.

Photo: Brandon Morgan on Unsplash

This is the one that has you asking “why did you hire us in the first place”? Maybe they even bring in other people that are fringe competitors.

You’re thinking you’re supposed to be driving and implementing the project. Your client goes on to explain the person/people they brought in have lots of experience and some great ideas they thought would be helpful to the project. Or maybe your client is the one with all the ideas.

Wait. Isn’t that what you hired us to do?

Depending on the situation, you either listen, stay open, and carry on with confidence, or you nip the situation in the bud. In the first case, you can feel it out, and see what the client really wants to do with these ideas, and how they fit into your scope and plans.

In the latter, sit down in private with the client and review scope, roles, and responsibilities. If you didn’t get it in writing prior to starting the project, do it now. If your client has a boss, talk to them about the situation, and your role.

The “creative downer”.

Somehow, nothing you present moves them. Four ideas, five ideas, six ideas. Nothing. What’s worse, they just can’t pinpoint anything to provide you with constructive direction.

Start by asking which of the ideas they like best. Probe to learn why. If they can’t pick a favorite because they dislike them all, go down the road of what they don’t like. If they can’t tell you anything, and say “I’ll know it when I see it,” then start pulling images to see if you can get them to spark to anything. When all else fails, come back with one new idea and sell it hard.

The “can’t make a decision”.

See if you can identify what’s in the way of them making a decision. Try the “would you like it better if” approach. Try coaxing them into a decision by pointing out how what you’re presenting meets the project goals.

Give them a deadline by when they must give you direction or approval. Tell them how the indecision effects the overall timing of the project.

The “challenged aesthetic”.

Dare we say no taste? The one who asks you to add things that just don’t go. Things that would make you want to remove your name from the project.

Try to get to the “why” of the request. See if you can offer up another more tasteful solution that accomplishes the same goal. If that fails, go for a compromise that’s livable.

Have you ever had any clients like this? Got a bad behavior client to add to the list? Any thoughts on how to handle them? Please let us know.

If it comes to saying “good-bye”, here’s some related material:

Don’t Let Your Business Be Held Hostage by A Nightmare Client

When to Fire That, Er, Abusive or Disruptive Client

What to Do Before Firing a Problem Client

Breaking up with a Client: What to Say

VIOSKI is an experience of artistic expression brought to life in timeless modern furniture design. Unique in style, charismatic and sensual. Each piece is masterfully created to be simple yet complex. Proportional yet fluid. Handcrafted in California by master artisans who devote themselves to extraordinary quality. VIOSKI is New-Century Modern.

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