When Things Turn Ugly With Clients

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For the past 10 years, we did countless projects for our web design Singapore clients. Most of them are amazing people, but there are still a handful of awful people that we worked with. As much as you try to research about the client before meeting them, it is still hard to know the person fully without actually putting in the hours to work together with them. To make things worse, the client who may seem wonderful at the start of the project turns out to be a total shapeshifter when conflict arises.

If you are a designer, you have definitely seen such clients before. They will do unthinkable things and take advantage of people in ways you couldn’t imagine. When working with humans, it will inevitably lead to many problems. In our years of experience, we think most of the time, it is due to a misunderstanding and got snowballed.

So how to handle the client when there’s a conflict?

1. Call Or Meet Up

Most misunderstandings arise from emails and text messages as the tone and intention might be wrongly judged. So when you sense something big is going to happen, pick up the phone and call the client to resolve it as early as possible. People tend to be nicer when they hear your voice. From our experience, we usually try to schedule a face-to-face meeting to resolve everything when emails start to get offensive. Of course, your tone must not be offensive when speaking to them. Try to start by saying something like this: “there might be some misunderstandings between our email conversation, will it be possible to arrange a meeting to go through the points again?”

2. Build Personal Relationship

Invest time to build a good relationship with your clients. As with any other relationship, you need to take a fair amount of maintenance and work. Once there is a decent amount of shared relational equity, it makes things much easier to manage. They will regard you as a friend and might even help to speak up for you with their management.

3. Don’t Get Emotional

When faced with a nasty client, it is very easy to get emotional. But if you let emotion dictate a conflict with a client, it will only get worse. Take a deep breath or take a walk first to cool down. Do not rush to make a decision, instead think rationally and explore every possibility. In our experience, it is important not to let emotion get in the way and always maintain a defensible position of reason in any conflict.

4. Hone Your Debating Skills

There are courses and books to learn how to win an argument without giving in. We even wrote a post to share some tips on this. Start learning specific skills to deal with all sorts of conflicts. With your new skills, you will then completely reframe how you even start to think about approaching conflict. Moreover, you will be better at articulating your thoughts and boost your confidence.

5. Know When To Walk Away

Every designer has a breaking point and there is just so much we can give in. When the client is really unreasonable, just take it as a learning lesson and move on. By moving on, you might lose part of the project fee and it is really hard to forgo that. But the time you take to continue arguing with the client will just distract you from focusing on getting more clients. You might lose out on more opportunity costs if you dedicate time and effort with this nasty client.

It is not letting the nasty client win, it is keeping them from damaging you further. Karma comes after everyone eventually. What goes around comes around.

The Takeaway

We are by no means an expert in resolving conflicts. We had handled conflicts poorly and suffered a big loss too. But we should approach conflict with an attitude to learn. Each time conflict arises, you learn something new and eventually become better at it. Conflict leads to resilience.

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