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Client from Hell - What makes a bad client? Can they be reformed?

Or is it best to turn tail and run?

3:43 pm on Jan 23, 2003 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Administrator martinibuster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member Top Contributors Of The Month

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One of my worst nightmares is the client that asks for a design that is "Bold, yet ethereal."

That's a tip off that these people don't know what they want and will never be satisfied with anything you give them.

The flip side are the ones who nit-pick the details and drive you insane by asking for things that should never be done, or worse, cannot be done.

I have made it a policy to turn tail and run.

There are certain phrases that make my ears prick up, and if the body language is there, you can bet I'm excusing myself for the bathroom and beating feet.

12:52 am on Feb 25, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Pleeker, I think there is a real and viable talent in making the customer think your great idea is really his :)

Yes, that works very well with some clients. Sadly, not the one we're working with at the moment....

4:19 am on Feb 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I wouldn't exactly call my job "the client from hell" but there have certainly been the moments. The job I have now was my first, so I had the technical knowledge but no actual work experience. When you compare that to someone who's spent most of their life selling their product successfully, it's very hard to get across that selling online isn't the same as selling offline. It's easy for my opinion to be written off as that of someone who doesn't represent the average user. Eventually, though, you can win them over on the major issues, either through persistence or the told-you-so factor (I remember the first year I had to continually handle my boss asking about the "buy 6 million email addresses" spam we received).

The only real annoyance along these lines now is doing the photography for the site (which sells jewelry). We don't see eye to eye on how the photos should be edited and it does very much come from our impressions of what the average user wants. It's very hard to balance "the customer is always right" with the nagging feeling you could be doing it better.

6:48 am on Feb 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

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It's so, so true that the key is making the client think any idea about the site is really theirs - or leading them to that stage.

For example, the difference about the jewelery images: you start from your separate viewpoints by a "small succession of yeses" - start with the things you agree on.

We both want the best for the consumer.
We know they want to see the product.
We agree what browsers they are using via our traffic logs!
We agree from our traffic logs just how many images they are currently viewing... and if the logs or cookies are really good on the site, which images = sale.

... and so on, 'til you present enough questions for the opposing side to come around.

End result? No egos bruised, you get your way.

Here's the thing, and I was guilty of this for SO many years, (and still am on these forums! ha, it's anonymous! and I don't have time to be subtle! 'tis this or nothing from me!): if you walk into a room and punch someone in the arm before you say anything to them, chances are they aren't going to like you very much.

And yet how many of us walk into a discussion with a client and do the same thing verbally by outright contradicting what they say or want? Doesn't matter how crazy their thoughts are (all red pages! and then all blue every other page! and everything spins or blinks!), our instinct is to immediately contradict them. "Well, you could do that but it's crazy..." I see this all the time in one of the other professional email lists I frequent: professionals constantly at war in their offices and with their clients, asking the list for "ammo to support their side of the battle"!

I can think of one clear example I was in two years ago - a technology manager was in a client meeting. I suggested a regular, real live email contact at the bottom of every page for their re-designed site. She shot back that she felt an auto-responder would be "more professional". And I replied innocently, "you'd think that, but in actuality studies have shown that most people find autoresponders cold and impersonal" and I continued to cite a recent study about major corporate response times and how a live support person was vastly prefered. She jabbed a few more shots at me, and I countered each one with a smile and another factoid. Well, I didn't intend to, but I just shot her to pieces in front of her own marketing dept., and she was technically higher up the ladder than these people who were my direct clients: And I could just see her deflate. I knew I messed up as soon as I had countered the first point. She soon excused herself from the meeting afterward, as if to make it seem she was too busy for such "small stuff". She was trying to recover her ego. I found out later she was new to the job, and didn't have a techie background, hence she took my comment much, much harder than you'd think. I tried to write her later, to round-about apologize and try to at least build a bridge with her. Forget it, it was too late. She never even responded, and I tried to write her more than once. In the end, I had to work around her. The project was held up long after we were done, and while I can't prove she had anything to do with it, I can almost guarantee she could have sped up the implimentation.

Ultimately, I blame university for this. :) All we learned was this confrontational style - couched as a "debate". Debates are well and fine, debates make for great TV, but back in 1930-something even Dale Carnegie espoused this simple rule: "Even when you win an argument, you LOSE".

It's not easy to do this. You won't perfect it overnight - lord knows I haven't - but it can go a long way to making your life less stressful, and to reforming "bad clients".

On a side note, philosophically (sp, it's late I'm not using a spell-checker), I wonder if there's REALLY such a thing as a "bad client" - there may ONLY be "bad contracts". Thinking of my own bad experiences with deadbeat clients, I wonder if I had strong agreements and contracts if they'd have given me the trouble I had with them? I know that at least one or two would have been scared off by the kind of 5 page, 15 point legal agreements we send out now... and frankly that would have been just great, would have served as a gatekeeper to scare them off.

Of course, in reality a true deadbeat, contract-bending/breaking wanker will always exist... still, what have ya'll found out in your experiences?

5:26 pm on Feb 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I think there are definitely 'bad clients' - there are 'bad people' too, 'bad contracts', 'bad designers', 'bad projects'...I try not to pay too much attention to it - even when it's in my face, and wrecking my current project, relationship, etc. But I fully subscribe to the Buddhist concept that all things are impermanent :)

And as for making the client think it's his idea - the simplest way is to repeat back to him some part of a suggestion he already made, and expand it to encompass your idea. (There is always *something* he said that you can agree with!)

12:59 am on Feb 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Of course, in reality a true deadbeat, contract-bending/breaking wanker will always exist... still, what have ya'll found out in your experiences?

I can vouch for it - I'm dealing with one at the moment. I'm learning to be tough, stand up to them and be prepared to walk. So far it seems to be working. Once the job's finished though I will *not* do any further work for them. I'd rather slit my wrists ;)
11:47 am on Mar 2, 2003 (gmt 0)

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I got a phone call on my answering machine from some guy who never identified his business.

He said if I could bring him 100,000 web visitors weekly to call him.

I never bothered.

A hotel once wanted SEO. They wanted me to boost their site traffic by 2,000 people per month and they would only pay me if I did the work and they could wait a month and see the results.

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