Navigating Troubled Client Waters in Web Design

Most of us know how important it is to maintain a good business relationship with the clients we deal with. To do this, we must build their trust and confidence to ensure a good business relationship and ongoing business dealings. Back in April, I wrote a blog titled “They Trust Me, Trust Me Not…” which talked about the importance of gaining and maintaining the trust of your clients.  At some point and unfortunately, you’ll come across a client(s) where the business relationship becomes as rocky as an everyday romance. Unfortunately, I am dealing with this issue right now with a client and in the process of deciphering what went wrong where, I’ve come up with some navigating tactics when the honeymoon seems (or is) over.

Realistically Set the Bar – What is absolutely essential is setting realistic client expectations.  Under estimating a projects complexity or scope can cause serious communication breakdown and seal the fate of your deal.  If you can’t meet an expectation, inform the client that there is no way the project will get done on time and within cost.   Hopefully your relationship is strong enough that they respect your craft and know that it is worth hanging in there until completion and possibly investing more cash flow into the project.  The flip side is that they are angry and/or frustrated – so what do you do?  You take responsibility for the oversight or incorrect projection and build confidence once again through honesty.

Give or only take? What do you do when you need the clients input on an essential decision and they just won’t do their part giving you information? Does it seem that you’re the only one trying to resolve an issue or find a work-around to solve a problem?  Then it may be time to confront your client (in a non-aggressive & professional manner of course) and find out why they’re not pulling their weight, what the hold-up is, etc. A great business relationship needs two committed & fully communicative parties and if one half isn’t fully invested, it will inevitably cause problems and the venture or business relationship may not be a successful one.

Keep the lines clear – Speaking of communication…we all know how frustrating it is to go through a “dead zone” while on our cell phones.  It’s the same in the business world- lack of effective communication about how a project will proceed, timeline for completions, and projections of cost, can cause serious problems in  your business relationship and your bottom line.   To ensure you & the client are on the same page, try asking rhetorical questions (The “question” is posed for the sake of encouraging the listener to consider what was said/the viewpoint) or my personal favorite, the “regurgitation” method.  This is basically asking the client to regurgitate/reiterate (“repeat a response after the cessation of the original stimulus” per Wikipedia) what you just said but they do it in their own words to help to confirm that you are on the same track and what you have asked or said is really understood.

Keep it business & not personal – Most of the time, difficult business situations that arise are often linked to communication.  As with our personal life relationships, most of the time you only get out what you put in.  I cannot stress enough that effective communication is essential.  Whether the client feels unheard or you can’t seem to agree on a point, ALWAYS remember that they are the client. Keep a professional demeanor, a level head and govern the words you say recognizing the power of them over your current and prospective business dealings.  Also have confidence in your talents and don’t let 1 clients displeasure cause a low hanging head.  Know that their disagreement on a matter has everything to do with the business and do your level-headed best to keep it that way.  Choosing to always keep it professional will command respect and they mght just use you again because of your stamina  & professionalism.

Word of Mouth – It’s been reported that “studies confirm that word of mouth marketing drives 20-50% of business decisions.”  Wow!  So what that says clearly to me is that how you deal with the client, good or bad, has a profound effect on the success of your business as well as your future collaborative business efforts.  It may be a little hokey but I always remember, what they say is tied to what they think and that can cause the deal to sink.
So I’ve learned some valuable lessons and am encouraged to further hone my craft and become better at successfully navigating the client relations waters.  As I’m going up & down river though, I’ll keep these considerations pocketed in my life vest.