It doesn’t matter how fair I am or how hard I try to make them happy—some clients are just jerks.
The first time a client hurt my feelings was on one of my very first projects, way before The nuSchool. I was working with a freelance designer and a developer to create a website for a fashion brand. Things had gone well for the first few months of the project, and we were just about ready to launch. I needed the client to send me the images for the homepage slider, those images then needed some design work, and then we’d be ready to ship it.
I’d been asking the client to send me those images from day one, but he kept putting it off—even when we were down to the wire and the launch depended on it. So we couldn’t launch. He understood, and I let the designer and developer know it was fine for them to go work on other projects until we heard back from him.
A month later, the client called to say he had the images. “I’ve planned the launch party a week from Monday,” he said. “I’ve already posted the event on Facebook.”
Well, because a month had passed and I’d given my designer the go-ahead to work on other projects, she wasn’t able to just get back into this work. So I told the client we needed 2 weeks to launch. He absolutely lost it, screaming at me that he’d have to cancel the party. I was shaking with anger—I felt like a failure even though we could have avoided this whole mess if he’d just delivered those images on time.
“If you’re in a client-facing role, you have to learn how to handle upset clients.”
I could write a whole post about how all this might have been avoided: what I could have done differently, how I didn’t put enough effort into setting up expectations, or the fact that I shouldn’t have started working on the website before I received those images in the first place.
But that’s not the point of this post. When you’re in a client-facing role, no matter how much effort you’ve put in, you’re going to bump into an angry, frustrated, or just dumb client from time to time. And you have to learn how to deal with that.
So what do you do when a client hurts your feelings? Learn from me and follow these tips:
1. Be aware of potential conflicts and try to stop them as early as possible
While talking to a client, and even before I have a call or send an email that I suspect could make them upset, I recount the facts to myself to make sure I’m okay with my choices and doings. Then I make sure that I’m telling the story the right way. I’m not apologetic, but explanatory.
“Be explanatory, not apologetic.”
If I feel that something is going wrong, I try to avoid getting into a fight. Some people can handle a good fight with a client—I can’t. I prefer to avoid conflicts. So to keep from getting hurt, and without being apologetic, I try to ask the other side to stop the conversation right here and now, and get back to it when both sides are more relaxed. Tomorrow.
2. Find someone to talk to
Don’t deal with client conflicts on your own. Grab the phone and call a friend, your partner, or even someone from your family—and tell them what happened. Most likely they’ll be on your side, and you’ll immediately feel better.
3. Join a community of people who share the same problems
I’m sure that if you’re still reading this, it means a client hurt your feelings at least once. It happened to me, too. And guess what? It happens to many of us. So even if you don’t know me well, you might have connected to my story, and vice-versa.
“Don’t deal with client conflicts on your own—talk to someone.”
Sharing your story with people who’ve gone through the same situation is really helpful. That’s actually the only reason that sometimes I wish I worked in a real office.
It could be a forum, a Facebook group, or even a non-formed community. It doesn’t really matter as long as you feel comfortable to share your feelings and stories, and others can share their stories with you.
4. Take a breather
After a tough conversation with a client (I didn’t have too many of those, but I do remember them all), I go lie down on the sofa for a few minutes. I shut my phone off and start breathing deeply for at least 10 minutes.
At first, my brain is full of sad/hateful/frustrated thoughts. But the longer I’m there, relaxing and breathing deeply and slowly, the better I get. The head starts to clear and I start to detach myself from the bad experience and connect back to myself and to reality.
These days, I’m dealing much better with not-so-nice clients. But once in a while it still happens—they hurt my feelings.
And you know what? That’s fine. It means I’m not a robot.
This post was originally published on The nuSchool.
by Lior Frenkel
Lior is Head of Fun and CEO at The nuSchool. He thinks doing business as a freelancer can be fun—he's a mentor at the Designer's Pricing Class and the author of Value For Money.