There are just some clients out there that no matter what you do, they’re not happy. They’re difficult. And maybe you thought before you started the project, hmm, I’m not sure I like them. They seem to be a tad ridiculous. Should I take them on? And your gut is yelling, “Get out!” then I agree with your gut, get out! But, what if you took the client anyway, and you’re in the middle of the project, and you just can’t stand them.
Now of course firing them is always an option. And although I’m all for providing clients with a great experience, I’m not against firing a client. If they’re a time sucker, an energy sucker, and just all around miserable and unreasonable to work with, with no hope of it getting better, then by all means fire them. In a nice way, with a delicate explanation of why, and a recommendation of what to do next (possibly an E-design service where no one will have to directly endure their wrath again).
Fight or Flight is Not Your Friend in Business
But, what if you can’t fire them? Maybe they’re your husband’s boss, or your mother’s best friend, or your first and only client. What do you do then? Have a plan. Because the thing about anger is, as we all know, no rational, reasonable, creative capabilities are left in your brain. It’s all about fight or flight. You defend yourself, and/or you attack them, with everything you’ve got. Even if that’s not who you are 99.999% of the time, if you’re backed into a corner without a plan, you’re going to either shrink away or lash out with a venom so harsh you can never come back from it.
Create your “All Hell has Broken Loose” Plan
So to avoid damaging relationships that you need to maintain in your life, you need to work up a plan. Before any of it ever happens. Before you experience your first pain in the arse client. Or, if you’ve already experienced your first, create a plan for your next pain in the arse client. Write down an emergency preparedness plan. It’s the kind of plan that you hope you never use, but if you do come up against it, you know what to do. You’ve decided your action, practiced it, you know where to go for safety when things go awry.
So what’s in the plan? A list of unfortunate, but possible, situations and how you should react to them. Your policies on how to handle upsets so that when a tough situation comes up, you’ve already decided how you’ll handle it. That way, you don’t have to think at all. You just have to do what you’ve already planned out for yourself. Even if it’s something only you see, you need to know how your company handles difficult situations. Because it becomes part of your branding, part of who your company is. And as you know, consistency is key. You don’t want to go out of your way to right the first mishap during a client project, and then give a less than stellar response the next time. Knowing you’ll be there for them every time is extremely important for client trust.
When a sofa is delivered with one missing leg, and the vendor says it left with four legs and the delivery company says they definitely didn’t hack off the fourth leg, and the client is calling you an idiot for working with such moronic vendors, what is your role? When a customer is unhappy with a design that they signed off on, and everything has already been installed and they refuse to give you that last payment, how will you resolve the situation? When a wallpaper layer puts up a wallpaper that to them looks perfect, but the client says they can see obvious seams, what do you do? When a customer accuses you of charging them more than you initially agreed on, what do you do? And don’t worry about forcing yourself to stick to these solutions if at the time you think a different solution is better. It just gives you a back up of what to do if crap hits the fan, you’re fuming, your mind blanks out, and you just stand their with no idea of what to do next and just keep uttering, “It’s not my fault!”
If All Else Fails, Create a Temporary Fix
And your solution doesn’t always have to be grand, or completely resolve the situation at that moment. You can come up with a temporary fix, to give yourself time to come up with a more comprehensive situation later. Say that three legged sofa was going to be at the center of a Christmas party your client is hosting, but obviously it now can’t be used. And the party is next week. What can you do to make it better right now? If you happen to have movers on hand, possibly move in a sofa from another room that they like, and move the three legged sofa into a room that won’t be seen. Or, if the legs are removable, and the missing leg is in the front, take a back leg, put it on the front, and prop the back up with books. It’s not a permanent fix, but it buys you time until you can tackle the bigger problem.
Stress and anger do not make for a creative mind. So sometimes just buying yourself a little time for clarity is all you need.When you’re going through these possible scenarios (and enduring real problems) ask yourself one simple question, “what can I do to make this better?” Not what can I do to completely save this. Not what can I do to make this problem go away completely. Just, what can I do to make this better. And just keep asking yourself that until the situation has been resolved as much as possible.
Because sometimes that’s all you can do, just make it better. You’re in a crappy situation, and that’s just a fact. So what you need to focus on is, what action you can take to make it better. Some situations (hopefully most situations) you will be able to save completely. But some you won’t. If a client’s heirloom vase was broken during installation, there won’t be a way to make it unbroken. But what you can do is work to make the unfortunate situation better. Have it put in a shadow box with the pieces included. Have it professionally put back together if it’s possible. Research to see if the product is still sold.
Plan for the Worst So You Can Be at Your Best
Unfortunately there’s no way to ever know all of the situations that could potentially go wrong. And as you certainly know if you’ve been in the design business for any length of time, things will go wrong. There are just so many people that you have to work with, rely on, so many products that have to be ordered, created, and delivered perfectly, so many things that have to go right, that eventually something will go wrong. That’s just life.
So, write down some of the most likely situations to go wrong. Write down your biggest fears. And then come up with a solution that you can live with. One that allows you to keep your dignity, the client to keep there’s, and your business to stay afloat. And this’ll not only help you stay calm if things do ever become epically awful, but it also helps you become more calm and creative with solutions for the small stuff. Having an “I’ve got this” attitude when running a business is one of the greatest assets you could ever have. So do yourself a favor, and come up with the best solutions you’ve got for the biggest problems you can imagine. And then breathe a sigh of relief because you know if they do ever happen, you’ve got this.
If you’d like even more help developing a plan for when all hell breaks loose, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how!