When Client Relations Go Down Hill – A Perscription

It is bound to happen to you. At some point in your career as a professional visual artist, you will get that email, that tweet, that phone call from a client who is frustrated, pissed off, or down right nasty because of their interaction with you and your company. In some cases, their anger and stance may be justified. You didn’t deliver what you promised, or you royally screwed up. In other cases, they are clearly in the wrong. They didn’t read the contract, or they misunderstood what you meant by  3-6 month turn-around. Whatever the reason, it’s now your problem. It never feels good. Well, here are some quick and simple things you can do to 1) avoid the problems in the first place and/or 2) deal with them when they happen.

  1. Set and manage expectations. Make for diggy-darn sure that they know what can be expected. Give them a video or album like the ones you showed them. Maintain the same level of attentiveness you gave when you were winning their business. A big one for me is this: have them initial paragraphs in the contract you want to make absolutely certain they read (e.g. turn around time, copyrights, payment schedules, etc.)
  2. Exceed expectations when you can. Always strive to exceed expectations when you can. Under-promise and over-deliver. If you say 3 months, do it in one or two. If you promised them 5 DVDs, give them ten (and make sure your prices are such that you can afford the extra five).
  3. Keep it professional. There will be times when you’ll do #’s 1 and 2 yet still get an upset client. Don’t stoop down to their level and start firing off hate-infused emails or angry tweets and texts. Sometimes, it’s worth your peace of mind and cost to give them what they want, especially if it costs you barely anything. Don’t let an over-developed sense of justice keep you from putting an end to what could turn into a nasty tit-for-tat. If you need to vent and write that long email that expresses exactly how you feel, go ahead write it. But don’t send it. Don’t even put in the client’s email address for fear you may accidentally send it. Type it up in a text document or something. Then cool off and write something professional. Ideally, get on the phone. Even a well-crafted email can be misinterpreted (no matter how many emoticons you use).
  4. Delegate Customer Service. You know whether or not you’re the kind of people-person it takes to be a great customer service person. If you’re not, find someone who is and have him/her be the one to handle all client relations. It can be too easy for we artists to get too offended or emotional when it comes to our work.
  5. Say “no.” I’m sure I’ve said this before, but don’t even take the client in the first place. Often times you can see the warning signs of a bad client relationship. The money often times is not worth it. Have a list of your favorite competitors you plan to refer these cases too. Let them deal with it. (Okay, I’m joking. Kind of. 😉

Remember, how you handle a negative experience will more often than not make you a bigger hero in a client’s eyes, and earn more positive word of mouth than how you are when everything’s fine and dandy. What are some of the ways you handle bad client relations?