How To Deal When Clients Get Angry

So you got the project approved and you received the deposit. You’re excited about starting on this project, because the client is also excited. All through the project, the client emails you about how happy they are and how great you’re doing. So this is going to be a quick and painless job, right?

That’s until you’ve finished….or believed you’ve finished the site. All of a sudden, you get a nasty email from a client who’s yelling at you and claiming you stole their money. Where did this come from? They were so happy and you believed things were going well. What happened?

Can you hear me now?

I’ve found that almost 99% of client conflicts stem not from the freelancer’s or client’s doing, but¬†from miscommunication on both sides. They client might have thought you were going to do A and B, when you only said you were going to do A.

Whether or not the disagreement is your fault or the clients’, it’s up to you to patch the relationship or they’ll walk (normally without paying) and could possible tell other prospective clients about the bad experience you (even if it wasn’t your fault) provided.

Give the client a chill pill

Before you do anything, you need to respond to the email with a virtual “chill pill”. Tell the client you are sorry that’s he’s upset and it wasn’t your intention to steal his money. Something as small as this can goes a long way towards your future relationship with this client, even if you don’t plan on working with him after this.

Unless the client is a troublemaker to begin with, he’ll listen. After you’ve apoligized for the mixup, explain what you believe to be correct. Having some “evidence” can be helpful as well, in case the client accidentally thought you said something when you didn’t.

If the miscommunication is on your side, admit it and outline steps you’ve taken to correct it. So you forgot you told the client you’d include content implementation (and it’s clearly outlined that you would). We all make mistakes, and your client is going to understand that and feel better once you recognize and¬†rectify.

Keep all of your emails

The best way to fix a miscommunication is to keep all of your communications. I keep every single email I get from every client, prospective client and fellow freelancer I may outsource work to. This way, I can pull up our emails and see if I really did promise to do A or B.

If a client is claiming you did promise to do something, you can easily forward the email with a polite “I’ve found the conversation where we talked about adding some jQuery. You mentioned you wanted to only have 1 piece of jQuery, not 10. I’ve attached the email so you can see our conversation, in case I misunderstood what you said”.

Have a clear scope

I don’t have a 10 page contract. In fact, I don’t have a contract at all. I have a 1-2 page quote that clearly states my billing terms, the scope and description of the project and that if they send the 50% deposit, they agree to it and it’s as binding as a contract. Short, sweet and simple. This keeps from overwhelming the client and minimizing confusion.

Also, I list out in detail what I’ll be doing. This may be as simple as “1 mockup to valid XHTML/CSS. Compatible in Safari only.” to something as detailed as a full page punch list of small changes. This way if the client comes to you and asks for a contact form, you can clearly show them that this is out of scope.

Politely refuse scope creep

Sometimes, I’m too nice in business. Nice is good when dealing with clients, but it can also backfire. Nice people don’t like conflict, when asked to do something extra, they’re afraid to say no.

I recently started experimenting with saying “No” to my clients. Of course, I don’t just say it for everything, or say it in a mean way. I say it when it’s something that’s out of scope, and I say it politely. For example:

Client: Can you change the color scheme of the site from blue to green?

The old me would have meekly said “Yes” and redone the entire site’s CSS and images for no extra charge, even though it was clearly out of scope when I was coding from an approved PSD. The new me now responds with:

I would love to give you a quote to change the site’s color. Can you give me some details on exactly what you want changed?

If the client persists on pushing your limits, and wants to know why you have to give them a quote, or isn’t it included in your price, you may have to be a bit more firm:

No, I’m sorry but changing the color of the entire site after the site’s design had been approved by you and the site fully coded is out of spec. I’d be happy though, to give you a quote based on the time it will take me to change it.

See? It’s not nasty, but it’s firm. It’s tough sometimes to remember that your clients are just that – clients – not your best friends. It’s not fair for them to get one over on you, but it’s your fault if you let them do that.

Your Turn

Did you have an angry client? What happened? Were you able to apease them?

Image by Darrren Hester