How to Handle Difficult Clients

How to handle difficult clients. It’s a challenge faced by all interior designers. Almost all clients are difficult in some way. For instance, the design costs are too high. Or they’re too involved, try to do our job for us. On the other hand, they don’t know what they want. First and foremost, all clients are people. Regardless, if it’s a big company with a workplace design requirement, or a person looking for a resi designer

Design is an Emotional Experience

It’s an emotional experience for everyone involved in the design process, including the client. Certainly it’s the case for private clients, inviting us into their personal space. Similarly, it’s true for professional clients; bosses and their own clients to satisfy, budgets to adhere to, deadlines to hit. All of these things contribute to the tendency for clients to be tough to work with. And that’s before considering personality clashes

Types of Difficult Client

As clients are people, it can be difficult to neatly categorise clients into groups. However, to solve any problem we must first break it down. To help do this, here are some broad client character traits:

  • Poor taste. Or more accurately their taste and yours don’t match
  • Huge expectations, low budget. They want the moon on a stick, for next-to-nothing, tomorrow
  • Don’t know what they want. Moreover, they won’t make a decision once you’ve taken the time and trouble to explain the options
  • An expert: They know exactly what needs doing, and when, and how. They’re not really sure why you’re there
  • Unhappy with the service they’ve received. Certainly in their eyes, something has gone wrong
From a Difficult Client to Happy One

Clients are people. Consequently, almost all problems are solved through good communication:

  • Poor taste. Avoidable if you’ve made an upfront decision: are you client-led or creativity-led? If the former, roll with it. If the latter, look at how you select clients and what expectations you set before the design starts
  • Huge expectations, low budget. More often that not, this is down to poor understanding. Talk them through the process so they understand it. Give examples and options. For instance, costs for different materials. Never negotiate on price alone. Reduce delivery to lower the price. And give the client a choice
  • Don’t know what they want. This is an exercise in people management, not design. Therefore, be patient. Above all, don’t push to get a decision there and then. Talk to them to find out what their barriers are so you can reassure them
  • An expert: Again this is often down to poor understanding. However, in this case ask them to talk you through the process. Then fill in the blanks, correct the misunderstandings. Most importantly, ask them what they think of every new bit of knowledge they gain as you go along. Incorporate their ideas into the design options you present back to them
  • Unhappy with the service they’ve received. Although things do sometimes genuinely go wrong, this is regularly down to differing expectations. Understand their expectations. Ensure they understand the process. Above all, how much things cost and when to expect delivery. Provide visuals for everything
Communication is Key

All clients, professional or private, are people. Therefore, turning difficult clients into happy ones is a challenge of communication more than anything else. Consequently, take time to understand their needs and drivers, talk the clients’ language, keep them informed every step of the way

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