How to Deal with Client Dissatisfaction

Fri, Sep 18, 2009


How to Deal with Client Dissatisfaction

There are times during your freelancing career where things haven’t gone so well. Maybe the client didn’t like your drafts even once you revised the design over and over again, or lack of communication caused unnecessary delays in the project. Well, whatever it is, a freelancer needs to learn how to deal with client dissatisfaction when the time comes.

There are numerous ways you can go about this issue, and there’s no one right answer. Generally speaking, you need to ensure that you try to nullify the negative effects a bad client can have – such as diminishing referrals from other people.

One way in which you can do this is to refer the client to another freelancer who you think may be able to cater for their needs. Because the said client isn’t really happy with you, you need to appear helpful even once the project has fallen through – this will reduce the negativity of the client.

Another step you could take would be to offer some sort of monetary refund. I don’t recommend you do this all the time though, as the time you spent on a project needs to be paid for. The best way to proceed is to get the client’s down-payment, deduct your payment (calculating using how many hours you spent on the project) and refund the rest to the client. 99% of the time, down-payments are non-refundable and so the client may feel a bit better about the situation. Make sure though that you don’t get bullied into giving full refunds or partial refunds which leave you more or less nothing for your work – clients can sometimes take advantage of freelancers like this, and I’ve personally seen it happen all too often.

Also, even if the client doesn’t want the work you’ve produced thus far, give them the work anyway. It may turn out that later down the line they change their mind and decide to go with your work, or build on it on a later date. Anyhow, the client is entitled to receive the work (even if it’s in an unfinished state) that they’ve paid for so far.

Finally, offer them a little guidance on their project to help them take it forward. Sometimes, a client is dissatisfied because you weren’t able to produce what they had in mind, but what they had in mind was unclear and not well communicated to you. Help them clarify exactly what they’re after, so when it comes to hiring another person, you save them some hassle.

Remember, one bad client can mean a lot of lost potential business, and it should be part of your marketing strategy and work ethic to make every client you service as happy as humanly possible – because it’s the best way to get repeat business and referrals. Always work towards providing your service on-time, and communicate regularly with updates so your client is clued in with what’s going on. If you’ve delayed a project because of other work, instead of leaving the client in the dark, tell them. It’s better they know and expect the work later, than discover on the day of the deadline that you haven’t been able to produce the work.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 42 posts on Freelance Apple.

Taiyab Raja is a web designer and entrepreneur who runs an interesting, captivating freelance blog, designs awesome websites for, and in his spare time owns noobs at Halo.

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13 Responses to “How to Deal with Client Dissatisfaction”

  1. Harrisment Says:

    Great article.
    Work on your engagement process, clarify and challenge the brief so you have a 100% crystal clear idea of the deliverables.
    Ask the client what’s their eventual desired outcome to the project for their business – this usually puts you on the right track.
    Communication before the work is as important as the communication in the work!

  2. RobsonB Says:

    Hi, nice post.

    I usually try to first rebuild a project from the ground. Sound crazy, but sometimes redraw everything is a way easier do get the job done in a better way… since I do it at the first time, and this is a second time, if the client is unhappy about the result, then really need to show the two side by side and build a third with elements of both and some smaller new things. Usually this end very well. Give me a bit extra non-paid work, but the client became a lot happy and I can save the unused as a backup for future job (even to the very same client, sometimes).

    But, this is not a rule. When things don’t go to a finish line successfully, usually I refund what was paid, less what I already delivery to him and take a little time to a meet to understand what was the problem. And HEY, let see what do I discover when they don’t like:
    • The client does not wish that job anymore (however, wish another thing – and maybe you can do that!)
    • The client goes out of money for that thing (sites, especially, shit happen!)
    • The client just can’t decide what he/she want (when you start with a executive, at middle of the job meet a gothic and finish talking with a revolutionary things could be more difficulty than expected)

    What I learned… you can have 2 way to talk then and make the job progress RUN.
    • For those who wish a fast and clean job, be fast and don’t talk too much. Do what he/she/it want, get paid and go out…
    • For those who don’t know the way ahead, take yourself as a professional leader, say him/her what he/she need, do the job your way, speaking a lot about what you’ll delivery (and do it! Please, to proof yourself as “professional” to the client)… get paid and go out…
    Both will be happy with you.

  3. Rahul - Web Guru Says:

    This topic sounds way too similar to me. Hope to cope better with my clients.

  4. Barry Harrison Says:

    Your advice is relevant to any creative professional, not just freelancers.

    I’d like to suggest that managing and clearly setting your client’s expectations in writing at the beginning of the project is the best way to avoid dissatisfaction later on.

    On the other hand, there really are some clients who cannot be satisfied and it is important to figure that out and extricate yourself from those relationships as quickly as possible.

  5. Dale Says:

    Communication is definitely King in this.
    Both parties have to be upfront about expectations and plans.
    It only took once and now I’m brutally honest about not only my perception of what they expect from me, but my expectations of them too.
    That’s the best way in my opinion.

  6. Daquan Wright Says:

    Nice article, one of the best things you can do is to refer them to someone who can meet their needs if you cannot. I think it’s sublime that you work with clients to provide solutions for their business objectives or just objectives if it’s a fan site or something. I would like to think if they liked your portfolio, they more or less would like a style you would produce for them. A past computer teacher did state that “you can’t please everyone” though.

  7. Mohammed Alaa Says:

    I like the article so much but i have some notes.

    the proccess of the project start is the main key for making your client happy.

    Plan it well:
    1- Listen carefully to your client and share your thoughts with him.
    2- educate your client on how you work so he can be aware of the work you do
    3- let your client set the goals of his website.
    4- start the Wireframes / AI work

    Next Step would be Design it:
    1- take our knowledge from the planning stage and begin to hash out conceptual design and a user interface Design.
    2- provide the client with the final graphic design work you have done and listen carefully to his/her feedback.

    3. Build it:
    start our nasty HTML/CSS work and keep your client updated.

    This way even if you and your client had any problem you would be able to recover it carefully. but yeah sometimes things go really bad!

    Thanks again for the article i enjoyed reading it :-)


  8. The Barking Unicorn Says:

    Tom’s Diner in Denver has a sign on the wall:

    How about if we refund your money,
    Give you another one for free,
    Close the store,
    And shoot the manager?
    Will THAT be satisfactory?!


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