6 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Clients

Filed under Clients

We’ve all had a client that makes us question why we’re still interior designers, right?! You really can’t be in the business and not have at least a handful. Even clients that looked great in the beginning can turn into tough customers. But there ARE things you can do to keep difficult clients from turning into nightmares. Here are my 6 best tips for dealing with tough cookies:

1. Listen!

Seriously, wouldn’t all the world’s problems be solved if we all had better listening skills? I have a list of questions I ask my clients at the beginning of every project to help me understand what they want. And, if there are multiple decision-makers, EACH of them gets to complete their “homework” (I swear, it’s not that bad).

After my clients complete their work, I review their thoughts and answers and then ask some more questions. This is crucial to helping me know what they want and to iron out any inconsistencies. We’ve all been there: One partner has one idea that the other partner has NEVER heard about before. So, you don your “marriage counselor” hat and set out to find a middle ground.

2. Keep Collaboration in Mind

Part of the secret to successful collaboration is that all parties approach tasks with a collaborative intent. That sometimes means that your best design ideas won’t get the green light. But that’s OK. It’s a give-and-take for sure.

Type A personalities often want to jump right to recommending fabrics and furnishings without really collaborating with the client. But my recommendations are based on what’s best for the particular project and that includes the personal preferences of my clients. So when we follow a collaborative process, it all works out! That’s what they’re paying us for, right? And keep reading these tips, because at the end I’m offering my Guide to Assessing & Collaborating on a New Design Job – FREE!

3. Be Sure You’re Speaking the Same Language

Words often mean different things to different people. So when you say, “traditional” to your client, your views on what that means might be very different. I always get a kick out of hearing the answer to, “What elements are included in a traditional living room?” To some, that means wainscoting, moldings, and paned windows. Another client thinks it’s walnut-colored floors with lots of grain showing and soft hues for the walls. In a successful collaboration you’ve got to establish a common language.

Here are just a few words that can trip you up if you haven’t defined them TOGETHER before moving forward:

  • Traditional
  • Contemporary
  • Dark
  • Moody
  • Light and bright
  • Classic
  • Organic
  • Gray (or any other color such as purples and blues)

BEFORE you think about placing an order for your project, be sure you and your client are on the same page about your interpretations of their wants and needs. The best way I know to do this is to apply a visual to the words that I use. I share my interpretations via Pinterest, virtual and physical mood boards, photos, and magazine images.

4. Allow Your Client to Make Decisions – But Limit Options

While you want to be a collaborator, that does NOT mean your clients have to be a part of every single decision. I find that if I cull down the universe of options for them to consider, we still have the opportunity to collaborate with one another.

I present one option to my clients. ONE? Yep. The good news is with one option, we don’t get bogged down with too many changes. You may have to change out a fabric or two, but that is it. Win! Win!

5. Reiterate and Record

Whenever a decision is made, write that sucker down! Be sure to share the decision with your entire team—include it in the project binder or email it out. Most (if not all) misunderstandings I’ve seen would have been solved if decisions had been documented and shared-OK, and read. You know what happens when you assume? Do not do it!

  • Take notes at meetings
  • Send out bullet point notes to all on your team or keep forms in your car that you handwrite
  • Send spec sheets to your contractor, but ALSO print out specifications on a paper and tape it in the room where the work will be done. This will avoid mishaps regarding paint colors or tile patterns.
  • Do NOT make decisions via text without following up with all details in an email. You’ll thank me for that one later.

6. Be Flexible!

Things can and WILL go wrong. That’s just the way it is in this biz, no matter how diligent we are. But when things do go off track, that allows you to put your superpower into place as a creative solutions expert! Some of the best solutions and results have risen out of the ashes from what at first seemed like a catastrophe! When there’s a will, there’s a way, I always say!

Using these tips, you can turn a difficult client into a dream customer! And be sure to download my Guide to Assessing & Collaborating on a New Design Job – it will help you keep those projects on track!



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