Can you turn a grumpy developer into a happy developer? In many cases, the answer is 'Absolutely!', but when it comes to client-service provider relationships, service providers often have legitimate complaints about their clients.

So can service providers turn their nightmare clients into dream clients? In many case, the answer is the same: absolutely!

Here are six tips for improving your client relationships:

1. Be glad your client doesn't know everything

There's a famous quote, "The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances." When dealing with clients you might consider clueless, you can be frustrated by their lack of knowledge or you can appreciate the fact that if your clients knew more, you might not have nearly as much work.

2. Communicate clearly, communicate often

Clients often complain about poor communication, and while some clients desire more communication because they're uncomfortable or anxious, the reality is that service providers frequently do drop the ball in keeping clients informed.

While communication is a nuanced subject and each client relationship is different, erring on the side of overcommunicating is usually better than erring on the side of undercommunicating. Remember: client experience matters. The most successful service providers aren't just delivering top-notch work product, they're delivering a superb client experience -- something that typically requires clear, consistent communication.

3. Be clear about what you need

The old adage "A closed mouth doesn't get fed" is particularly relevant when it comes to managing clients. Not sure about scope and need a more detailed specification, for instance? Don't be shy or lazy: ask for it!

Unfortunately, many service providers shoot themselves in the foot by not asking for what they need up front and instead scrambling every time they need something they don't have, an obviously more stressful approach that can sour perception of the relationship.

4. Establish up front what you do and don't do

While clients may dream of finding jack-of-all-trades service providers who can handle all of their needs, chances are you don't do everything. Some nightmare clients are nightmare clients because they don't quite understand this.

The distinction between a web designer and a web developer, for instance, may be obvious if you're a designer or developer, but it may not be to your clients. Because of this, it's important to establish up front what is it you do and don't do, and maintain boundaries as necessary to prevent the type of role creep that can be the cause of much frustration.

5. Balance money with sanity

In some, your worst clients may also be your best clients. Example: one of your clients might be a big company that's disorganized, hard to communicate with and expects you to fill in the blanks, but pays well and doesn't mind paying more to have you "deal with it."

If you don't feel that the money, however, adequately compensates for the lack of organization, poor communication and "you figure it out" approach, you'll need to consider whether you can really afford to maintain the relationship without a change in the rules of engagement.

6. Don't be afraid to break up

Why are stories of nightmare clients so common? One reason is that when push comes to shove, many service providers, despite their angst, are unwilling to turn their nightmare clients into nightmare former clients.

Unfortunately, if a client is truly a nightmare client and none of the tips above change that, breaking up (or making it clear that you're willing to break up) may be the only viable solution.

Patricio Robles

Published 5 November, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (6)

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Nice one !

> you can be frustrated by their lack of knowledge

I'm not sure it's lack of knowledge that is most frustrating; more lack of listening, or lack of taking things on board.

It's having meetings where things are explained and understood and pros/cons of 2 routes are on the table: and then the very next day, they ask for the impossible 3rd way that was explained and ruled out already!

Hey, we've all had bosses like that at some point I guess!

over 5 years ago


Lisa Morrell

Opportunity comes from understanding the root cause of any consulting problem - thus clarifing the solve - and the same holds true for what might seem to be a nightmarish client. Often nightmarish client have ambitious insights and goals - one that can make them come off as frustrated particularly if they feel other do not understand or align around their agenda. Therein lies the key - if you are facing off with these clients, the usual expectation to understand your client's agenda, motivations and even history becomes even more critical. A nightmarish client can become an ally if you find a common platform that links into the client's agenda and motivations. Find common ground, seek to understand, and see where you can make big impact bigger if you go at an issues as a united front. One of my most challenging clients I now consider a trusted partner due to our lockstep strategic approach and agenda - and any nightmares have faded almost out of memory.

over 5 years ago


Sean Owens

If you are going to break up with a customer. Let them know with plenty of time. The excuse should always be to them you have too many projects and you cannot serve them well at this time. I.E. its me not you !

It never pays to slam the door on the client.

over 5 years ago



Completely agree...especially regarding point number 3! We require a formal written brief from all clients we work with, but in speaking with agencies I'm forever surprised by the number of clients who refuse to provide written briefs. Without jointly agreed expectations for success at the start, even the most successful response in the agency's eyes may not meet a client's needs.

over 5 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd


so the solution is to write the brief yourself? (or a skeleton of it).

I guess it shows clients your keen-ness... but not trivial effort.

over 5 years ago


Thando Vuzane

Wow, as an Independent Digital Strategist, this article has been that voice of reason. I struggled with many of my clients over the year and have only recently revised my client relationship management approach to be more efficient for both myself and my clients.

I realized that each relationship is different hence you need to have a very versatile and robust system of communication. I now have a template for each project type and phase outlining requirements and milestones, and the workflow process that needs to be followed. It really helps to have your own working system that you use with all your clients, even though you'd have to chase them to comply with. It ultimately brings order to the entire process and helps to avoid future disasters.

So bottomline, Effective Communication is key.

Thank you for the article, I have bookmarked it for future reference.

over 5 years ago

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