Avoiding Client Conflicts

Every client is different. Yet, you know from experience that many clients voice similar complaints. Use that knowledge to your advantage. While you can’t always anticipate reasons for a client’s dissatisfaction, or control them, there are ways to apply past lessons to avoid repeating conflicts with clients. Why wait for them to complain?  Anticipate where friction might arise and dispel it before it becomes a problem.

One of the most effective ways to avoid conflicts is full disclosure. Clients frequently complain that they were not well informed about costs, billing procedures and rates (including expenses), purchases and purchasing decisions (including returns), scheduling and delays, and shops charges and contract labor. All of this should be clearly laid out in your contract or letter of agreement and gone over thoroughly with the client before the start of the project and any money changes hands. Maintain frequent communication with the client throughout the project and get written approval for any purchases, additional expenses or schedule changes. Complaints often arise because the client begins to mistrust you or lose confidence in your abilities. Be as transparent, communicative, flexible and responsive as you possibly can without compromising your professional judgment or integrity.

Another area where conflicts commonly arise is design choices. Clients may dislike your recommendations or agree to a color, pattern, material, accessory or what have you and later change their mind once they see it in their home. This is not always avoidable, especially if the client does not have a clear sense of the aesthetic they want or whether it suits their home and lifestyle. They think they will know it when they see it, but that is not always the case.  In such a situation, giving the client as much visual information as possible—samples, swatches, pictures, renderings, etc. Shopping with them and involving them in the decision-making may help to avoid bad feelings later on. Also be very clear up front which decisions can be altered (e.g., paint color) and which cannot (e.g., custom furniture or window coverings).

If there are other types of complaints you encounter frequently, write them down and then think through what you could do to avoid them. Apply the same thinking to your prospects. Are there telltale signs that let you know a potential client may be difficult or never be satisfied? If so, avoid taking on those clients and the resulting nightmares that go with them. There are plenty of other potential clients out there who will value your services and be delighted with the improvements you made in their home and their lives.

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