Run a photography business (or any business for that matter) long enough, and there's a good chance you'll encounter a client, that - for whatever reason - is unhappy no matter what you do.  You may have already experienced a client like this - the type with completely unreasonable demands, a total lack of appreciation for your time or talent, and an entitlement attitude that makes you want to quit photography all together.  Do youknow the type of client I'm talking about?  


Now, before we go any further, I think it's worth stating that no matter what happens with a client - even if it's not your fault - it's always your problem.  What I mean is, even if the client is upset about something that was beyond your control, or out of your hands, it's still your problem to deal with.  You have two choices: you can figure out how to solve their problem, or you can fire the client.  

The question that I think we all wrestle with is "how do I know when to try to make a client happy (solve their problem), or when to cut my losses because they'll never be happy (fire the client).  Let's look at a few ways you can deal with difficult clients.

1. There's a difference between difficult clients and clients with difficulty.

In fact, it's a HUGE difference - and figuring out which you are dealing with is more important than just about anything else.  Difficult clients are the ones that can't be made happy.  There's just something about them, that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter what heroic effort you make, they won't be happy.  

In reality, it's not your problem that they are difficult.  It's also not about you.  In fact, there's almost nothing you can do to help a difficult client - they're just difficult for the sake of being difficult.  They complain about everything, and expect you to bow to their every whim.  Amazingly, we often entertain this abuse, and allow these clients to suck valuable energy and life out of us.  We think that somehow we might be able to make them happy, and we're afraid of what they might do if we don't coddle them.


On the other hand, most of our clients are reasonable people - but for one reason or another, we've either failed to meet their expectations, or they are experiencing difficulty.  These clients aren't difficult people, they're just experiencing difficulty, because their expectations aren't aligned with their experience.  Maybe they aren't happy with some of their photos, or they feel like the turnaround time is too long.  Maybe they're disappointed in your pricing, or they expected more "family shots."  Whatever their difficulty, there's a pretty good chance you can help them through it, and make them happy.

2. Fire Difficult Clients

No questions asked.  If there's nothing you can do for a difficult client, why on earth are you spending any time at all on the relationship?  It's your responsibility to fulfill any previous obligation to these clients, and then termintate the relationship as professionally - and as quickly - as you can.

3. Expectations Are Everything

On the other hand, you can often set yourself, and your clients, up for a win by taking time to clearly communicate expectations with your clients.  When we fail to create clear expectations for our clients, they fill in the blanks based on their assumptions and understanding.  If we don't tell them exactly what to expect, it's hard to fault them for being disappointed when we don't live up to their expectations.

From the very first encounter you have with a client, it's your responsibilty to be creating and managing their expectations.  Give them a clear undersanding of your process, how you work, what they should expect and when, and how to get ahold of you if they have questions.  By the time a client is asking you for something they thought they should already have - it's too late.

4. Take One For The Team

Often, we encounter clients with difficulty, and defenses go up.  We get defensive about their problem, and place blame and fault on the client.  Even if we think we've done everything right, the reality in front of us is that we failed to meet a clients expectations.  So what now?  How do we create a win for everyone invovled?

Usually the easiest thing is to ask yourself, what will it take to make this client happy?  What do I need to do to restore this relationship, and provide a positive experience for this customer?  Many times the answer is much easier than it seems.  Often a simple apology for the misunderstanding - along with an offer to make it right - will go a long way toward creating a win.  

I find that when I swallow my pride, give a sincere apology, and focus on how to make it a win for the client - I come out far ahead.  In fact, it's in the most difficult times that we have the opportunity to create clients for life.  We have the chance to do something unexpected that causes our clients to feel valued.  In the long run, that's far more valuable to me than standing on my ego and pride and refusing to budge just because I think my client is nuts.


How about you? How do you handle difficult clients?