Clients from Hell — A Portrait

By TRISOFT team

It’s quite simple — you can’t have a business without having customers and, unavoidably, where there are customers there is also trouble. Obviously, customers aren’t created equal: there are awesome ones, high maintenance ones, difficult ones and …impossible ones!

We’ve had them all — the great ones, but also those that argue, yell and complain, those that call/email constantly and want you to be available 24/7, those who are never satisfied and are always looking for a freebie. So our initial, raw (and not always wise!) reaction is to reject these ’difficult’ types and try to avoid them. But upon more mature reflection, we realize that if we’re going to be successful on this market, we need to be able to deal with whatever business and life brings. So we’ve toughened up and decided to take matters as they are.

Like fairy tales, the anecdotes we gather from working with all kinds of clients, filled with misery and wanting to throw your computer outside the window, have lessons in them. Here are a few of our most popular tales of horror and some lessons we can all learned from them. Hopefully :)

Tale #1

I have been blessed with the most balanced and awesome clients. Except for this one guy. From England.

All the way from the very start, he seemed to know exactly what he wanted. In my books that is a great start. It means he can explain in detail what his site should look like, features, details, etc. and I get to have that clarity I always struggle to obtain at the start of a project.

Until I made him the first design version. It was a disaster. He didn’t like anything in there. The email I got was full of red caps lock remarks on how I failed to understand his vision. It looked like my first French composition in 9th grade where I got my first and only 4 grade (out of 10).

His next reaction on my following mockups reassured me that in terms of design, his vision was on a completely different level than mine (downwards) and the only way he would be satisfied would be for me to achieve this new low in my design capabilities.

His website looks awful and I never mentioned it in any of my portfolios or even to my friends. It’s lurking there, on the web, ready to convey a nice level of repulsiveness to anyone who browses it.

But my client was finally satisfied and, most importantly, paid in full. (Victor, TRISOFT Frontend Developer).

Lesson #1
It’s always nice to agree with the client, but be careful at the boundaries, as there should definitely be some. Meaning if you’re really never on the same page with a customer, sometimes it is better to let go and walk different paths, as the trouble through which you can go might be a bigger energy waster than investing in a different client. Other times, you might consider the client, as difficult as he is, may be worth the struggle. In this situation it’s up to you to set the records straight and stay in a positive work environment of your choice.

Tale #2

We recently had this client owning a greatly outdated and pretty poorly coded website. I had to work with this guy, Larry, from their side, who kept telling me what they needed me to do and I was supposed to guide him through what I was doing.

And while it may sound quite straightforward in theory, practice was completely chaotic. They wanted radical changes and kept changing their minds about them from one day to the other, from one discussion to the other. If I talked to 2 different people they would tell me different things on the same topic.

It was insane, but I managed to cope with it for quite a long time. The tip of the iceberg was when this guy Larry started calling me on my mobile every half an hour, all day long. I couldn’t handle other projects or do anything else but be there at their service and regretting every minute of it. What is more, whenever things didn’t come out exactly as they had expected, it was my fault. Even their technical issues were my fault.

The only good part of this was that I was inspired enough to keep our CEO informed on every step of the project, so he knew I was doing all the best possible and it was far from being under anyone’s control anymore. And if you’re by any chance wondering about the ending, I would say it was a happy one. Not just because the project was finalized to the desire of the client (shocking as it may sound), but also because we stopped working with the guy after it :) (Radu G., TRISOFT CTO, Symfony Developer)

Lesson #2
Try to be more decisive when it comes to laying the grounds for a project. Discuss as many details as possible with your client beforehand. Try to squeeze as much information about what they need, how they need it, who you’ll be working with and also try to agree on a common work rhythm and of course on a deadline. It’s maybe a lot to plan, but you should get the hang of things once you do it a few times. Not to mention the benefits. You could have a sketch plan that you can use for inspiration on new clients — whatever works for you so that you can have as much control as possible on your work. Otherwise, the alternative is much needed time and energy wasted. And you don’t want that now, do you?

Tale #3

Some not very long time ago we had 2 awesome clients, one from Holland and one from Iceland. They came with super nice projects and a good attitude towards our collaboration, so we were more than happy to put together a team who would make it all happen for them.

And we did. Our guys invested all efforts (as usual!), deadlines were respected, websites looked beautiful and there was no complain, except being too good to be true :) Wondering what went wrong? Well, they didn’t pay. At all! For any of the over 750 hours we had put into both projects.

Of course we had contracts and all that, but eventually we concluded that the trouble and money we would have been spending on suing them and chasing them around for our well-earned money was not worth it. Fun, right?

It’s also true that, at that time, we didn’t have much experience with these kinds of legal situations and that our trust was supported by the fact that one of the clients had paid a small advance payment. However, we were quite disappointed and decided to keep our eyes more open for the future. (Radu T, TRISOFT CEO)

Lesson #3
Following these two big disappointments, we learned our lesson the hard way. But at least we took action and from that moment on we have hired a specialized law firm, with a team of young and smart lawyers whose advice we are now taking every step of the way. So our contracts have been significantly improved, updated to correspond with the international legislation, in order to better protect us from precisely these clients from hell, no matter where they come from. For example, what we did is specify in a clause that, if within 30 days of the invoice being issued and work being accepted (as bug-free and in total correlation with client specifications), the services aren’t paid for, then we are left with the intellectual rights over the code, hence we are allowed to use it as open-source. This might be useful for anyone else in the situation, so kindly take note!

Tale #4

A special breed of customer from hell is the customer who knows absolutely nothing about the job and above all, acts stubborn and all-knowing and he likes to argue and dispute while basing his statements on absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, I often had to work with this type of client, who either directly, or through a designated representative, want to have things done their impossible and unprofessional way.

It’s a tough fight, all monsters and dragons, trying to convince such a client that their ideas cannot possibly be put in practice. I always try to keep professional and explain, based on documentation, why their points aren’t valid, but often I only hear back excuses and rejections such as: this is how I’ve done it my whole life or this is how others have taught me or I`m a senior in my job and I won’t explain myself to you. Isn’t that fun, ha? There are some who eventually accept the truth and somehow the project can be put back on track…(Radu G., TRISOFT CTO, Symfony Developer)

Lesson #4
This is a tough one, as we haven’t yet found a way to protect ourselves from these customers :) Or maybe we aren’t supposed to after all. The lesson we have learned though is always keep calm and totally professional, as hard as it may be. As long as you know your stuff and you can backup your explanation with hard facts, don’t be afraid to tell them to the client open and honestly. Some might appreciate your input, other may feel offended, but at the end of the day, when you are doing your job professionally, nothing can ruin your reputation.

Conclusion

Customers From Hell can cost your business a lot if you fail to positively manage the negative outcome of their interaction. With some you only get to work once and it’s still enough to shake your confidence. Others go as far as to promote their stories of discontent on the internet and social media. Others are all words and eventually turn into friendly customers.

It’s actually a game of chance whether you get more of the good ones or more of the bad ones. However, it is not random, but it depends on your abilities to make the most out of even those horrible customer experience, learn your lesson and go on doing your stuff professionally.

At TRISOFT, we believe that a lot can come from experience. So we’ve extracted what we thought could help us in the future from the Tales above and from all the others which will never get to be printed, but are embedded into our collective memory — with their laughters or misery — for good, and are trying to improve our practice. Every day, in every way!