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Difficult Clients: Creative Ideas For Dealing With Them

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#1
Derek Tonn

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Hey everyone!

I've been kind of :angry: for the past couple of weeks, as I have one "prince" of a client who has been one of those "nightmare" scenarios where:

- they provide you with contradictory reference materials for a job (or no reference at all)
- will tell you 16 times how the "earth is flat", only to complain when you draw their project to specs that "I specifically told you that the earth is ROUND" :rolleyes: , and
- will treat you like you are eight.....with their picture next to the word "condescending" in Webster's dictionary

This particular individual even had the NERVE to tell me 2-3 times that she has decided that our firm is still "worthy" of working with her on the project....after only my wife and business partner prevented me from kicking her to the curb 2+ weeks ago. VERY unpleasant experience with this particular client.....though I do have one 800-pound hammer that I can hold over her if she continues to not play nice:

The way our firm works, clients do not pay a dime until the conclusion of a project. HOWEVER, our firm retains complete copyright and reprint rights to our designs until we have been paid in full for a project (as we normally assign clients with those privileges after a project is done, since our type of map designs are difficult/impossible to re-sell to other parties, given their very client-specific subject matter).

Anywho....this client has been VERY unpleasant, and I finally told her as much, being as polite as I possibly could. I also told her that if she continues to treat me/us in the manner she has to this point, we walk. We wouldn't get paid on the job. HOWEVER, she also would have zero claim to any of the artwork we have already developed for her, which would create as much/more of a problem for her as us eating those design costs.

That has been an effective "hammer" in the 2-3 other situations where we have had problems with clients (most typically being late in paying an invoice). However, I am wondering if any of the rest of you have creative ideas for handling unpleasant (at minimum) and abusive (at worst) clients that you have dealt with. 3-4 years ago, I would always reluctantly say "Thank you sir, may I have another?" because we needed every last project we could get our hands on. The last few years, we've had more than enough to keep us busy....so I am MUCH less-inclined to take "crap" from clients. Tie ALWAYS goes to the client, of course....but when we've given them 2-3 chances to "be nice" and they continue to drive you up a wall, what do the rest of you do?

Just curious.

Derek
Derek Tonn
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mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#2
ELeFevre

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Derek,
I say " the tie always goes to the customer" rule does not apply after two-weeks of abuse (bring out the 800 lb. hammer!. That's rediculous. If the project is finished to the degree stated in the contract, I would give her the "Take it or leave it" ultimatum and kindly place the ball in her court. If you are still working on it, I would cut your losses and provide her with an extremely short explanation of why you can't do business with her. Why bother wasting any more time trying to come up with creative ways to deal with a PITA person if you don't need to? You already have an 800lb hammer that works!

My guess is that no matter what you do, she's not going to be satisfied with the project. And I doubt she is experiencing the same level of stress and anger that you are. Obviously she's used to treating people this way. Ultimately if you finish the project and end up delivering a product your not happy with (because of bad reference material et cetera), you're only hurting your business, not hers. She will just find someone else who takes abuse and is willing to deliver a sub-standstard product for cash. I would take it as a lesson learned and use it as a guide for future projects.

I'm not a free-lance cartographer, so I don't know anything about contracts, but is there anything you can include in the contract that states how you can and can't interact with each other?



#3
Derek Tonn

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Erin,

I guess I'd rather not make it a practice of specifying particulars related to interaction with a client, even a V-E-R-Y difficult one, as there are so many different ways to "build a mouse trap", and communications are changing faster than I can have our "legalese" person check my language in any contractual agreements we are drafting.

The main problem with this particular client is that we are talking about two extremes of reference materials on a four-image project. With the first two images (finished), she had about four sets of reference for the areas that needed to be drawn....with ALL FOUR sets contradicting one another in some way, shape or form. What to do?

1. Ask the client for help and a quick clarification. Her response? "Why are you bothering me with this? I specifically told you what needs to be done, and have shared ample reference for the job!" Okay.....

2. Take my "best guess" as to which of the four conflicting sets of information is accurate. I "guessed" the information that was produced most recently. 95% right, 5% wrong....and got my butt chewed because of the 5% that she could/would not clarify for me. Those 4-5 changes that needed to be made literally took 15-30 minutes to complete....but she chose to bring that issue up again, FIVE DAYS after I had finished the first two images...saying "I don't want to have to be double-checking you for accuracy on the rest of the projects." :angry:

The second two maps (under development) were the exact opposite problem. One of the images had instructions that were faxed to me with a quality on-par with someone getting out a pen and drawing on the back of a napkin, yet needing to place informational icons within 25-50 feet of their actual location in real-life. The other image basically had even less by way of more-specific instructions, apart from a 15-month old version of that map area done by another firm. And this on the heels of the client telling us "I don't want to have to be double-checking you for accuracy on the rest of the projects." Um, no. How is that possible? :rolleyes:

Anyway, I've already decided that I've expressed my displeasure for her method of working and communicating with us so far, so I'm giving her one more chance to treat me fairly and with respect. One more slip-up on her part though and she's on her own....and if she gets REALLY unpleasant, I call her boss at her day-job and ask them if they are okay with one of their employees doing outside consulting work "on the clock" while being paid to work for that other organization....or MAYBE my friend at our local NBC-affiliate to let them know of a public institution employee moonlighting on the side while the taxpayers are picking up the tab. I'm generally a pretty nice guy, but if somebody rubs me the wrong way, I can think of many creative, painful ways of making their lives ten-times more unpleasant than they've made mine.....if you know what I mean.

I'd rather it not come to that, we finish the job and we get our check, but man oh man it has been a FRUSTRATING process.....
Derek Tonn
Founder and CEO
mapformation, LLC

datonn@mapformation.com
http://www.mapformation.com

#4
travelbug

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I'm a free lancer and just starting out. However, if she's as bad as you said, I won't bother w/ her.

#5
Polaris

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ah, the difficult client problem! tugs at the heart... I've had my share. Over the years, I've gotten a 'sixth' sense about which enquiries to discourage, but I still get caught once in awhile - not as painful as it once was though.

I don't transfer rights until I've been paid either, but this has backfired on me a time or two when I've been paid, but the client never published the work. I wish I had those rights now. I hate to see good work go to waste.


...just thought I'd share...

my sympathies,

e

#6
Hans van der Maarel

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Derek,

I have to agree with Erin here, you've done your best to deliver a good product here, but if every request for clarification gets a nasty reply, it's really the clients fault.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
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#7
Rob

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as for compilation materials, one of my recent projects had some of these accuracy/conflicting data issues. If they aren't going to pay for a site visit, I either research better compilation materials on their dime or let them know they need to provide direction b/c I'm not a magician with ESP.

I basically take the time to explain that given that this is their project, in order to make it as sucessful as they want it to be they will need to be involved in providing direction when discrepancies arise. And depending on the project they might need to serve as a proofer to make sure things are accurate or at least acceptable to the underlying mission of what they hope to accomplish with the piece(s). I try to get them excited about the project and have found this can help to get them more involved. Although too much involvement is a whole different dragon that needs slaying from time to time...

Even if clients wanted us to, we can't make shit up, map it, and think in the end that it is a good map. They need to know that up front.

#8
frax

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I had a very difficult situation with a client recently. I got a detailed specification to start with, but half-way through the project I learned that there was a total misunderstanding in that specification (they had mixed-up dataset), and it would have saved me a lot of work if that was correct. Then just as I was about to deliver, they realized that the maps didn't follow the graphic profile of the institution, so they asked me (nicely, and we added money to the bill) to redo all the maps according to a very strict color scheme and typography specification. This included communicitation back and forth with their graphic specialist when tuning this.

Not too problematic, but very annoying, and a lot of extra work...
Hugo Ahlenius
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#9
frax

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Here is another interesting project -- I am in the US now, to meet with a partner institution. We have been working on this report for almost a year, and the project manager asked me to work on site for 1-2 weeks at their office, to reduce distraction on to reduce the problem with the time difference. This project has been revised and reborn several times in this period, and the focus has changed each time. And it is quite overdue.

Anyways, on the third day of my stay the PM called me in to her office - to let me know that she has just been fired. I have my work on this project on hold now, and coming here was no big point, but they let me use a desk at their offices to work on another project (which was good in a way, that way I could clear out some backlog). There was no point in going back, since I had a flight out from here to vacation in Canada anyways (starting tomorrow, woo hoo!).

:)
Hugo Ahlenius
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#10
FlatEarth

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I had one client that dealing with gave be pain in the chest. They would be in a hurry, you'd accommodate them and prepare a quote for them - rush rush. They'd insist that everything, all files, digital data, original ArcView, Photoshop, Freehand files whatever, was to be handed over to them at the end of the project. They'd cry poor and then request components removed from the quote, these often depended on other tasks so it was never easy to make sure you weren't removing things that were critical. Invariably, they'd end up getting something they didn't pay for because it was required to do the job anyway. They would point to the quote and say 'but you said this...', because the quote had been hastily restructured to meet the new budget.

The next year we doubled our quote. They then, again cut back the requirements and didn't go ahead with the job. We found out that they had put on a student who was ringing us about the files we'd supplied the year before and asking us how to do the job. We politely told the individual to 'read the f*ing manual'. We then had a request to provide training, 'I'm sorry we don't do training', bye bye.

I think they figured they had burnt their bridges.

Cheers,




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