The Client Whisperer

Are you a devil client? Or have you had one?

Every once in awhile you get the client from hell (or perhaps you’ve been one). You know the ones: can you make the “T” in that sentence bigger? Can you change the colour pink to one shade lighter? Can you move the image to the right 1/16″? Can you …? Can you …? Can you …?

Mostly you feel frustrated by what seems to be petty little needs or changes. (Although if not done immediately the entire World will come to a screeching halt if there isn’t a “comma” after that word in that sentence.)

Maybe I’m being silly, but if you are laughing – even just a little – then you’ve likely had one of these clients, or you’ve been one yourself.

You may have heard of the Horse Whisperer. This person (made famous by the book and the movie) is someone who has figured out that it is necessary to listen to the horse and respond accordingly. To know that the horse is bigger than they, and in order to achieve the desired outcome, there is a need to be assertive without going overboard.

Being a Horse Whisperer doesn’t mean becoming a BRUTE or a BULLY. And likewise, being a Client Whisperer simply means that you are standing up for the client and helping them to achieve their desired outcome.

If you find that you’ve been frustrated by clients, then LISTEN to what they’re saying, and perhaps it’s time for you to update your practices and policies. I know for me personally, I wish to be known as someone who delivers excellent customer service, but when you meet that devil of a client (and you will), you need to stand your ground.

As a web designer, these are some things that pop up from time-to-time. These examples are my own, and what I do about them now, before they become a problem.

Problem: At the 11th hour, the client requests a complete redesign

There are those little tweaks to a design that aren’t always noticeable until it gets loaded to a website. You’ll notice that there may be a need to change the width of a column, or that there is a slight colour change, or the header doesn’t line up. Those are what I consider to be normal type design changes, and of course those changes are expected to be made as part of the original agreement with the client.

What I’m referring to with this problem, is the client deciding after the site is almost live, that they don’t like the look at all, and want it completely changed. Yes, it happens.

To help you from pulling your hair out, you will want to:

  • Make sure that they have agreed to a final design and get it in writing. That will mean that you should physically receive a signed copy of the approved design.
  • Clearly indicate in your contract, that if there are requests made to change the look of the design, that these will be done according to your hourly rate.
  • Let the client know that you have no problem making these suggested changes, so long as they agree to the hourly rate charge. I recommend getting this in writing.
  • Let them know that it’s their decision, you just want to keep them informed of what it will cost them.
Problem: The client submits final copy, and after it’s loaded, requests editorial changes

Of course, there will be the minor tweak of a punctuation or typo of a word. It happens that these little nuances don’t show up until they are on the screen. No big deal.

But deliberate changes once previously considered final, are not included in the agreed upon package price.

What clients may not always know, is that the Word formatted document that was sent to their web designer to upload to their site, isn’t done by a simple copy and paste. There is usually a lot of reformatting, because most Word documents have funky little code that gets attached to the copy when it’s inserted into a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor.

On top of that, there is oftentimes custom code that is used to get the effects of heading or a quote, and this is again custom, so has to be hand-edited.

To offer the client great customer service, and to make sure that both of you don’t get frustrated, I recommend:

  • Make sure that they know that you only want to receive the final copy. Include this detail in your contract, and ensure that they initial beside this on the contract.
  • Let them know that you will make changes, per their request, and that they will be done at your hourly rate.
  • To help keep the cost low, ask that they only provide you with the changes. They can highlight the original copy and then indicate the change, or some other type of identification that will be easy for you to see the changes.

These are just a couple of hot issues that seem to be on the lips of other fellow designers (and mine too by times).

What tools have you used (now use) to help you with those ‘devlish’ clients?


  • Wanda Bullerwell

    I’m probably one of those “devilish” clients because I’m pretty particular about how things look. That’s why I’m in the business I’m in. : ) For that I apologize and also thank you profusely for doing everything that you do for me…without complaint. I truly could not run my website without your help and advice. I might be the devil client but you are an angel. : ) Thanks again.

    • Janice Bennett

      No need to apologize – you haven’t seen my house. You are very specific about what you need 🙂