Dealing with Client Conflict

It would be a fantasy to tell you that every freelance project ends up with all the characters in the story living happily ever after. Even when you’ve managed to find the perfect client, there can still be blown expectations and client conflicts. It’s the reality of any business owner, whether you freelance or not. There will be times when clients or customers are unhappy and how you handle the situation is what truly matters.

Dealing with Client Conflict


Client conflict is terrible and it’s stressful for everyone involved. Conflict can sap your energy, elevate anxiety, induce anger, cause grief, and completely consume you in ways that are not healthy. Sometimes client conflict will keep you from moving forward in your business so it’s best to address the situation as quickly as possible.

Having worked as a freelancer for 28 years, I’ve discovered three important guidelines that will greatly benefit you when a client or customer is unhappy. I call them the ABCs of Client Conflict.

Assess the Situation

One of the best actions you can take is to keep calm and assess the entire situation. Look at the problem from your client’s perspective to truly understand what they are unhappy about. Kindly ask probing questions about why the client is upset, without being angry or snippy with them. Once you’ve assessed the problem, determine if a winning solution can be made. Many times you’ll discover that the real issue was small and you both will find a happy resolution.

Be Professional

Sometimes our first inclination is to give our client the middle finger. While this seems appropriate at the time, I promise you that the feeling is temporary and it only makes the situation worse. You should do everything you can in your power to remove your emotions from the equation because emotions can get the better of us.

Sometimes there are simple misunderstandings. It could be your client had unreasonable expectations or they didn’t understand your process. Whatever the reason, blowing your lid and getting ugly will ruin the opportunity for a winning outcome and tarnishes your brand. And even if the client really is a jerk, you’ll feel much better taking the higher road by being professional, than stooping to a lower level.

Communicate Constantly

Amazingly, poor communication seems to be the NUMBER ONE reason why freelancers experience client conflict. The internet has made it easy for us keep in touch with our customers, so there’s no reason to drop the ball in communication.

You need to do your best to keep your clients in the loop every step of the way. Let them know if you’re waiting on them for approval of concepts or website content. Inform them when you are ill and the project will be delayed because of it. Whatever you can do to communicate with your clients, the better your business will be.

There’s one thing I’d like to add here was well … be honest with them. Don’t lie about dropped balls or pass the buck if it’s your fault. Clients appreciate honesty and they can be very forgiving if you shoot straight with them. They do understand that things happen.

When Conflict Can’t Be Resolved

Unfortunately there will be circumstances when practicing your ABCs of Client Conflict and doing all that you can to resolve the situation will still end up a disaster.

Years ago I had a client whom I will call Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. The first week, the client sent me email messages about how happy he was with my services and solutions. The next week he started to send messages of disappointment and insults. He then apologized saying he was wrong, but then repeated this process every few days.

For over a month I did everything in my power to make this an incredible experience for Jekyll and Hyde, but it got to the point I hated going to work every day. Finally we finished the project and he happily approved the final work. A week later my developer fired him because he refused to put up with the same horrible treatment. Six months later the guy emailed me back and asked for a refund because he still couldn’t find a developer to work with him.

Sometimes you just have to fire the client and move on. 

We should always strive to deliver a great brand experience with our companies. As a freelancer, I want clients to enjoy working with me and love the end result. However there will be times when my best cannot outweigh the worst.

When you know in your heart that you’ve done all that you can to resolve the client conflict and it still doesn’t look like a “happily ever after” story, then you have to accept it and move on. Sometimes you can’t win no matter how hard you try.

Dealing with client conflict is never pleasant, but if you use the ABC’s I’ve outlined here, your experience will be much better.

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