Why The Delete Key Is My Best Friend When It Comes To Telling Off Clients

Hit The Delete KeyI’ve always prided myself on the fact that I provide impeccable customer service. But bottom line – if you’re in the service industry (which we are), you will find yourself dealing with ridiculous clients.

Whether you’re a waitress being screamed at by an angry customer about a spot on his fork, or you’re an IT person explaining the “I-D-10-T” error to a client who won’t accept that, every once in a while, computers will freeze – you will sometimes find your heart pumping faster, and your fingers scrambling for the “mean letters” on the keyboard.

However, no matter how much we want to put these clients in their place, we must remember that we’re in the “service industry“. Consequently, we must bite our tongues and solve the problem.

Take A Break

I’ve learned that in situations like this, I need to take a break from the computer and develop my thoughts before I respond. Just last week, I was placed in a similar situation. A new client wanted me to edit his website, but he refused to give me the login credentials to his site. He was protecting this information as if I was trying to steal his bank records.

Somehow, he was under the false impression that I could simply edit his website directly from the browser. After explaining to him that I must have his source files in order to complete the job, he proceeded to respond with something along the lines of, “I already told you! Just do it from Internet Explorer!

Now, creative people tend to be overly sensitive in the first place. This is just a fact of nature. We over analyze each word in our meager attempt to decipher a sentence. The exclamation point is what really got me fired up. I kept thinking to myself, “Why is this an issue! Why do you hire me and then not give me the tools that I require?! I oughta….” Usually, I get a couple of paragraphs written in my response before I lift my hands and take a break for a few minutes.

Finish The Email In Your Head

I am not too big to admit that I tell people off in my head. Heck, while I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I typically tell them off out loud. Granted, there is nobody else around, but that is neither here nor there!

When steam builds up inside you, it has to be released in some form. Rather than ranting to my significant other, I prefer to privately call the client mean things, like “(insert your words of choice)”, as I make my lunch. Maybe it’s childish. Maybe it’s trivial. But, it works for me.

Put Yourself In The Client’s Shoes

After I’ve cooled off, I take a few moments to place myself in the client’s shoes. We should remember that ignorance isn’t a reason to be rude. They are hiring us because they can’t do the job themselves. As a result, we shouldn’t hold their ignorance against them. Ask yourself a few questions. We’ll use my real-world example as a basis.

1) Why Is The Client Angry?

My client, being a senior citizen, is unfamiliar with web development. He believed that I could perform an impossible task (probably at the advice of one his checkers buddies). Most likely, he thought that giving up his username and password was bad practice and that he was doing good business by keeping it to himself. Still, he was flustered because I said “No”. A client never wants to hear this. Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t an alternative.

2) Am I Willing To Lose This Customer?

Excusing extreme circumstances, I will never sacrifice a customer. In my experiences, every disagreement can be solved. Even if I’m not making a great deal of money off the job, I have to factor in future projects with the client as well as his or her referrals.

3) How Can I Fix This?

Usually, a very polite and well thought out email will do the trick. Here is a snippet of my response to the difficult client.

I apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused you. In order to edit a website, a web developer must be allowed access to the source files. I can assure you that under no circumstances will your login information be given out – as detailed in the contract that you and I both signed.

If it would make you feel better, I’d recommend that you change your username and password as soon as the project is completed. If you are unfamiliar with how to do this, I will give you specific instructions. Otherwise, if I can’t edit the original files, I can’t make the updates for you. Hopefully, this issue can be resolved shortly. I’ll wait to hear back from you.

The client emailed me later that day with his login information. All that he needed was for me to explain to him exactly what the problem was and how it could be resolved.

Fix The Problem

Be sure that you make good on what you promise. Fix the problem and be done with it! Even if the client is the rudest person that you’ve ever dealt with, just remember: It’s nothing personal. If you’re a freelancer, you’ve probably never even met the client in person. When communicating through email, you must consider the fact that emotions can’t be delivered via text. Finish the job, collect your fee, and move on!

The next time that you find your teeth grinding and your fingers slowly making their way into a fist, just remember that the delete key can be your best friend.

Jeffrey Way


About the author: Jeffrey Way is a full-time freelance web developer who is most comfortable when blending in with a corner at a Starbucks while working. When he’s not designing for his clients, he maintains a blog that contains thoughts and tutorials related to web development. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his fiance’ and dachshund.