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How To Handle Unsatisfied Clients

by Samantha Lee (follow)
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Photography is art and subject to lots of opinion and judgement. So, chances are you’ve had or will have a client who doesn't like images you've been paid to take for them at some point in time.

It can be really upsetting if you feel you've done a good job, and if the client is insisting on a refund or gives you a bad review online. Instead of taking it personally, try these 5 tips to see if you can resolve the issue before it escalates.

1) Keep your receipts

I’m not talking about the kind of receipt someone hands you after you buy your morning cup of coffee. I’m talking about proof that you did your job correctly.

My general rule of thumb is to keep all contracts and correspondence (text messages, direct messages through social media channels, emails) with clients for at least six months after you’ve completed their job. This will come in handy in the event that a client tries to refute something or backs out of an agreement.

Written correspondence with a client usually tackles two things: it sets clear expectations from the outset and then manages them throughout the job. This is why you should put everything in writing and refer to them when a disagreement occurs.

If you’re the kind of person that meets with your client face to face, let them know that you will be taking down the minutes of the meeting and you will be sending them a digital copy of those minutes soon after. Make sure that your client acknowledges receiving the minutes from your meeting and agrees with all the points that you took down.

2) Speak with them face to face

As uncomfortable as it may be, unhappy clients are often best dealt with in person (or via Skype or Facetime) or on the phone. The possibilities for misunderstanding are limitless with emails or text messages. Speaking directly to a client helps to achieve two things that a digital correspondence will not be able to do: it sets an amiable tone for the discussion and gives you a chance for you to show your client that you care by taking the extra time to meet them.

Once your client knows that you’re not being hostile, and that you are coming from a place of concern, it will be much easier to work through issues that are up for debate.

3) Listen to their side of the story

People want to be heard, especially clients because because it’s their money, memories or brand that are on the line. Of course you also want to be heard because most of the time, you'll feel like you did what the client asked for. However, there’s a difference between listening while being on the defensive, and truly listening to what your client is trying to say.

If you find that you’re on the defensive as soon as your client complains, take a moment and remember that you are in that meeting to solve the issue, not win an argument.

4) Find a compromise

At the end of the day you both just want the same thing: a final output that you’re both happy with. So why not try to get there? If there’s a reasonable and possible way to get your client what they want then why not give it to them? There will always be a valid argument for the integrity of your craft and I would understand why you’d want to fight to defend it, but you were commissioned to do work for your client, not just for yourself.

If you really disagree with the changes your client is asking you to make and you feel like you can’t live with them as a creative, do the changes to get the project done but politely ask your client not to credit you.


5) If all else fails, get legal help

The last time I had a client dispute that I truly couldn’t settle was over a refusal to pay. The client stopped replying to me and wouldn’t respond to any of my phone calls and I knew it was time to get some legal help.

However, most of the time disagreements with clients shouldn’t reach this point. But if you feel like you’ve exhausted all means of amicable communication and you feel like you should be justly compensated for your work, then you might want to call in some outside help.

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