First off, I wanna make it absolutely clear that to attempt this you must have tough skin. You 100% don't have to be born with it (most of us aren't) but you definitely have to be willing to develop those calluses. Rude clients are actually a big part of being a designer in general - whether it be freelancing or agency work, you'll always have a client(s) that is just an absolute displeasure to breath the same air with. It's important to remember that really nice people can be rude too and sometimes it catches you off guard - so how do you deal with rude clients?
The number one thing is to first look within. Are you holding up your end of the bargain? Have you missed a step(s) in your workflow that has deteriorated the jobs outcome? Ask yourself, if the client is being rude after they've been quite polite, have I made a mistake and if I have - I'll just have to own up to it. Stay cool, don't react too personally and please DON'T BRING OUT THE VIOLINS. Explain that you've made a mistake and that's that. They'll respect your honesty and won't feel annoyed if you instead have made an excuse to the same effect as "my dog ate my homework."
On the flip side, if you have delivered quality work to a client and believe they're changing their tune unexpectedly then you must be firm. The tricky part is that you would have been acting very friendly to each other mid project and sometimes people try and "zap" you with an undertone of rude criticism - and this is where the professional in you steps out. Make it more than obvious that they are stepping out of line and say things like "I'm sorry you feel that way" or "I really don't appreciate that comment/tone." More often than not though, people start having hissy fits when they've gotta cough up their end of the bargain - money. Money is often the reason why a client who you've provided excellent work for is acting out and this is where contracts come in - please be safe and draw up some contracts to ensure nobody tries to mess with your earnings.
If you firmly and professionally tell them off, ten outta ten, they will back off. They've realised you're not just a friendly face and instead have come to notice you're a professional who they've hired to do a job. Sometimes this ends in the termination of the project and other times can be written off as a misunderstanding. If indeed the project is terminated do to your misunderstanding, don't sweat it - it's all part of it. Designers who say they haven't had problems with clients just haven't had many clients at all, this I can promise you. I've had both these happen to me numerous times with clients I will never name as I respect their privacy. I will also add that from experience I too have been wrong in sending work that was sub-par (I am also human, so sue me) and have learned the hard way - but I have learned.
You too must learn that this is OK as well, you won't be Mr. or Mrs. perfect every time - but you can work to be better and learn from negative and positive experiences. Now, sometimes you get people who are rude right off the bat and to them I say - get fucked. Not literally of course as this is bad for business but if someone is a fucking asshole, why bother? These are easy to deal with as most likely, the project has barely begun and you've realised early that they have "twat-itus" - cut it short and above all trust your gut. Use this as a positive and think about how good it is that they've shown their true colours early on - you've just spared yourself hours of work and stress.
I would like to conclude that life as a designer is full of ups and downs. If you've had a bad client, it's probably gonna mess with your momentum a bit but I can promise this goes away - fast. All you need is to get back on the horse and tough it out, don't quit and you WILL develop those calluses. Things will become easier and you will become better, better at everything you always thought you couldn't achieve. Persistence is the key to self improvement and self improvement is the key to happiness. So if your client is acting like a twat - give em hell...respectfully.
Words - John Bresciani
Instagram - @judyispunkco
Ello - John Bresciani
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