How to Manage Unhappy Clients for a Design Agency

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Tips for Working with Design Agency Clients

What To Do If Your Design Agency Clients Don’t Like Your Work

Graphic design
May 27, 2022
11 minutes

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Securing clients for your marketing or design agency in the first place is tricky. But what happens when they start asking for endless revisions and keep getting frustrated with your work? How to manage unhappy clients and, more importantly, keep them? Here are some tips!

We’re not a customer service agency, but we sure know a thing or two about managing design clients.

Our company started back in 2018, and we have since served thousands of clients worldwide. That’s much more than a traditional graphic design agency could hope to achieve in a few years!

In our vast experience, we’ve come across different clients and different hurdles in our working relationships. We’ve learned from it and come back stronger.

How to build a design agency that nurtures those client relationships? How to manage “difficult” clients and deliver better results?

We’re here to answer all your burning questions.

“There’s no such thing as a bad client”

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You might be rolling your eyes right about now. But the title above is a portion of a famous graphic design quote from one of the most successful designers of all time, Bob Gill.

Although we (marketers, copywriters, designers, and other creatives) might hate to admit it, there’s a lot of truth in this. Remember, you’re always on the same team regardless of how picky or close-minded a client may seem. Ultimately, they probably aren’t making your life difficult for the fun of it. They simply want what’s best for their business.

Now that we got that out of the way let’s share some tips on working with unhappy clients at your graphic design agency.

So, before we get into the practical tips for managing unhappy clients and their expectations, here’s the big ask. Get your mind set on developing a positive relationship with a client. At the end of the day, your goal isn’t to develop one piece of graphic design that they will be happy with. It’s to keep them coming back for more.

So, here are a few things you need to do before you address your client:

  • Get ready to take criticism.
  • Be prepared to do a lot of educating and explaining.
  • Stay open for dialogue and conversation.
  • Make sure you leave a lot of space for research and personal development.

Now that we got that out of the way let’s share some tips on working with unhappy clients at your graphic design agency.

10 tips on what to do when clients don’t like the quality of work

One angry email after another, frustration on both sides bubbling until you and the client decide to part ways. Is there a way to preempt this?

Here are 10 golden tips to help you discover how to build a design agency that keeps its clients happy.

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1. Define the scope and length of a project.

There’s nothing that harms a designer-client relationship more than unrealistic expectations. And we hate to break it to you, but this is usually the designer’s fault.

Why? The truth is that most clients don’t understand the design process. What might be a whole day’s work for you may seem like a matter of hours to them. Moreover, they’ll likely forget about “details,” such as different formats of the same design or having to adapt the color scheme for print design.

Before you can give them a price estimate of your services, here are some things that you need to define and agree on.

  • Type of project and scope: How many different variations do you need to produce for social media design? What channels are you designing for?
  • Timeframe and deliverables: When do you need to deliver the first draft? How about revisions? What’s the latest they can expect the project to be finalized?
  • Communication: How do you wish to collaborate? Can they speak directly to designers, or will a project manager be involved?

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2. What constitutes a revision and how many are free?

Revisions are a necessary part of the design process. No matter how skilled or talented a designer is, there’s virtually always something to alter in a piece of design. However, there’s a vast gap between minor tweaking and completely overhauling the design.

If you promise your clients revisions, they might expect you to produce endless designs until they’re satisfied.

To avoid this, make sure you clearly define how revisions are made. Here’s our suggestion on how to do it:

  • Set a deadline for requesting revisions after a design is delivered
  • Specify the number of revisions they’re allowed at one point
  • Define what constitutes a revision (change of colors, fonts, images, layout, etc.)
  • Include the price of additional revisions

3. Fill in the missing pieces of the design brief

There are two types of clients. Those that insist on specifying every single detail in a design project. And those who “trust your judgment.” Spoiler alert: both are incredibly difficult to work with.

Once they provide you with a design brief, it’s your responsibility to make sure that they’ve given you all the relevant information. Have they included their brand colors? Have they provided references? If not, you should dig a little deeper and discover what they like or dislike.

This is especially important for big projects, such as those a web design agency would take on. Imagine creating the entire layout of a website, and the first drafts of some pages, only to have your client dismiss the whole idea. Make sure you have a clear sense of (art) direction to keep you on the right course.

4. Create alternative versions

Here’s a bit of an insider tip: clients love options. You might think creating lots of different versions is unnecessary if the brief is clear and agreed upon. However, giving clients extra choice isn’t just a fantastic way to avoid their dissatisfaction. It’s also a surefire tactic to build long-term relationships with them.

A variety of choices can also help in making revisions. You might also eliminate some routes they don’t want to take by providing clients with options. Or, you can give them an idea of how a problem might be solved more efficiently.

In fact, alternative versions are the moment to let your creativity shine. You should have at least one or two options that follow the creative brief to a tee. The variations, however, are your opportunity to “enlighten” clients on a better/more exciting way to approach a piece of design.

Of course, creating a ton of different versions in the required timeframe isn’t always possible. In the last section of this article, we’ll talk about how you can offer more to your clients without increasing the headcount at your graphic or web design agency.

5. Check the feedback against the brief

So you’ve presented the first draft, and it’s time for the clients to give their feedback. And then, we end up here.

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Although this meme might explain your initial mental state pretty well, this is no time to despair. No matter how, uhm, “direct” your client has been, you need to look at it as constructive feedback (even when it isn’t).

Go back to the brief. Maybe they don’t like something they’ve specifically requested. It’s their prerogative to dislike it, but you shouldn’t be blamed for it. So what happens if you’ve done precisely what the client asked for, but they don’t like it?

Follow the next few steps.

6. Explain your design process

Remember: clients often don’t understand how design is made.

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Pinterest

So, if you tell them point blank that something cannot be done in the required timeframe or for the desired price, they might get frustrated. Instead, take time to explain to them how you got to the initial results, and how you might go about delivering the changes they need.

It’s advisable to record the time you spend on certain portions of the task. This way, clients can understand just how much time and resources you realistically need to deliver what they want.

7. Present some data

You’ve explained your process and thinking, but the client is still not convinced. What next? It’s important not to get stuck in a “your word against theirs” situation. So, you need to present some convincing data.

This can relate to the design process itself, presenting timesheets and records of your work. On the other hand, you may wish to remind them just how important graphic design is and some general data. Here are some valuable stats you can keep in your arsenal:

  • 94% of first impressions are design-related (ResearchGate)
  • Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text (3M Corporation)
  • Between 62% and 90% of consumer decisions are based on color (ResearchGate)
  • 92% of consumers say the visual aspect is the most critical factor that impacts purchase decisions (Neil Patel).
  • 94% of people will abandon a website because of bad design (Real Business of Web Design)

Alternatively, you can refer them to some of your clients’ success stories and show that your designs have helped them achieve their business goals. This might not be immediately applicable to their case. Still, it will give you some room for negotiating further versions of your work. More importantly, it will prevent them from turning to your competitors right away.

8. Accept your mistakes

So far, we’ve assumed that it’s really only the problematic client who’s at fault (with the understanding that it’s the job of professional designers to “show them the way”). However, everyone makes mistakes, which might be true in your graphic design agency.

It’s a tough call to make, but sometimes you just have to let clients know that you’ve messed up. This is a pretty common situation with, say, a web design agency since they handle the whole process: from simple wireframing to developing and launching the website. Web design, in particular, is a process with lots of twists, turns, and hurdles, and mistakes may be made.

Whether it’s the inability to meet a deadline or an issue in the development stage, you need to own up to your mistakes and let the clients know what’s happening.

The key here is to be proactive. Don’t just inform them that there is a problem. Be prepared to explain how you will solve the issue and, potentially, suggest some additional benefits they can have due to your mistakes. For example, offer some free additional designs, such as merch or stationery.

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9. Make a stand when needed

You know how challenging it is to secure clients for a creative agency better than anyone. So, it’s often your instinct to do everything to keep them happy.

However, remember that you should be working to their advantage. Delivering a bad design just because they like it is unprofessional and can cost you your reputation

It’s your job to explain what good and bad design are to the client. At the end of the day, it’s their prerogative to go against you. In this case, you might ask them not to credit you for the work if you feel they’re choosing the wrong route, which might get them to consider your feedback again.

Ultimately, it will show them that you are working in your clients’ best interest instead of just eyeing your next paycheck.

10. Don’t forget that design is subjective

Last but certainly not least is an indisputable truth about graphic design. Although it’s both an art and a skill, everyone still judges graphic design subjectively. You may have done everything to meet the clients’ expectations, but they claim you’re still missing the mark. Then what?

Well, before you give up and go your separate ways, it’s a useful idea to get to know your client better. This is presumably something a brand marketing agency always starts with. However, if you were tasked with a side project, there’s a fair chance that you’re still lacking necessary information about the client’s brand and industry.

Essentially, it’s similar to building relationships with people. As you get to know them, you will be able to predict and recognize their likes and dislikes. You’ll often disagree, but in the interest of a healthy and happy (working) relationship, you’ll know how and when to make compromises.

Is there an easier way to make design agency clients happy?

As you can see, dealing with client dissatisfaction is quite a process. Here are a few key takeaways that can help you if the client doesn’t like the work your in-house design team produces:

  1. Set clear expectations from the get-go.
  2. Explain the design process.
  3. Do more work.

We’ve talked plenty about the first two points and how you can communicate with your clients better. But what if you simply don’t have the manpower to provide more work for them?

Luckily, there’s a fantastic solution for any design or brand agency struggling with a lack of resources. Unlimited design services offer reliable graphic design solutions at a fixed monthly rate. Request as many designs as you want, with as many revisions as necessary, at no extra cost. Keep your clients happy and save up significantly compared to hiring a full-time designer? It’s possible!

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We’ve helped many design studios and agencies increase their offer and gain more clients. If you want to know how we can help you do the same, book a 1:1 demo session with one of our reps.

Or, if you’re ready to start getting quality, affordable designs, sign up today with our 14-days risk-free guarantee.

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Danica Popovic

May 27, 2022

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.