Aren’t you happy with how your bank is treating you? I’m sure their excellent customer service is making you jump for joy. Unless you’re drowning in millions and living in Switzerland, this story is probably the complete opposite of what you’re really experiencing. Banks are notorious for having bad customer service and most of them don’t really care if they lose a client or two.

Design business, on the other hand, is an entirely different story. You only have a few clients to work with and if your customer service sucks, they’ll leave and never look back. Let’s see why that happens.

1. You’re a designer diva


Photo: Pedro Klien (via Flickr)

You know those guys and girls on X-Factor who go freak out after judges tell them they cannot sing? Not many people like them and I’m sure even less would want to work with them. The way they overreact to criticism makes you feel uncomfortable and very cautious with words.

Now picture the same situation in a client-designer relationship. If you get upset after receiving negative feedback or you start getting defensive, clients will feel uncomfortable about telling you what they really think. This forces them to focus on you being happy instead of moving the project forward, which always results with a ruined relationship.

Key takeaway: Don’t be a hard person to work with. Learn to calm down and observe your work as objectively as possible. Don’t take feedback personally — pretend you are listening to your client and another designer. You’ll be much more receptive to criticism.

2. You keep counting pennies


Photo: slgckgc (via Flickr)

“Sure, I can fix that typo on your business card but it’s going to cost you $25.”


Money is important but nobody likes to work with cheapskate designers. It simply makes you look rude and unprofessional if you’re asking for additional $25 on a $2500 project. Yes you deserve it but the client deserves some appreciation too.

Key takeaway: Don’t be a scrooge. Let the client have a freebie once in a while and you’ll go a long way into building your relationship. Remember, every $100 given is $1000 given back.

3. You never seriously consider clients’ ideas


Photo: gfairchild (via Flickr)

You might be the expert but the client is a living, breathing and intelligent being too. If you reject any idea that doesn’t come from you, you’re in danger of being proclaimed a condescending, egomaniac who thinks he’s always right.

From a purely business point of view, that’s not a nice place to be. Clients don’t like to work with people who disrespect them and acting like an untouchable expert is a surefire way to get them to feel that way.

Key takeaway: Always take client ideas and feedback seriously. In my experience, there are always good points to takeaway. In addition, involving the client in the creative decision enhances your business relationship in a whole new way.

4. You talk negatively about your competition


Photo: Miguel Pires da Rosa (via Flickr)

Talking bad about your competition makes you look… worse. If you’re really good at what you’re doing, you don’t need to put down other people. Your work and references should speak for themselves. Plus, you should be more respective and supportive of people who are in the same industry as you.

Key takeaway: Never, ever talk bad about your competition. Be polite, let the client draw his own conclusions and you’ll be seen as a true professional.

5. You have to be reminded


Photo: shimell (via Flickr)

Clients hate when you forget about deadlines, design changes and other project details.

Yes, it’s their project but they have thousands of other things to think about and they expect you to fend for yourself. You’re in a very dangerous territory if a client has to remind you what you need to do.

Key takeaway: Take care of the project, don’t make the client. You will show you’re not just an excellent designer but a great project manager if their requests are completed on time and if you follow-up on things they forget.

6. You don’t sound like a professional


Photo: Mark McLaughlin (via Flickr)

It is important to keep a friendly attitude, but the client should not be treated as your buddy.

“OMG”, “THX”, “XOXO ” and other abbreviations typical for SMS language should never find their way into your emails. They make you look immature, unprofessional and ultimately, unreliable. Not to mention swearing or being rude.

Key takeaway: Being relaxed in professional relationships is good but don’t take it too far. While it’s fine to show a bit of your personality, you should always bear in mind you’re participating in a business conversation, not a party next door.

7. You are unpredictable


Collage: Yogurinha Borova (via Flickr)

The number one business-quality a designer can possess is being reliable and predictable.That’s right, it’s not just about your talent.

People have to be able to rely on you to do the work and that you won’t disappear right before the project deadline. In other words, nobody wants to work with mad scientists, regardless of how talented they are.

Key takeaway: Your talent isn’t worth much unless people can rely on you to deliver. Being good at what you do is great – being there when it matters is even better. Get a reputation of being reliable and new clients will keep rolling in.

8. You overpromise and underdeliver


Photo:Ben Murphy Online (via Flickr)

“Yes, I can do that!”

It feels great to say it doesn’t it? You’re proud of yourself for being so talented and the client is happy they’ve found a solution to their problem.

A few weeks down the road, the client is holding a shotgun to your face and you’re pulling your hair out trying to find a way to deliver what you promised.

Key takeaway: Don’t over promise. If you simply cannot do what is being asked, say so – clients will respect you for it. Another option is to partner up with another freelancer who is more experienced at that kind of work, so you get to say yes and make things happen too.

9. You’re not doing your best


Photo: Wesley Fryer (via Flickr)

Clients work with you because they saw your portfolio and they believe you’re going to design well for them.

If you don’t deliver the results they expected then you’ve cheated them — there’s no nicer word for it. You might as well have taken another designer’s portfolio and passed it off as your own.

The client won’t care if you didn’t have time, if your apartment got flooded or if you were sick. They’ll feel cheated.

Key takeaway: Never, ever, design something just to get it out the door. When it comes to graphic design (or just about any creative work), it’s better to be late than sorry. So if you need the extra time to do your best, take it. You might miss the deadline but you’ll keep your creative reputation.

Customer service in a nutshell

We should always remember we’re working in a service business. Fair treatment of our clients is as equally important as doing great work.

Of course, it’s important to say that all this makes sense only if you’re working with a client guided by same or similar principles and business ethics. Getting such clients is an art in itself and a topic for an upcoming post.

What are your rules for keeping clients happy? Please share.