How to Deal with High Maintenance Clients [5 Tips to Avoid Burnout]

How to Deal with High Maintenance Clients [5 Tips to Avoid Burnout]

Jan 16, 2021

While input, feedback, and approvals are critical to any web design project, client involvement can easily spiral out of control when you’re working with high maintenance people. 

You might get pinged on Slack multiple times in a day demanding immediate answers on the status of certain pages or wake up Saturday morning to dozens of emails requesting changes and additions by Monday. 

Regardless of what the engagement looks like, working with these types of clients can lead to frustration, burnout, and bad feelings. 

Unfortunately, high maintenance clients (HMCs) aren’t entirely avoidable either. Every now and then, you’ll have one slip through the cracks of your business’ screening process. 

So, how do you deal with clients who like to micromanage and are virtually impossible to please? Let’s look at a few ways.

Set Clear Boundaries…and Get It in Writing

Whether you’re working with a high maintenance client (HMC) or not, it’s vital to set expectations early on. It keeps your team on track to complete all agreed elements of the project, while also giving your clients a realistic idea of the timeline and deliverables. 

As a general rule, you should explain your most important boundaries during the initial discovery call and get specifics in writing for your clients to review and sign off on, before you start any work. One of the easiest ways to do this is by including all of your project details and the relationship guidelines in your client contracts, including: 

  • The number of revisions you’ll do for the agreed price
  • The timeline of the project
  • Your agency hours and the amount of time you have to reply to client messages (i.e. 24 hours) 
  • Client homework and meetings that both parties must attend (i.e. weekly phone call or a video chat at specific project checkpoints)

Clarify Their Vision 

While it’s impossible to read your clients’ minds, you shouldn’t start any project with major question marks. Their goals and stylistic preferences need to be clarified and understood as well as possible. 

This might require your designers to spend more time discussing aesthetic likes and dislikes with your clients before drafting up moodboards and to pause and review their vision prior to designing landing pages and core website sections. But taking the time to ask the right questions and understand your client can help you avoid problematic assumptions and set you up for seamless project collaboration.  

Let Criticism Roll Off Your Back

Working with high maintenance customers can take a toll on your sanity and self-esteem if you take criticism personally. Since they’re more apt to be frustrated by minor missteps or miscommunication, they often deliver brutal feedback.

To survive these engagements, you have to keep a clear head and refrain from taking any of their comments (even the ones that verge on personal attacks) personally. Just remember, their opinion doesn’t represent every client you’ve worked with, and it isn’t reflective of any future client relationship either.  

Remember the Camel in the Tent

The same way the camel slowly inched his way into his companion’s tent during a desert sandstorm by asking for incremental favors, high maintenance clients can take advantage of your team members by gradually extending the project scope or adding extra meetings to your schedule. 

In these scenarios, it can be tempting to accept their requests, since you want to keep them happy. But giving in can lead to your clients pushing your boundaries and stretching the project far beyond the agreed scope until they’ve far exceeded what’s reasonable and fair to your team. 

This leaves you with one of two options. Either, you can add a clause to your contracts detailing the cost of additional work (or how you would determine the cost), or you simply say no. 

Use a Helpdesk 

Arguably, the most valuable tool in your arsenal when dealing with difficult clients is a helpdesk. The reason being: you can organize requests neatly and track all the work your team does on each support ticket in a single space. Everything from change requests to website additions can be logged in a queue and the work can be shared across your agency. 

With a helpdesk like Sitechange, you can even track the extra time you spend on client requests. This makes it easy to bill your high maintenance clients for the work you’ve done and avoid doing any design work for free. 

High maintenance clients (HMCs) are hard to work with – plain and simple. However, by setting clear boundaries and sticking to them, not taking any criticism personally, and using a helpdesk, you can get through it more easily. 

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