By Andrew Neitlich

Who is responsible when client is not happy?

By Andrew Neitlich

Last blog, there was some interesting discussion about who is responsible when a client is not happy with results.

There are two possible answers:

1. Both parties inevitably share blame.

2. You as the vendor take 100% responsibility.

It has been my experience that those who take the first point of view are generally less successful than those who take the second.

It may be that #1 is technically true. However, if you take the frame of mind that you are 100% responsible for the quality of your business relationship and the results you produce, word about you will spread quickly.

What does taking 100% responsibility mean?

Lots of things, including:

– Setting clear expectations with client.

– Understanding client expectations of an excellent job.

– Refusing work where you probably can’t deliver, don’t want to work with a specific client, or where scope and commitment are not clear.

– Keeping things on track through constant updates, communication, and great project management.

– Having a can-do attitude throughout.

Yes, many clients are difficult. Many clients even lie. Many look for something for nothing.

But ultimately it is your job as a professional to handle that, and get results.

Are there times when you should fire clients, and not take work from them again? Yes.

Are there times when you should call it quits in the middle of a project, while trying to facilitate a smooth transition? Yes.

But in these cases, you must accept 100% responsibility for the outcome. 100%.

The same is true in a good marriage. Even if your partner isn’t up for taking 50/50 responsibility, if you take 100% responsibility, your relationship will flourish.

I have worked with literally thousands of professionals at this point in my career. There are two types: those who take responsibility for great results, and those who blame others when things go poorly.

The second don’t ever seem to make it very far, even though they are unfortunately more common. Sadly, this commentary applies to all professions, politicians, and an increasing number of people around the world.

  • nortypig

    Great post and very true. I aspire to be much better than I know I am and it’s good to be reminded of this. Many forget, true.

  • I guess my advantage is that I had a strong sales and marketing background *before* I retrained and do what I do now. Many designers I come across seem either completely clueless as to what customer service is or just don’t think it’s important enough to bother about.

    One thing I did get into the habit of very quickly and that was asking questions. Most approach a new project with, “this is what you need, this is what you should have etc . . .” without first *asking* the client what they expect, what they want, what they need. Someone once told me you have 1 mouth and 2 ears and in that order. In other words listen twice as much as you speak and you’ll serve the client much better.

    Great post!

  • I thought it was 2 ears and 1 mouth (Listen twice before speaking)?

    Regardless, good advice. I take the stance of 100% responsibility and may even have “saved” one project before it even got started.

  • That serves me right for posting before coffee ;-)

  • Mapo

    Andrew, I need advice: How do you fire a client?

    I’ve wanted to do it with a LOT of clients but I didn’t know that you CAN actually fire a client. How would go about it?

  • Lilian Moreno

    In my opinion the most important thing clients want is your time. Time is money, and your time is valuable not only to you, but them. Clients appreciate it when you take the time to listen to them, understand their needs, and take a proactive approach to not only getting the job done, but developing a relationship with your project team members. That can only be done with time.

    Projects normally fall apart because not enough time is allocated to different stages of the project. Too often the finished product is all the client thinks about and there is insufficient planning time up front. The result is an irritated client. It is up to the producer (the website project manager) to explain to the client why more time is needed… and to keep projects moving by asking key questions along the way… guarding the project. I definitely agree with the importance of keeping things on track through constant updates, communication, and great project management. Most of the time the client will be happy, even if there are delays, if you inform them beforehand and make every effort to keep to adjusted target dates.

  • Good post and very true, Agree 100% here

  • Keeping a client informed is very crucial in any project. If a client knows what and when to expect, there would be less margin for error and unsatisfied results.
    For example, I build wireframes and paper prototypes to freeze on the requirements and to brainstorm on ideas this helps me cut time on rework and that ensures that client has an idea of what he can expect next. This allows for constant communication and also to set reasonable client expectation.

    A phased approach leaves less room for surprises for both.

    Ohh yeh, I agree with Andrew on taking 100% responsibility, as professionals it becomes our responsibility to extract the information that will help define project scope and expectation. If for some reason that was not done before begining the project, I guess we will have no one to blame other than us.

  • Cranjled

    I have worked with literally thousands of professionals at this point in my career. There are two types: those who take responsibility for great results, and those who blame others when things go poorly.

    More often than not, I’ve found that this person is one and the same.

    I don’t mean to get anyone politically riled up, but that’s exactly how the government (here in the US) does it. You’ll notice that when there are extra funds it’s called a “Government” surplus…but as soon as things go into the red, it’s dubbed a “National” debt…


  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree with the whole aspect of responsibility. I also need to differentiate between those who are more result oriented and the ones who are more customer service people. The result oriented ones tend to take more pride in their work wanting to build a great portfolio, while it seems secondary to the customer service oriented design people who pretty much are satisfied the moment the customer stops complaining :)

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