Client Service Mistakes That Damage Client Relationships (And How To Fix Them)

When freelancers get too busy, decisions are made that can impair client experiences, degrade work quality, and damage client relationships. Learn how to avoid these mistakes in your freelance business.

Freelance Client Service Mistakes

Recently I took a few of the ladies in my family to the cutest tea shop to celebrate a birthday.

During my first visit to the tea house, the service was extraordinary, the sea savories and sweets were exquisite, and to celebrate a birthday, the server blew bubbles over the table and brought the birthday girl a special dessert. They also handled my dairy allergy superbly, letting me know the minute we were seated that they already had everything prepared for me.

I couldn’t wait for my family to experience the fabulous, over-the-top service and to see their faces when the bubbles came out! When making our reservation, I made sure to let the tea house know that we would be celebrating a birthday and alerted them to my dairy allergy (as requested in their instructions).

When we sat down, I was thrilled to have the same server I had during my first visit. Unfortunately, my experience was far from the same.

  • We watched the servers dote on their guests but our server was nowhere to be found.
  • We waited to be greeted for nearly 20 minutes and when he did greet us, he wasn’t bubbly and he didn’t deliver over-the-top service.
  • I had to ask about the daily tea special, remind him of my dairy allergy, and ask about missing items on our table.

Also, the food wasn’t quite as impressive and there was no fanfare over the birthday — just an extra mini cupcake delivered in the dessert tray. No special dessert, just TWO cupcakes instead of one.

It was a total letdown, especially considering how much I talked this place up!

While the tea itself was fabulous, the food was delicious, and the company was perfect, the experience wasn’t what I wanted. I was happy with what I bought, but not thrilled with the service that accompanied it.

Even with the best intentions, this same scenario plays out with creative freelancers all too often. Clients get the website they paid for and they’re happy with the final product, but their experience is lackluster and the results aren’t as good as they could be. Now, no freelancer sets out to provide subpar service, so what causes client service mistakes that ultimately hurt the client?

Busyness.

How Busyness Can Damage Your Freelance Business

When you are overburdened and too busy, you move from task to task as quickly as possible, often skipping over little details and only doing the minimum amount of work needed to finish each task. When this happens, service levels fall and the following five things happen:

You Let The Client Dictate The Project And Details

Many creative service providers and freelancers dream of working with clients who know exactly what they want. They yearn for the client who has total clarity because they believe it will mean less work or easier work. There’s just one problem with that belief…

While the client may know what they want, what they want isn’t always what they need.

The client doesn’t know what they don’t know, which means their decisions are based on limited experience and knowledge. When you let the client dictate the project and merely implement their ideas, you end up building what they want not what they need — and this can get in the way of the client’s business objectives.

Your job as the service provider isn’t to do whatever the client says, but to poke holes in their ideas, vision, and plan, to ask thoughtful questions, and to present alternative ideas to ensure the right solution is delivered.

You Agree With All Design Requests And Revisions

The goal is to make your clients happy, to turn them into raving fans, and give them everything they want and ask for (within their budget). Every freelancer wants to be loved by their clients because they believe that love will yield fabulous testimonials and quality referrals.

The intention is good but the way it often plays out isn’t.

The desire to be liked by clients often manifests as an inability to push back. As a result:

  • You end up saying yes to every design revision or change request no matter how ridiculous it is.
  • You make design changes you don’t believe in; changes that go against the strategy of the site or changes that may hurt conversions.
  • The client is thrilled and tells you that you are fabulous and easy to work with.

At first, it seems like no big deal. But what happens when a client’s site fails to deliver the results they need, and they come back to you unhappy? You’ll be in a sticky situation, facing a tough conversation.

You may be tempted to tell the client that the problem is their fault — that they requested changes that damaged the strategy. The truth, however, is that in this situation, you caused the problem by putting the client’s immediate happiness ahead of the project’s long-term objectives. As the hired expert, you have to be prepared to champion the strategy behind your design, and when a client makes a request, you have to explore and explain the potential ramifications.

Your Expectations Are Out Of Whack

Have you ever badmouthed a client to your team members or peers?

Don’t deny it.

Every freelancer has cursed a client, blamed them for a ridiculous request, or laughed at how little they know about digital business — it’s a common occurrence among the inexperienced. Early on in my career, before I knew better, I did it too.

I was young and didn’t yet realize that:

  • When a client made a stupid decision, it was because I didn’t provide the information they needed to make a smart decision.
  • When a client showed ignorance at how the web worked, it was because I didn’t provide the support and education they needed to understand the process.
  • When a client frustrated me by causing extra work, it was because I wasn’t properly managing scope creep.

You can’t expect clients to have the industry knowledge and expertise that you do.

Clients hire you to be the expert, to lead them through the project, and to educate them along the way. They expect you to help them make smart decisions, to tell them when an idea isn’t good and explain why, and to be available to answer questions and point them in the right direction.

You Rush And Fail To Follow Your Own Systems

When you have more work than you can handle and are operating at or above capacity, it takes everything you have to keep your freelance business running. When this happens, you abandon normal processes and produces in favor of speed, and rush through tasks to get them done. Rather than working in focused blocks of time, you jump from task to task, and attention to detail suffers. This causes things to slip through the cracks and quality control suffers.

When you’re at your busiest, self-care, systems, and time management become vital.

Instead of rushing, this is the perfect time to take a step back, take a deep breath, evaluate your schedule, and plan the execution of the work that is on your plate. The goal is to follow your normal systems and processes so every client has a consistent, extraordinary experience.

You Forget You’re In The Service Business

I know far too many freelancers who refuse to talk on the phone or host video meetings and only communicate by email. I watch service providers refuse to bend even the slightest to accommodate a client or set such hard-nosed terms that they are borderline unfriendly. I even hear stories from clients about other freelancers who refuse to answer questions.

In freelance business communities, there is a lot of talk about protecting the service provider and protecting the bottom line. People are so focused on drawing boundaries, putting up walls, boosting profitability, and constraining client relationships that the whole notion of true client service is getting lost.

Service-based businesses are in the business of delivering services.

The entire freelance business model is centered around serving other people. That means your success hinges on your ability to serve your clients because, without clients, your business wouldn’t exist.

Master Your Busyness To Master Client Services

Your client is hiring you to deliver a solution and trusting you to prioritize their business objectives. Your busyness must be managed effectively so you can avoid making client service mistakes that hurt the client and damage your relationship.

Don’t be like my tea house server.

He’s a great server who wants to delight every table he is assigned but that day another server called in sick at the last minute and he ended up having far too many tables. As a result, he abandoned normal procedures and rushed through the tea service just to get it done and move onto the next customer. In the process, he forgot important details, disappointed a loyal customer, and tarnished the tea experience.

Instead, it’s important that you master your busyness and:

  • Show up as the expert and leader the client needs and guide them through the project.
  • Stand up for the design, explain the strategy behind the website, and ask for the why behind revisions requests so you can work with the client to make smart decisions.
  • Expect your clients to ask for help, to ask for advice, and to bring up ideas and suggestions to get your input and talk through options.
  • Always make time to actively manage your projects and schedule, and always follow your own systems and processes.
  • Remember you are in the business of client services, so serve your clients to the best of your ability.

If you can do these five things, you’ll launch projects that advance your clients’ business goals and objectives, create happy clients, and earn repeat business and future referrals.

Some links used on this site are “affiliate links.” If you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

About Jennifer Bourn

With 22 years of experience as a graphic designer, 16 as a web designer/creative agency owner, 12 as a blogger, and 5 as a course creator and content strategist, Jennifer helps small businesses build brands, create content, and grow profitable online platforms. Her renowned business systems and automations allow her business to thrive while she travels with her husband of 21 years and two teenagers, squeezes in daily workouts, tries new recipes, speaks at events, facilitates workshops like Content Camp, and leads online courses like Profitable Project Plan.

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