Coping with Difficult Client Expectations

There is a long established saying about there being a “perfect tool for every job” and, while this is certainly true, it is also your responsibility as a designer to choose the right products and designs to satisfy the client’s needs.To accomplish this, you must maintain focus on the particular job at hand; the actual challenge presented by the client, without allowing your personal tastes, desires or wishes to influence the work you’ve been hired to perform.For example, let’s imagine for a moment that your client would like you to reimagine and modernize their living room for them. This should not be too difficult, as you question them and make suggestions based upon their answers. However, there is one stipulation which may not be ignored – grandma’s “antique” hand-me-down must remain – creating a challenge that seems impossible to overcome. This piece is going to clash with every design suggestion you’ve made, yet the clients are emphatic that they cannot get rid of it and risk offending grandma.

How to handle “unrealistic expectations”

If you're unable to convince your clients that the piece they need to keep may not mesh with the changes they’re asking you to make, no matter how subtle or insistent you try to be, the challenge for you is to make it fit. That is your job, regardless of how impossible it seems. To help you focus on the task at hand, here are a few things you must remember:

  • The space is theirs, not yours – Whether a home or office, the space you're designing for your clients belongs to them. It is your job to ensure that they are comfortable with the choices and changes being made. The fact that you might be uncomfortable in such a space is irrelevant to the task at hand. It is always your job to satisfy the client, not yourself.
  • Creative thinking is your greatest asset – In a situation like this, thinking creatively will be the best tool you can use to find a solution to such a challenge. If you can reimagine the item as an accent or conversation piece, you are bound to make your clients happier than if you try to change their minds. Focus on the challenge as it exists, rather than how easy it would be to ignore their wishes – or the piece of furniture in question. Think outside the box: Will the client allow you to refinish the piece? Could you paint it? Can you move the piece to an area that would deemphasize it?
  • Understand their dilemma – Empathy is far more useful than sympathy in a case like this one; or trying to convince them to change their minds. While you may not be able to identify with the reasons for their choice, you should be able to understand their need to keep grandma and the rest of the family happy. It’s not your job to psychoanalyze their motivation, but to make their living space comfortable and appealing – to them. If you really want to help them, you must stay focused on what you're doing for them, rather than why they want it done.

Unless the challenge is physically impossible, or when budgetary concerns interfere, there are actually very few “unrealistic expectations” for you to overcome. When tastes differ, as in this case, you must simply set yours aside.Ultimately, you have the choice to decline the job if you believe the task presented by the client is beyond your ability to satisfy. On the other hand, challenging yourself in such a situation may be exactly what you need from time to time, if you hope to grow as an interior designer. It never hurts to stretch yourself, accepting jobs that you might otherwise turn down due to creative differences with the client.Have you ever dealt with a situation like this? How were you able to overcome the challenge of clashing styles in a way that pleased your client?