The difficult client

Singapore, 31st May 2010

When we start a project with a new client we never know how easy or difficult the ride will be. Every project more or less starts out with the same ground rules, the fee proposal as you submitted to the client, which was either accepted and signed off as is or modified into a contract agreed and signed by all parties. Some companies (specifically the big multi nationals) have their own contracts and have a legal department doing nothing else then scrutinizing every little bit of legal documents. Sometimes their contracts come back with so many additions and clauses protecting themselves that you wonder whether you will survive this project in one piece. It is normally a sign of a difficult client… 

When things go well there is no real use for the contract, you do your work, the client is happy and pays. But it is when things go bad that suddenly the contract comes afore and arguments arise about its interpretation. The truth is we all start a project with certain assumptions. We, the lighting designers, in regards to our deliveries, and the client in regards to their expectations. As long as these are more or less in balance the project progresses in good spirit and with good communication any eventual disagreements can be resolved in good harmony.

Today I had a long and tedious 3 hour meeting with a “difficult” client. We presented “version 2’ of our lighting concept, after having incorporated most comments and feedback resulting from our round one presentation. We felt confident going into the meeting that we had addressed most issues, but somehow this client again found ways to pick on every little detail. It did not help that we were talking to engineers with little imagination let alone understanding the concept of design intent. I am sure some of you will relate to this.

The point that I am making is that it is important to understand and communicate with your client on all levels throughout the design process to eliminate misgivings and make sure expectations are met if not managed, specifically with difficult clients. Once you get off on the wrong foot it is hard to redress the situation. While we can stick to our truth, in the end the client is still king…..

31. May 2010 by Martin Klaasen
Categories: lighting design practice | 1 comment

One Comment

  1. Thats very true. Once you start on a back-foot its usually very difficult to make peace with difficult clients again. The complexity of politics within the project team only adds to the misery. But many a time, the rejection of a concept proposal is due to misunderstanding on the part of the audience and at other times its due to their pre-conceived notions. Very fixed ideas in a client’s head are very difficult to mould and change, but the client not understanding the design intent is most times due to lack of information. I don’t mean to generalise this instance, but in my short career this has been my observation. On one occasion our concept renderings and drawings were very well received, but when we submitted the concept report – the narrative got shot down! Then began an exercise of revising the narrative over and over again just to satisfy the client. This happened because – the top guys at the client’s organisation did not understand renderings or drawings, and could only understand the concept by reading about it. It was a very difficult period, because in spite of having made all the right moves, we were in an embarassing situation. Needless to say that we lost a lot of time, as we were only revising the report, and not the actual design. Also the concept design stage in most lighting design contracts is a very vauge description – atleast in the ones that I have seen. As you rightly said ‘the client is king’ and it only takes him to say ‘I don’t like it’ and your hard work is up for a toss. Its also very difficult to manage these situations, and to protect yourselves with any clause in your contract. Maybe I am wrong, and would certainly like to be corrected!!

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