The Client From Hell

The Client From Hell

First Unhappy Client Ever

Many people go to great lengths to assure that they find the right web designer/developer for their project and rightly so. However have you ever as a business owner and client, stopped to wonder ‘if you are a good client or the client from hell?’ In many years as a web design/developer, I’m more used to new clients contacting me as their previous web designer had let them down than fielding a complaint (the first one ever) about myself and services!

As a client, it’s important that you are as up front and as detailed as possible about your project and expectations and that you are clear and realistic about your budget when you approach a web design/developer initially. In other words, think things through carefully and take on board everything that your web designer explains to you during the planning, discussion and quotation phase. If for any reason you feel unhappy about the way your project is panning out as the project unfolds, you need to run through a quick check list to determine why you are unhappy. Think very carefully about your project and ask yourself  ‘am I being reasonable here?’, before condemning your web designer out of hand.

In 2010 I had a client approach me who had no web design/development knowledge, even less knowledge of the Internet or about SEO (which is not unusual or a problem as a good web developer can inform and guide you), a very low budget but very big plans & dreams, which I admired at the time! The client showed me several top industry websites in the field that were interested in, very complicated and feature rich powerful and complex websites. These sites would have cost the companies a minimum of £20k to have built, would need to employ at the very least part-time developer to keep them running, and require a team of admins to take care of the site on a daily basis. The websites shown also made extensive use of third party services supplied by an SMS company, made use of the Royal Mail DB (at a license fee of some £5k per year just to name a few extras the sites employed.

The client informed me that they didn’t have that kind of budget and also had no need for the excessive (in their view) extra expensive functionality, bells and whistles on the example sites. They explained that they simply wanted a simplified website ‘along the lines’ of the example sites shown, that was easy for one person to run in a max of 20/3- minutes per day  (needing the site as automated as possible) and knew that with their budget of just £1k, that they would not get an ‘identical site‘ in any form or anything close to the same functionality but would dearly love a site in the same genre – just scaled back to what was for them, a realistic level.

Now what this client requested is not an unusual request, I get similar requests on a regular basis, take on the project after lengthy discussions and agreements have taken place and end up with a very happy client at the end of the project in every case until now. The client, when asked about colour schemes and the exact functionality required was very relaxed about the whole thing and exclaimed that I was the expert, they knew nothing about all that and were quite happy for me to run with ‘whatever I felt was best‘ and declared that they would be happy with the outcome! Now as much as it is nice to be given such a free reign, I did not feel completely comfortable without having some more detailed direction, preference expressed and ‘must have’ functionality clearly stated by the client, so extensive discussions were entered into for the next two weeks by phone and email to try to determine this, even though the client was reluctant to take this time and pressed the point that they were short of time and happy to go with ‘whatever’ I thought best.

The client remained very relaxed about everything and very jovial about the project throughout this time and they did eventually state half a dozen ‘must have functions‘ and stated that any other functionality that I could add as an addition, would simply be a bonus. The client seemed very reasonable and easy going. The client paid a deposit and the project got under way. I offered them a years free web hosting and free training in the admin area of their site so they could administer their highly interactive website once finished. To keep their cost down the client stated and it was agreed that they would be providing all their own content, text etc. The client also told me that they had applied for their Paypal merchant services account (which the site would need to take payments) and details would be given to me in a day or two.

As I always want to see my client businesses do well, I have to admit that I worked hard and spent many extra unpaid hours adding free additions and extra functionality to the site for them. Work that I had not quoted for, and would not be charging the client for either. Why? Simple because I wanted to help them! The website was finished in due course and revealed to the client for approval. The client loved the website and at the time were very grateful for all the free extras that I had included and the client approved the site wholeheartedly, so we were both happy. I had included free sample text, a Privacy Policy etc too. The client loved the free logo, site design, layout, colours and functions. Training was booked in for two day later (when the client had time and they had given me the Paypal merchant details to add on site which I was still waiting for) and all was going swimmingly. The client agreed to pay the balance after the training as previously agreed and all was well. The client was so pleased that they immediately started to talk about getting me to build them other websites in addition right away.

Two days later, I was contacted by a ‘third person’ that I had never heard of until that point. This person was in ‘some way‘ connected to the client and launched straight into a diatribe of what they considered to be ‘wrong with the site‘. They did not approve of the colour, they had compared the website to the £20k websites that were used as an example and concluded that the site didn’t have all the exact same features etc and sent me a 4 pages long list of ‘pointers’ demanding I add extra functions, content, and lots of bells and whistles never previously discussed or charged for. Their manner and tone left a lot to be desired. To say I was floored is not descriptive enough. Whilst it is not unusual to have a round of small revisions once a client first sees a site it is outlandish for a third party to contact me, demand the whole project is redone and start demanding identical features and functionality to that of a £20k site be added to a £1k site free of charge by me and ‘immediately‘!

I contacted the ‘actual client’ who was kind of sheepish now and said I should ‘now’ take direction from their ‘partner’ over the project! Two weeks of emails, nasty phone and text messages followed from ‘the pair’ making ridiculous demands and threats. They had now decided that they were going to have a ‘£20-30k websites, provided by me for “1k” (they conceded to paying a mere £500 extra for the £10k of extras” and extra months of work that this would take because if the sheer amount of extra include at their ‘new’ demands. Such as ‘free addition of a third party SMS services, the £5k Royal Mail DB services (without them having to pay the license fee for it to Royal Mail), free site content etc. All in all they were insisting on having some £30k worth of website and services for “£1.5k” Their demands were clearly ridiculous and impossible to meet. They then claimed that the website payment system was faulty, leading me to spend many additional hours trying to find out why it was not now working as it had previously during my testing phase, only to find out that the website payment system was in fact working and that the issue lay with the client ‘failing‘ to activate their Paypal Merchant Account (which they swore that they had done) I applied all reasonable changes requested and painstakingly explained why their demands could not be met. At this point, they conceded and paid the balance for the website to me, I fully handed over their website to them but that was not to be the end of the matter.

They then contacted me again, informed me that they were going to hire ‘someone else‘ who was going to ‘rip down and steal‘ a copy of one of the example websites that they had shown me (which they started to reefer to as a donor site) and simply slap their business name on it and that they were also going to spam people and give out their websites clients private data to people for a fee. They also wanted to ‘keep’ the website they I had made for them (as they decided and informed me that it was now their intellectual property right) ‘and’ obtain a full refund from me. On top of this, they would be keeping the free web hosting I had given them as a gesture and would be doing all of the above on and from my web hosting!

I have not counted just how many laws the above actions would brake…clearly I could and would not allow this on/or happening from my web hosting. All of the actions stated are against every law abiding web hosts terms and conditions. I informed them that because of their news plans, I was withdrawing my offer of free/or/paid web hosting and that I was happy to send them a zipped copy of their website that they could move to other hosting as they now had 7 days to remove their website. I refused to ‘fully refund them’ as the agreed work and more had been completed as agreed previously and they had confirmed that they were happy with what I had done and every single aspect pf the website was in good working order.

They got ‘someone else’ to take their website from the hosting for safe keeping and then proceeded to make all manner of threats citing the goods and services act, telling me that I had broken my contract with them by revoking the free web hosting etc. They threatened to take me to court also. To which I had to reply that it was their right to do so. I would not hesitate to provide the same response again under these circumstances. As I truly believe bullies should be stood up to – every time.

Well they did in fact take me to court! A three hour hearing was set (which went to four hours on the day) and I had no choice but to defend myself. The ‘clients’ came into court armed with every emails and communication that had taken place etc which was not a problem at all and helped my case and not theirs. It was clear that they were very comfortable in court and had probably done similar many times before in my opinion…

Long story short, the judge found that I had been ‘very reasonable’ and amenable throughout’ showing patients, good business practice and tolerance. He found that I had explained everything fully to the clients throughout and had acted correctly. He also determined that the clients were trying to ‘bully out of me’ out of at least £20k plus worth of work for a mere £1.500 and he dismissed their ‘case’ and I of course won.

It is hard to say if this client set out to defraud me or if they simply got ‘carried away’, in the very worst possible sense. However, it is worth bearing in mind as a client that when you contact, receive a detailed quote and start a project with a web designer and developer that you agreed to a quote and a ‘certain specified‘ amount of work performed for your project and that is all that you are entitled to from the web designer.

If the web designer decides to throw in some extra free bonuses gratis – fantastic. Accept them with good grace and move on. What you should not do as a client is demand thousands of pounds worth of extras and free work, bully, threaten and generally be unreasonable towards your web designer for no good reason as this kind of behaviour will get you no where with your project – or in front of a judge in court, should you decide to take things to that extreme! Before anything reaches this unpleasant pitch, check that you are being reasonable and not just getting carried away and becoming the client from hell yourself.

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