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Opinion: Always get bad service? Maybe you’re a bad client

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Do you often get terrible service? Do outsourced projects constantly drag on past deadlines? Are vendor representatives impossible to reach and always take forever to get back to you? When was the last time you got a deliverable and thought, “They worked hard on this”?

If your answers are yeah, yes, definitely and never, you might be a bad client. Don’t get me wrong, there’s an increasing amount of awful service in the world. Due to burnout, poor training, bad days, broken software, runaway algorithms and worse reasons, bad service happens. It’s frustrating and can be detrimental to business.

On the flip side, what makes for a bad client? Everyone has ugly moments – both clients and service providers alike. We all have room for improvement.

Self-assessment / Traits to avoid
The following archetypes represent some of the worst traits that can crop up among clients.

  1. The Impatient Ghost. This person is impossible to reach, yet impossibly demanding. They don’t seem to notice that everyone else on planet earth is busy too.

We may have unique situations or seasons in our lives, but that does not mean we are so special that others should have to constantly chase us down to beg for the rare grace of our attention. If you agree to a project and expect good work from someone, it’s not unreasonable for them to expect a certain level of reliable access to you. If you can’t make time to collaborate, delegate or provide the feedback that a project requires, then don’t commit to that project. And definitely don’t expect stellar work completed on time.

  1. The Dunning-Kruger Micromanager. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias first identified by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger in 1999. It occurs due to an individual’s inability to recognize their own lack of skill, experience or knowledge in some area, paradoxically leading to inflated self-assessments. This type of client has no idea that they have no idea what they’re talking about, and they insist on micromanaging your time to ensure things get done their way, which is often the wrong way. Worse, these folks are often surrounded by echo chambers of their own opinions, so no one disagrees with them.

If you have the time, expertise and desire to do a project yourself, by all means, do it yourself. When you delegate, subcontract or outsource, your role is choosing the right person or team for the job and giving them clear goals and parameters, so they can do the job you’re paying them to do.

  1. The Scrooge. This client assumes the worst of everyone and gets the worst from everyone. They treat people as transactions to be made and prioritize profits or projects above all else. They see themselves as purely rational stoics, but most of the time they operate from a place of fear, anger or insecurity. Worst of all, they demand the best work for unreasonable rates, done yesterday. Bah, humbug!

I get it. Business is hard. It can make you jaded, if you let it. But you can choose to see the free market as a “Lord of the Flies” nightmare where the only rule is survival of the fittest, or you can choose to see it as a nuanced and complex system of interdependent human beings working to survive, find meaning and connect with each other.

  1. The Judgey Justice Stewart. In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Justice Potter Stewart famously used the phrase, “I know it when I see it,” describing a subjective definition of pornography. In this case, it’s used by picky clients who are either too lazy, indecisive or insecure to give clear direction for fear of sounding ignorant.

If you don’t know what you want, then lead from a level on which you do know what you want. You may not know what color, size, model, style, features, etc., you want in something, but you can communicate in terms you do understand: a price point, conversion rate, number of leads or customers, an amount spent per customer, a sentence, a settlement, etc. As leaders, we don’t have to know everything and shouldn’t pretend to. At least be honest and communicate your needs, wants and boundaries as you understand them. A good service provider will help you succeed from there.

The upside
Good clients pay well and on time. They may be demanding, but they’re also gracious and understanding. A good client ensures you have all you need to do your job in a way that meets their clearly defined goals within their clearly defined parameters. They treat people as people, not pawns, and they are loyal to good service. They know what they can do, and they hire people they trust and support to do what they cannot do.

So, the next time you switch providers for the umpteenth time, maybe try looking in the mirror and asking what you can do to be a better client this time. The results may surprise you.

Gabriel Cassady is co-owner of creative agency 2 Oddballs LLC. He can be reached at


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