Don’t Be a “Harry”

That isn’t his real name. But we’ll call him “Harry” (no offense to anyone named “Harry”).

He seemed like a nice guy. Eager to get started with the project. We proceeded to install the site and work on the design. “I like this style” he said. We created that style. “Change that.” We changed it. This is normal. Harry liked to email every morning, demanding a status update for the day. This isn’t normal, but we replied anyway.

Harry also liked browsing the web, looking at his competitor’s websites and at other service provider websites. And it gave him ideas. Soon he began saying things like, “This site has THAT. I want it too.” Never mind that that business owner paid tens of thousands for their site, and his was a budget site. I made changes to the design when possible – some were deep coding changes, very difficult to do. One month into the project, the time was already over what we normally spend on a flat rate project. He added in another saying, “This site has THAT, and it will look great on my site!”. I’m sure it would, if he had the budget to afford it. When I protested, he said, “But you said satisfaction guaranteed, you have to do it!” I said, “I also said there were limits, and I’d tell you when you hit them, and this is one.”

With flat rate projects, setting limits is always subjective. If we have a motive for being willing to try something (so we can learn how to do it if it is new), or if we think the results may be terrific and look good in our portfolio, we may go beyond what is typically reasonable, and make exceptions. Project creep has a different meaning here, and it is always hard to know where to draw lines. If they are small things, we usually just shrug and do them.

With this client though, small things never STAYED small things. Harry liked to change his mind. And he wasn’t very good at making decisions either. “Let me see it this way.” “No, I guess I liked it better the first way.” “Change that color.” “Change it some more.” “Ok, that’s good.” “No, wait, I guess I don’t like it after all.” A simple thing would take DAYS to get exactly how he wanted it. He fussed over 1 pixel differences, the length of gradients, the precise angle of things, the thickness, the shade of the colors in a bevel, the depth of the shadow. EVERY single aspect of every single element was subjected to minute examination and criticism.

We really do try to please our clients. But Harry’s demands never ended. When he was informed that his home page content was part of Phase 2, and not part of Phase 1, he complained that if the content was not in, how could he tell the design was good? He demanded more and more, refused to pay the second Phase fee, and kept changing his mind. We have never, in more than 10 years of web design, EVER had a pickier, more demanding, more indecisive client. He didn’t just set a new record, he was so far beyond any other client demands that I doubt we’ll ever see his equal.

Our graphic designer created a logo for him. A painstaking process that took a week before he was satisfied – understand, he started by telling her EXACTLY what he wanted. She created EXACTLY that, and he still fussed, and agonized over the placement, shape, size, and edging on every single item, even becoming crude at one point. He finally declared it finished. One week later, he went back to her and told he he wanted something else instead – no mention to us that he was doing so, no mention to her of any kind of compensation for doing so. I think he thought we’d pay for it. When things finally fell apart (a month later) he was still picking and fussing over the second logo.

Two months into the project he began to complain. Why weren’t we done yet? How much longer was it going to take? I told him that as long as he had additional things for us to do, and as long as they were technically complex, it would take time. He began demanding a deadline. I told him that unless he could tell me definitively when he’d be satisfied, I could not tell him when we’d be done.

His demands begin to get silly – “I don’t have a link to my blog, just put in a dummy so I can see what it looks like.”, and “Don’t put the image on the site, email it to me so I can see it first.” That, even though the site isn’t live yet so there is NO reason not to put it up, and if I DID email it to him, he’d just say, “I don’t know, let me see it on the site.” On a frugal contract, every bit of wasted time counts, and he loved wasting time. He’d often say, “I don’t know which I like, make both and let me see.”

By now, I’m feeling dread each time I check my email. I’m waking up feeling dread over working because of him. I’m behind on my other clients because of the time he is taking. There were many reasons why we let it go on that long – partly because I gained some valuable reusable code from his requests, partly because it always seemed each was the last. I still sort of felt he was basically a nice guy, just indecisive and a penny pincher because of the industry he was in.

Then one morning he demanded a deadline, said that I WOULD give him one, and that I’d finish it up within this amount of time.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, business is good, and by now I’m thinking a refund will be a relief. I no longer care whether I please this client or not. I just want it to end, one way or another. I emailed back and said that there were three things left to finish. I would do them, and then I was DONE with Phase 1. Nothing more. That he could pay for Phase 2, or not. If he did pay for Phase 2, I would limit the time available. He replied that I could not do that, that the contract stated that satisfaction was guaranteed and that I had to do what he said.

Up until that point, I still thought he was just basically an indecisive, but decent person. At this point, it became clear to me that he was a manipulator, who had intended from the outset to try to push a low budget contract into a high end service by being demanding. I don’t like to believe bad of people. But his actions since then have left me little other conclusion.

Primarily the fact that he takes no responsibility for his own actions. He made choices, and those choices had consequences. When the consequences were not what he wanted, it was someone else’s fault. That is classic for manipulators.

This is NOT a typical response for our clients. We have VERY few clients who request refunds. If we had a lot – or if we had a lot of clients who complained of the things he was complaining of, I’d know we had something to fix.

He now informed me that I could not change the contract in the middle. I pointed to the termination clause, and said, “Yes, I can.” The contract allows me to terminate the contract in writing – he has the same right. He then has three choices – he can renegotiate for another phase, or he can go elsewhere and take it with him, or he can request a refund and have no rights to any of the items created so far. After sending that email, he disappeared for several weeks. I finished what I said I’d finish, and moved on with life. He has since requested a refund, demanding more than what is covered in the contract. We will issue what IS covered in the contract. His stated reasons for requesting the refund are unreasonable delays, lack of communication (daily emails weren’t enough), and failure to deliver a satisfactory result. Ummmmm Yeah…..

This client was the all time most difficult to deal with for us. So much so that his behavior has become an example in our training classes (name withheld), for spotting and dealing with difficult clients. His inability to make a choice, his unwillingness to be satisfied, and his inability to accept the consequences of his own choices caused problems that we, as service providers, dislike having to deal with – they are costly and emotionally difficult to deal with. Among our subcontractors, his name is legendary – they all know him by his first name, and when someone is being difficult, they will say, “I hope this isn’t another Harry.”, or if they are picky but not unmanageable, “At least this isn’t a Harry.” Sad, really.

The moral? When things are breaking down around you, and you are looking for someone to blame, look to yourself first. See what your part was in contributing to the problem – I recognize that I gave in at times when I should have set a limit early on with this client, but I also know there was little else I could have done to avoid things getting ugly. If things keep breaking down on you, and “People” keep failing to meet your expectations, it may be your expectations that are the issue. Own your part of the problem, and do something about it.

It is pretty sad to become the bad example, to have your name known and remembered with a shudder.

Don’t be a Harry.

4 Responses to Don’t Be a “Harry”

  • Jason says:

    Ohh how i can relate to this article. You are right, defining boundaries at the outset and defining that changes outside the project will be at an hourly rate usually is enough to snap it back into control. I have had many Harry’s in my time and can relate to the time wasting taking away energy from other clients. Im sure it was nothing to do with your skills or the quality of your work. It is like a customer of a mechanic coming in and saying, hey i want to have three wheels on the front of the car because i saw a car down the street with one…you know it isnt going to work, it will look awful, but you then have a choice RIGHT THEN… say NO and give a reason, with an alternative. I have found that pandering to every three versions of every change and deep code changes can be nipped in the bud by using some authority, having confidence in the work you do and the skills you have to say, look if you want three wheels on the front of your car, people will point at you because you look silly, and it will likely make you drive into a tree. It is a waste of money and my time. I have fanaticised about pulling the pin shutting down their site and giving their money back, but a business cant survive that way.

    Have the confidence and authority to say “I wouldn’t recommend that” and have the confidence to say why it is a poor choice when it so clearly is. Maybe clarifying what satisfaction guaranteed really means – you can never please everyone and there will always be a Harry….Always! 🙂

  • Laura says:

    I am fairly bold with my clients about things that I won’t recommend. I have turned down work for things that were dumb, or that would have hurt the business that was asking for them. I’ll always explain to a client when they want something that is a bad idea – though a few just don’t believe me, and want it anyway.

    This particular client was completely unreal though, and we were in the process of developing some reusable code, so I let him push some things more than I usually would. He bailed on the contract, we issued a refund, but we had some code from it that has proven useful.

    Manipulators always have the potential to warp someone – the trick is spotting them earlier. He did give me an education in that, and we have adapted our contract because of him.

  • Sno says:

    In my short professional life dealing with computer clients, I have, thankfully, only had two “Harrys.”

    In both cases, I ended up spending at least four times as long as the project should have taken. because they were too impatient to wait for a hardware recommendation and went out and bought stuff with no idea as to whether it was compatible with what they had or not. And, when I finished and submitted the bill for the project (which was understood, ahead of time, would be based on an hourly rate), both complained about the amount of the bill.

    One did pay the full amount billed, but then continued to call me for quite some time after. (He’d bought a hard drive for his laptop that was twice as big as his BIOS would support, and there was no updated BIOS to support that big a drive. So I partitioned the drive and told him that — when Dell wrote an updated BIOS that would support it — we could change it. He kept calling me because his computer couldn’t see the full hard-drive. Wull, duh….) I stopped answering his calls. Thank goodness for Caller-ID.

    The other Harry had the nerve to explain to me that “sometimes you just have to cut your losses and take the hit.” He offered to pay 1/10th of the bill. I took his check, and I’m sure he was completely confused when I stopped answering his calls, too. (Hey, I’d already “cut my losses and taken the hit” with him once, what did he expect?)

    But the funniest thing is that they were both attorneys. For most things, attorneys charge an hourly rate. But I doubt if either one of them would have spent four times as long as something should have taken — because of my impatience — and then allowed ME to tell them how much they should have billed me.

  • Laura says:

    More than a year after making this post – “Harry” still has no website.

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