What to Do When They’re Unhappy
There are times when no matter what you do, how hard you work or how many things you have done right, you will have unhappy clients.
In most cases this happens for one of three reasons or a combination of them:
1 – Clashing Personalities;
2 – A lapse in communication;
3 – A failure to manage client expectations.
In my little world, while I currently have great clients that are willing to work with me I have dealt with clientele who aren’t sure what they want or more to the fact, what they don’t want, and this can lead to a bookkeeper and a client looking at financials without a real understanding of how the data is input.
The most important thing is how we, as a company, deal with it. Now-a-days, through various social media, clients can voice their anger and disappointment to a wide audience of people online. It is increasingly vital, knowing this, that we deal with every difficult situation with skill, dignity and honour. During this blog, I will be talking about dealing with unhappy clients and how I try to use the lessons I have learned to help build my business.
When you first receive a complaint, it can feel like a slap in the face or a punch in the gut, especially if you believed everything to be fine. My initial instinct is to get defensive and angry or upset. It is crucial that you don’t even try to deal with the situation until you’ve calmed down – you don’t want to respond “in the moment” or you might say something that you will later regret.
Instead, take some deep breaths. Go discuss with a colleague and get all of your anger off of your chest. Remind yourself not to take the client’s complaint personally. No matter what, resist any urges to post passive-aggressive rage on social media.
Once a client is unhappy, they want to know that you have acknowledged there is an issue and that you are willing to take the necessary steps to solve it. When a client raises an issue, make it your priority to get things corrected and to the best of your abilities, meet the client’s expectations where possible.
Send them an email, or, if the timing allows, call them and speak to them in person as soon as possible and let them know that you hear their words and you are working to resolve the issue. Even ask them to clarify anything that you are not clear on. Never assign any blame or offer excuses, just yet – focus on establishing good communication from the beginning.
Acknowledge and Apologize
This is something that is not easily done depending on your personality type but offering a timely and sincere apology will often go a long way toward resolving an issue. If you have apologized, it often discourages the client from continuing to pursue the complaint – after all, you have acknowledged their issue and owned up to the mistake(s) that you have made which is usually what someone wants.
On the other side, it isn’t always wise to apologize for things that are out of your control. Often times apologizing isn’t about admitting that you are wrong, but more about acknowledging the client’s feelings (eg. “I am sorry you are not happy with the draft”). Having the ability to be cautious with your words will help you in this area. For example, if a printer (outside contractor) has messed up your client’s order, then saying something like “I am so sorry this has happened. We use this printer all of the time and have never had any issues like this before.”
Offer a Solution
Once the acknowledgement has been made, you now have to start working toward a solution. In order to do this, you are going to have ascertain exactly what the client wants. You will also find that in most cases, this isn’t what they claim to be upset about. And sometimes, the answer will be obvious, but in other cases, you will have to do some digging. Ask multiple questions, listen attentively to the client rather than talk, and figure out if you can drill down to the core of the issue.
Even if the issue is not your fault, offer a solution. The client will not care about “laying blame” for the issue – they will however, remember the way that the issue was resolved. To add onto the printer issue for example, you could say something like, “I will put my meeting for today on hold until I can find a new printer that will be able to properly handle your project. I will call you at 3pm with an update on the progress.”
Cut Your Losses
Often times, a solution to the client issues will eat into your bottom line. This is unfortunate, and it usually means that you won’t be making as much money on the file. Even though it’s tough, you need to cut your losses for the future gain – by resolving the issue and turning something negative into positive experiences, you will find that you are going to gain more than you have lost in the grand scheme.
Any client that has had issues successfully dealt with feel as though they can count on you – and will often tend to be more loyal and more open to voice their opinions unlike clients that have never had any issues. If you can successfully resolve an issue, it can lead to additional referrals and more work in the futre.
You will not be able to fix every issue though. Sometimes you will have clients who just want to be difficult and bring up issues where there are none. Quite often there will be a personality clash that just cannot be resolved. In these instances, it would be better for you to “cut your losses” again and pass the client onto someone else. Once done, chalk it up to a lesson learned and do your best to “bounce back” and recover from any potential “bad press”.
Review and Take Stock
When you have an unhappy client, after you have dealt with them it is very important to take stock of your current processes and techniques and look for ways to improve so that the issue doesn’t arise again.
A very common problem experienced is around clients’ expectations of the work to be done. If this process isn’t clearly stated at the onset, clients can often press for an entire reworking of the project before completion. Another issue is that clients don’t understand what exactly is included in their package. This is another area where clear expectations from the onset of the working relationships is so important. Open and honest communication is important from the beginning which will ensure that both you and your client are on the same page.
Clearing up contract, working, re-working processes and establishing reporting can prevent the same mistakes happening in the future.
These are all things that I need to remind myself of when I have an unhappy client. It is very true that you will not be able to please everyone or meet their expectations all of the time. What is important for us to remember is what we learn from each experience, what we take away from them, and how we improve.
Scott Caslick, CEO/Founder