Uh-oh! Seven Steps to Deal with an Unhappy Client

thumb-downIt can happen to the best of us: a client is disappointed with the work we turned it. Perhaps we completely missed what they said they wanted. Or, maybe we’ve been tired and didn’t produce stellar work. Maybe said client was having a bad day.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line is, your client is unhappy with your work. You’re at the brink of losing this client and everybody else he would have referred to you.

All is not lost. In fact, if you handle the situation correctly, you could end up with a client who respects and admires you even more.

What to Do

Here are seven steps you can follow next time this unfortunate event happens:

  1. Calm down. Getting a complaint from a client is like getting slapped in the face. Your first reaction will be to get upset, offended and defensive. This can lead you to respond without thinking in such a way that you will most surely regret. So, the first thing to do is to calm down. Take deep breaths. Remind yourself not to take the client’s complaint personally. Do whatever it takes to tame your passions and regain a level-headed composure.
  2. Apologize and acknowledge your client’s feelings. I’m not talking about acting like a doormat. What I mean is being humble enough to accept responsibility for the situation. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry you didn’t like the drafts.” Take note, you’re not saying it’s your fault. However, you are showing empathy for your client’s feelings… which will help him or her calm down. Any conflict situation is better when everybody is calm, so these first steps are crucial. Now that everybody’s calm, it’s time for the next step.
  3. Identify the real problem. Ask questions to find out what your client is really unhappy with. Don’t be satisfied with statements like “I just don’t like it!” Get specifics. Ask for examples.
  4. Find out what the client really wants. Go over all relevant communication with your client. Ask more questions, until you’re sure you know 100% exactly what your client wants. Sometimes, we proceed with a project thinking one thing when in reality, we misunderstood our client’s wishes. Make sure you have your client’s expectations down pat. And double-check by saying, “I understand you want XYZ to achieve (end goal). Did I get that right?”
  5. Make the situation better. Now that you have a clear picture of the problem and where your client wants to go, do what you can to help your client get there. Offer to rewrite the piece, or go back to the drawing board. Even if you lose money by doing this, it’s still a worthwhile endeavor. You will lose more in the long run by having a client who stays unhappy with your work. It could really hurt your reputation. So do whatever you can to solve the situation for them. Sometimes, it may be impossible to please your client. Maybe your style just doesn’t fit with their expectations. When all else fails, offer a refund and steer them in the direction of another freelancer who can meet their needs. This solution isn’t a good one for your client, either. They’ve lost time on their project and possibly some money. However, by doing everything humanly possible to meet their needs, you can still salvage your relationship.
  6. Get feedback. After you’ve revised, redrafted or started over, get your client’s feedback promptly. More often than not, they’ll be happy with your second try.
  7. Take stock. After all the drama has died down and the situation is resolved, it’s time to take stock. What can you learn from the situation? What can you do differently to avoid the situation from happening again? What can you do differently the next time it does happen? Take the time to reflect on what happened. That’s how you become a master in client relations. It’s never fun to hear from a client who’s unhappy with our work. However, if you handle the situation with maturity and genuine concern for your client, you can both come out of the situation with a more positive relationship. Above, I’ve outlined a seven-step strategy for dealing with unhappy clients.

What If It Happened to You?

Have you ever had an unhappy client? If so, how did you manage the situation? Do you have additional advice for your fellow freelancers?

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