Before we go any further, let’s be clear: no matter how good you, your product, or your services are, sooner or later one of your clients is going to be unhappy with you.
It’s better if we just accept that now.
Though unhappy clients are inevitable, it’s never fun or easy to deal with an unhappy client. You may want to curl up in a corner and cry or get a nervous tick at the sound of every phone ring, but your response to these clients can and will impact future business.
Remember, it IS possible to turn an unhappy client into a client-for life, so it’s best to knuckle down and address the issue quickly rather than neglect…and ruin…the relationship.
How customers become unhappy
We’ve all been there, right – wondering how a relationship went south so quickly.
Nine times out of ten the reason for an unhappy client is poor communication.
Generally speaking, communication starts really well but disintegrates over a period of time due to a series of minor mistakes on both sides. At some point, your client forgets he came to you for advice – and that to err is human.
Instead, he starts believing you should meet all of his demands. (Like yesterday.) This is a critical point in your working relationship and how you handle this situation will greatly impact the probability of a good outcome.
Pro tip! Being able to communicate clearly and professionally over the long-term is key to your success, potentially more important than any aspects about your product or service.
How to deal with an unhappy client
The first step is to identify and address the issue at hand.
Never ignore a client who is unhappy. Find out what the problem is.
The longer you put this off, the harder it will be to resolve.
(Most people try to avoid confrontation, but confronting an issue head on also means that you’re one step closer to the resolution. Additionally, it shows your client that you take his problem seriously.)
Secondly, find out how your client would like his issue resolved.
Can you go back to a previous revision? Can you communicate more regularly? Can you offer a discount for missing a deadline?
By listening to what your client wants, you demonstrate once again that you take your client seriously and are willing (within reason) to put his needs first. And be preemptive with solutions: don’t ask your client how to do something differently; suggest it yourself.
But what if we can’t find a solution?
If you can’t resolve the issue initially, never be afraid to ask for advice. A mentor, peer, or someone from the Millo community may offer a brand new perspective.
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Also, adding a new point of contact may help the unhappy client reset.
More often than not, just changing the point of contact helps the client reset by allowing him to vent, ultimately getting both parties back on track.
Example: in the rare instance that a client and I are at an impasse, I introduce my business partner as a mediary. He can enter the scenario as the “nice guy,” taking a more understanding approach.
Finally, if you just can’t resolve the issue, walk away knowing you did everything you could (because you did, right?). Do this in a professional manner and explain your reasons for not being able to resolve the problem without being accusatory.
If at all possible, try to refer the client to someone else within your network who may be better suited to handle his needs.
How to avoid miscommunication
Always remember that most problems stem from miscommunication. Hence, pay particular attention to your communication methods.
Here are some tips to help you avoid miscommunication from the get-go or while you’re in the midst of conflict-resolution:
- Maintain a personal connection with your client. Know something about him that isn’t strictly business-related so he feels valued and thinks of you as a warm person.
- While email certainly makes our lives easier, sometimes the message, tone, or intent just can’t be delivered properly; if this means picking up the phone, then do it.
- Give yourself plenty of time to make a calm and collected reply.
How do you cope with an unhappy client?
We’ve all got our nightmare client stories, but remember, unhappy clients are inevitable.
(That doesn’t mean you have to start a client fail blog to vent your frustration, though. Take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and try to resolve the situation.)
If you’ve felt the anxiety associated with an unhappy client, I’m always looking for new ways to cope, so please add your advice in the comments!
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