unhappy clients

How do you handle an unhappy client?

Everybody has heard the old saying, “the customer is always right.” When you work in the service industry, your clients are your most important resource, and alienating them could mean disaster for your business. But customers are not always reasonable, and sometimes you come up against one who’s unhappy with you and your work, and not always for a good reason. How can you get out of a bad situation with a dissatisfied customer?

We asked our experts for their advice on resolving client conflicts. They had a lot of great suggestions that you can implement in your company right away. Keeping these tips in mind will ensure that your business runs a lot smoother, and that those bad apples don’t ruin your whole client base.

Clearly Define Expectations

The biggest reason customers become dissatisfied is when the job you are doing does not match the job they pictured in their head. This isn’t your fault, but it can be avoided with clear lines of communication. As Kahshanna Evans explains,

“…the number one culprit for unhappy clients is unrealistic expectations. … It’s important to let them know their concerns are valued. Having a candid dialogue and offering reminders are useful for clients who may have forgotten key details about the agreed on terms and plan.”

Establishing clear ground rules and a plan that you can refer to will save you a lot of he-said-she-said headaches.

Ask How You Can Help

When you’re confronted with an angry or accusatory person, it’s easy to get defensive and want to fight back. If you do, though, you’re putting your company’s reputation at risk. It is far better to hold your tongue and ask what you can do to fix the situation, even if it isn’t your fault. Jennifer Scully says,

“When the customer is unreasonable, demanding, nasty or the solution is unclear, I always like to ask my client, “What can I do to make you happy?” or “How would you like to see this resolved?” If their response is something reasonable, consider it done. If they are asking for too much or something impossible, I thank them for the opportunity and move on.”

A happy customer is more valuable than your ego. But remember to walk away if the situation is truly toxic.

Recognize the Situation as an Opportunity

It would be nice if all customer interactions were positive ones, but it’s the bad situations that give you an opportunity to prove yourself. A happy customer might hire you again, but an unhappy customer who you turned into a delighted customer will refer their friends. According to expert Matthew Kettner,

“…it doesn’t truly matter what you did to get in the situation where a customer is unhappy, but it defines your character and your companies character on what you do after the fact. No individual or company is perfect.”

See the conflict as an opportunity, and stay optimistic. If you can turn the situation around, the benefits will be far greater than if the customer had just been run-of-the-mill satisfied.

Aim For Neutral

Not all unhappy clients are going to be possible to placate. Sometimes you run up against someone who is just not happy with anything you do. In these situations, it can be frustrating to try to make them happy, so it’s better to aim for a more achievable goal–neutral. Jill Banks explains,

“If I have a difficult situation with a client, I always try to at least get them to neutral–they may not hire me again…but they’re not so dissatisfied that they feel the need to act. … On those rare occasions when a client is unlikely to be satisfied, I do whatever I need to to preserve my reputation, even if it means discounting the service, re-doing the work, or issuing a refund.”

A bad customer review can really cripple your business. When the situation is un-salvageable, do whatever you can to ensure that the client is not so unhappy that they will bad mouth you on social media.

Empower Your Employees

If you work in a public service industry, chances are most of your employees interact with the public at some point. When a problem arises, it’s important that they are just as well versed as you are in how to peaceably resolve situations. Mark Puglisi explains,

“When you empower your employees to resolve conflict, it keeps them invested and rewards them with the ability to resolve it rather than hand the phone to the boss and say “here, I can’t make them happy”. Handling complains is a skill that comes with practice unfortunately, but if you never have to deal with complaints and just hand them off, this can be a factor in generating complaints.”

Your employees can cause problems with clients, but they can also help resolve them. Strengthening everybody’s public relations skills will help you in the long run.