unhappy clients

How to Handle an Unhappy Client

When you work in a service industry, like most of our home experts do, your clients are the most important part of your business. Keeping them happy is what keeps your company afloat, and it’s important to always take their needs into consideration. Unfortunately, sometimes you encounter a customer who just can’t be satisfied, no matter what you do or how well you perform. How do you deal with an unhappy client?

Why We’re Asking

Of course it’s important to do everything in your power to keep your clients happy and satisfied, but there are always going to be mix-ups. You can’t make everyone happy all the time; that’s the nature of the business. Knowing how to handle an unhappy client can save you a lot of stress, and potentially prevent the situation from escalating.

So tell us, experts:

How do you handle an unhappy client?

What things are clients most often dissatisfied with?
Can you recall a time when you were able to defuse a potentially negative situation with a client?
Have you ever had to close an account because of a client’s bad attitude?

Working in the service industry can be pretty challenging when the clients aren’t cooperating. We look forward to hearing how you handle these tricky customers!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • Mark Puglisi 05/28/13

    We all would like to think that we can make every experience a happy one, but then again we know that is just not possible. There are many reasons people become “not happy”. Most situations can be avoided by making sure communication is clear and you listen to what your client wants or is looking for and make sure they understand what they can expect when you complete the transaction.

    Listening skills are as important as your product or service and require your utmost attention, this is why we have two ears and one mouth. Yes, I have had those customers that I felt noting is going to make them happy, especially when they become abusive and rude on the phone. No one wants their employee to have to endure this type of behaviour, and as an employer, we have an obligation to not subject them to a “hostile environment, and need to intervene these rare calls. Thank goodness these are few and far between for the most part. I have had my share over the 35 years of challenging issues to try and resolve if something didn’t go as promised.

    I look at complaints as an opportunity. Many people just go away when they are happy, some go to the Social Media sites to express their side, but when they come back to you to complain, then you have an opportunity to not only meet their expectation, but to exceed it. Most companies do a pretty good job providing their service or product, but the test comes when you don’t. I’ve learned that if something goes wrong, then the true test of a company is in the resolving phase. Now does this always end on a happy note, of course not. Giving your staff the authority to do whatever is required to make the client happy is important. When you discover that you have an issue that needs to be resolved, that should be done with the one that receives the complaint, rather than passing it off to someone else, even if they are above you in the business chain of command.

    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. If you are the one that will resolve it, you can also be the one that avoids it.

  • Surrey Plumber 05/28/13

    We all experience an unhappy customer at one point or another. It’s important to really listen to what the client is saying and figure out if it points to a place where we can improve business processes. Without customers, we won’t be in business… so it’s in everyone’s best interest to investigate and respond thoughtfully!

  • Kahshanna Evans 05/28/13

    In my experience the number one culprit for unhappy clients is unrealistic expectations. Added to that external unanticipated circumstances such as changes in search engine algorithms or drastic changes in market trends can complicate the strategy that has been honed for months.

    Having a client express dissatisfaction can be an opportunity to let them know their concerns are valuable. When I revisit the strategy we have begun to execute it’s a good idea to let clients know where they began and where they currently are. They are often under the marketing gun and when plans are impacted by changes it can create anxiety if variables cause progression to slow. 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. Clients have a right to be unhappy and opinionated but the current trend in best practices seem to be based on exchanging ideas, collaboration and narrative intelligence. According to author Peter Shankman, Nice Companies Finish First, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0230341896/ref=cm_sw_su_dp.

    I responded to a client who was highly alarmed and very reactive after reviewing a draft of the next incarnation of a larger plan. I immediately reassured her that I felt clear we were on track and informed her I took her concerns with the utmost consideration. I then updated her about her choices and remind her how much money we saved in the approach that momentarily activated her worry. I answered each concern and assured her we still had the option to use more budget should it become available. Without a substantial budget the client realized the best option was to continue the current plan. Valuing her viewpoint, offering her reminders and a review of our proposal was helpful in securing her trust again.

    Obstacles should be tackled by the team and common interests should inspire success. The beauty of developing professional relationships is keeping clear lines of communication even when tempers run high. A professional exchange should focus on strategy and solutions and should stay candid. Personally, I think we are in an era where being contrary may be a challenge we can all surmount but downright disrespect should not be tolerated. Feedback can be silver lining but there’s something to be said about not renewing a client if they are not a right fit.

  • Joseph Molluso 05/28/13

    What many people dont realize is that people are like snowflakes. You see, some people are very picky, while others are very simple. If i have learned anything in my 20 years of owning my own business its one thing, You just cant please everyone and run a successful business at the same time. I know it sounds silly, but when it comes to a service business you have to deal with the general public who may not be educated in your area of expertise. They do not have the experience you have plain and simple.
    Our policy at Northeastern Exterminating is to do everything in our power so make our customers smile. Sometimes we realize not everyone is easy to please. Its just a part of life and unfortunately you have to just do your very best!

  • Jennifer Scully 05/29/13

    As an interior designer and furniture store owner, I am often working side-by-side with my clients inside their private spaces. It’s a personal and sometimes emotional experience and sometimes things don’t go as planned.

    Couples don’t often agree, homeowners want to control every detail, workers don’t show up, furniture arrives late or damaged, lots of money involved; the stakes can be pretty high.

    Whether we are renovating, staging the home for sale or just decorating, things sometimes do go wrong. And sometimes many things go wrong.

    Communication is Key
    I tell the client from the first meeting, if they allow me to take care of everything, I will. If we have an open line of communication, the process will be fun, easy and rewarding. Some get it and some don’t. Mind-reading doesn’t usually work and when the communication breaks down, the relationship and then the job break down.

    The trick with an unhappy customer, and I learned this the hard way, is to address an issue immediately, either on the phone or in person. Clients are more likely to get nasty during an email exchange and communication in writing can lack clarity. Pick up the phone, speak to the person, be calm and listen. Offer to get in your car and come right over to see the problem in person, inspect it and resolve it. Reassure them that if they allow you to handle it, you will make it right.

    Remind your customer why it is they hired you for their job in the first place. Assure your client that you will do everything in your power to resolve their issue.
    Sometimes I offer a refund, sometimes I do extra work, sometimes I send a gift. Whatever it takes to make that person happy (if and when possible) is what should be done.

    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.

    Since adopting my motto “There is no such thing as an unhappy client,” in 2011, I have achieved a reputation as a reliable, thoughtful problem-solver and I have often turned my biggest “problems” into my best clients. Repeat business, referrals and wonderful testimonials have resulted from some fairly large problems. There is no such thing as perfect. It’s all how you choose to look at it and handle it.

    In my life and in my career, I have made many delicious batches of the proverbial lemonade.

  • Pablo Solomon 05/29/13

    My fellow professionals are correct in what they are advising–especially about being a good listener.
    I would suggest that you do not get respect unless you both earn it and demand it. If a client is heading in the direction of showing me or my associates disrespect or rudeness, I just lay it on the line. I basically say, “We need to start over here. I want to make you a satisfied customer, but in return you must treat me and my associates with respect and politeness. In addition, if you have a problem with any of the workers, let me handle it.”
    It is also important to let the client know contractually in no uncertain terms upfront that changes in design, materials, accessories, etc. will mean additional costs. This is probably the most common source of problems.
    Also, as you get more and more experience with people you learn that some clients are just not worth the trouble. I try to avoid any stress that I can–and that includes avoiding stress inducing people.
    I love what I do and I love to have happy clients. I do not want a few jerks to ruin that.
    Of course, on rare occasions it really is all my fault and I do what is necessary to make things right.

  • Jill Banks 05/29/13

    While no one likes to have an unhappy client, you can’t please everyone every time, no matter how hard you try. 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 (and at that point, I usually don’t want to work with them either), but they’re not so dissatisfied that they feel the need to act. It’s so easy for someone to post a negative comment on any number of social media platforms, that your reputation can take a serious hit if your client doesn’t feel heard or understood by you. 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.

  • Matthew Kettner/MLK Construction LLC 05/30/13

    Unfortunately you cannot make every customer happy but the trick is to do your best and treat them as you would like to be treated. I’m a firm believer in 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. We all make mistakes but how you react to your mistakes is what will define you and your business. I believe what truly helps in almost any field is communication and listening. You have to listen to all of your customers concerns regardless of the validity that you think they carry.

  • Painting Artist, Inc - Port St Lucie FL 05/30/13

    GREAT POST, IT’S FUNNY I JUST HAD A VERY UNHAPPY CUSTOMER YESTERDAY WITH MY PAINTING SERVICES. SHE WAS NOT HAPPY WITH THE QUALITY – SHE WAS JUST UNHAPPY WITH LIFE PERIOD. I ASKED HER WHAT I CAN DO TO PLEASE HER WITH MY SERVICES AND SHE SAID NOTHING WILL PLEASE ME. VERY DIFFICULT LADY. WE ALL COME ACROSS THEM OCCASIONALLY.

  • Kraig Kalashian 05/30/13

    Generally speaking, client who end up unhappy are those who have different expectations for the project than we do. For example, if a client never tells you their budget and then gets upset at the cost estimates, you could have had that conversation up front if everyone was honest about their expectations. Generally most client concerns are about money, whether it’s the cost of the work, or the cost of the services. We try to present the client with options and cost estimates as we go to avoid those discussions. For example, we might show a client three types of tile where one would be $3/ SF, one would be $9 / SF and one would be $20 / SF. From there, we can help them understand what that means in terms of a total material cost for their project. If you try to eliminate the surprise factor out of the process then clients are generally appreciative and less likely to be upset.

  • Jason Crook @ PHAG interiors 05/30/13

    We are a company that is very passionate about client relationships. Over the last decade of providing interior design services, I would definitely say that the #1 cause of an unhappy client is allowing them to see a “work in progress.” While it’s sometimes unavoidable, we make every effort to keep clients quarantined from our work until it’s ready for a “BIG reveal!” However, we’re also retailers, so we know that “unhappy” is just part of doing business. By fostering a customer-centric company sometimes we’re actually able to cultivate better relationships with clients who were at one time “unhappy,” just by following some very basic HUMAN rules of thumb:

    1. It’s all about the attitude!
    Keep it real, be authentic, and really listen. Never, ever play the blame game.
    2. Jump IN to action, not TO conclusions!
    Be realistic, and properly set expectations, but act swiftly when an issue arises.
    3. Focus on the client, not the complaint!
    Be empathetic and get to the real heart of the matter. When a client is unhappy, there’s a reason, so find out what it is and ask, “What can we do to make it right?” When all else fails, try fair. The Golden Rule is called “Golden” for a reason.

    We’re not suggesting that there’s a prescribed, one-size-fits-all way to approach unhappy clients. But if you are spending time creating scripts and memos in order to have employees properly respond to unhappy clients, then, well . . . you aren’t really a service company! Instead, we focus our energy on creating a business culture that empowers employees to handle unhappy customers, and refuses to receive the same complaint more than once. In the end, 1 unhappy client = at least 10 happy ones. We just apply what we learned the first time!

  • Ed Burris 05/30/13

    I think its all on how you handle yourself with your customer, Generally if you’ve been is business for some time. You can see what type of customer you’re dealing with when you greet them at the door. So at that point you do you’re best to stay one step ahead of them trying everything to please them. Go the extra mile to keep from having any trouble. However if you did something wrong then make it right however they wish. I personally backed into a driveway a hit a very expensive basketball goal. Nothing like this has happened in 14 years. I never even got to start the job before having to break the news to her on what happened. But the first thing I told her was let me get the model number go on the Internet and will purchase you a new one. Everyone was happy but me. But while I was on the job I sucked it up and made it a very happy job. If all that doesn’t seem to do any good. Then do your best be polite and give them a freebie.

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