Of course you always want to do your best work but sometimes your work won’t match your client’s expectations. In these situations, it can be difficult to know how to respond.
How to respond when your client is obviously unhappy with your work
First, let’s get this out of the way, you’re going to feel personally attacked. You just will. Try and absorb that blow without reacting, at least until you’ve had a chance to process and think through your response.
Second, feedback is good for growth, whether it’s positive or negative. But note there’s a difference between feedback and criticism, which is important to distinguish between. As you’re processing consider the motivation behind your client’s complaint.
Is it specific and precise, intended to correct or inspire positive change? Then it’s feedback. Take it.
Is it general and relying on terms like “always” and “never,” assuming motives and passing sweeping blame and judgment? Then it’s criticism. Leave it.
Regardless of whether or not you take your client’s comments and apply them to your work, you still need to decide how to respond. Here are a few tips for processing and (hopefully) turning a problem into an opportunity.
Negative feedback can be hard to hear. But it’s also a sign that people care about the work and want it to be successful. Try to hear it like that.
Encouraging constructive feedback and having excellent customer service to continually improve is a sure-fire way to improve BBB ratings or Google Reviews.
If the feedback comes as an email, read it through slowly then put it aside for a while and come back to it later, once the initial shock as passed by.
If you’re receiving an angry phone call or getting blasted over video, do your best to listen carefully and without interrupting as much as possible. You will likely feel defensive and caught off guard but try and find a way to move past that and listen with an open mind.
Your client may be feeling frustrated or upset, and reacting stronger than they would like. They also may demand an immediate response or action. If you’re blindsided and need some time, keep that boundary in place (without blowing them off of course).
If you need time to process or look into a situation, try saying “I hear your frustration and understand your point of view. Let me look into this and I’ll get back to you with a few ideas.” While you may not have fixed the problem, you’re at least showing your client that you are taking their concerns to heart. Now make sure to actually think about it and respond with some possible resolutions, ones that make sense for you and your business.
If the infraction was your fault, then absolutely apologize and take responsibility. However, sometimes clients are upset about things that aren’t on you.
Maybe what happened wasn’t your fault. Maybe the client misunderstood the agreement. Or maybe they’re being unreasonable. Apologizing is still important. And, you can say you’re sorry without taking the blame if it really isn’t something you’ve done. It can be as simple as, “I apologize for this situation,” or “I’m sorry this is happening.”
Whenever you’re unsure how to respond, think about infusing your tone and conversation with grace. This brings calm and (hopefully) perspective.
If this doesn’t work, another approach is to inquire as to what they think would rectify the situation. You’re still not promising to do anything, but you’re hearing them out. You’re subtly reminding them that you’re on the same side.
Find a solution
Whatever the issue, it needs to be fixed. While this is not always possible, at least not in the way your client things it should be resolved, there’s usually something that can help.
If a customer complains to you and is unhappy, dig to find the root of the problem. Your goal is to understand so you can take away that pain point if it’s at all within your control.
When a client is unhappy with your work it can feel so personal, but try and see it from their point of view. Is there a way you can get to a both-win? Is there another approach you can try? Explore those ideas and see what you come up with.
If maintaining the relationship is important to you, and this negative experience hasn’t resulted in you ending your work together, after you’ve found a solution and some time has passed consider following up with your client. This will result in making stronger connections with your clients and show them you’re serious about making this working relationship successful.
When you go out of your way to hear your client and fix the problem, it shows them your commitment to providing excellent service.
The best way to handle complaints is by actively listening and understanding your client’s issue, apologizing, finding a solution that works for both of you, and following up with them afterward. This way, you’re able to continually improve your business and relationships.
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