How to deal with an unhappy client

Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

No matter how good you are at what you do, it's inevitable that you'll eventually come across an unhappy client, one that is not satisfied with the work you've produced. Although your ego has taken a bashing, don't be disheartened.

Bad feedback often leads to great work, as you learn valuable lessons and really push your skills. If you've got a client that's turned your work down, all is not lost. If you handle the situation correctly, you could end up winning over your client and demanding even higher praise and respect. Here are some top tips to help.

1. Keep calm and carry on

It's only natural to want to react negatively if you receive a complaint from a client. After all, it feels like a slap in the face, as it puts our own work into question. We feel upset and offended, which only makes us defensive. This means we are in danger of responding to our client in a negative manner. In which case, stay calm and take a step back from the situation. Understand that it's nothing personal and that you now have a great opportunity to put the work right.

2. Apologise respectfully

Tackle the problem head-on by humbly apologising to the client. Say how you're sorry they didn't like the initial drafts or designs. This will not only help the client to calm down, but it will also allow you both to talk professionally about next steps.

3. Identify the problem

Once everyone's feeling calm, ask the client why they're unhappy and what you can do to fix the situation. Don't settle for vague responses such as "I just don't like it". Try and get specifics by asking lots of questions. Ask for examples of what they like and dislike about the work.

4. Re-establish the brief

It's sometimes wise to start from scratch and re-establish the project requirements. It's all too easy to misunderstand a brief and go down the wrong route, so make sure you know exactly what they want. Repeat things back to the client to make sure you've got it right – for example, "So I understand that you want XXX. Is that right?".

5. Get it all in writing

Once you've nailed down what needs to be done, get it all in writing. This is a case of 'covering your own ass' a little, so you can refer back in future, should any issues crop up. This can simply be drafted in an email (which you archive and keep), or via an 'official' document, outlining all the project objectives.

6. Go the extra mile

To make the client happy, throw in extra effort or something that shows you're committed to 'getting it right' and making them a satisfied customer. This might mean going back to the drawing board, which will inevitably take more time and lose your money. Even though the project is becoming unprofitable, it is worth the effort, as you want the outcome to be a happy client. Because happy clients lead to a great reputation and word-of-mouth referrals.

7. Keep talking

When you start to revise the work in question, don't be shy about getting regular feedback from the client. You'll want to know quite quickly if they're happy with your second attempt. More often than not, they'll be happy with the second attempt. And they'll undoubtedly be ecstatic that you tried your best to resolve the situation.

8. Review the situation

Now that your client is happy and you've produced exactly what they want, you should take stock of the situation. What can you do differently next time? What systems or processes can you put in place to avoid unhappy clients in future?

By learning valuable lessons from unhappy clients and understanding that you simply need to be calm and considered to resolve any future issues, you'll be able to handle anything that comes your way.