I’ve had my fair share of upset clients. I remember that sense of unease waking up in the middle of the night, bracing myself and expecting a complaint from a customer about their order. I was designing custom wedding stationery at the time and had NO clue how to run a successful client experience. Surviving and just getting the job done were my biggest goals, which led me to be defensive at times in my responses to angry emails, phone calls, and comments.
Nowadays I know a bit more about how to keep a customer happy, how to respond to upset clients without getting emotional, and what to do with those snippy comments on social media.
If you’re a business owner, my guess is you’ve also dealt with upset clients or customers. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it – you can’t please everyone!
However, there are ways to rectify and resolve those icky situations in 5 easy steps.
5 steps for handling upset clients
1. Expectations, expectations, expectations
Setting clear expectations is like the golden rule for client and customer experience. Not sure if you can complete that deadline, but just want the client to book you or like you? This will come to bite you in the end. I’ve done this. I’ve told clients I’d send proofs when I didn’t or had loose timelines that left the client feeling confused and following up more times than necessary.
If you provide a clear timeline, set of expectations for your products or services, you answer the many questions your customer will potentially have along the way. Making your job less time consuming, and your customer trusting of your guidance and expertise. Think about it:
Let’s say you provide custom wedding stationery. What questions come up with every job? “When can we expect to see the first proof?” “How much will postage cost?” “When will the invitations be done printing?”…instead of allowing the client to get to the point of having to ask those questions, beat them to the punch! Layout the timeline and provide updates on the job before they even begin wondering!
If you’re asking, what does this have to do with upset clients? Setting clear expectations like this helps solidify in your client or customer’s mind that you know what you’re doing. They trust you. Now, when a mistake happens, or they see a proof that doesn’t meet their requests, they’re more likely to approach feedback from a place of trust. It’s a way of setting up their subconscious to know that you have their best interest in mind, no matter what because you’ve guided them there so smoothly.
2. Try not to take it personally
It’d be nice if setting up expectations made everyone happy, but unfortunately, mistakes still happen and you can’t please everyone. As I became more experienced in business, my disappointed client emails became less and less. However, there were still some that popped up. So what do you do when you receive an email like:
“We want a full refund, we’re completely disappointed, etc. etc.?”
First thing’s first. Don’t take it personally. Remember, your customer isn’t displeased with you, they’re dissatisfied with the quality of your product or service.
Do your best to remain calm and don’t react until you’ve had a moment to really digest the criticism.
3. Show empathy and actively listen
Defensiveness breeds more defensiveness. A lot of times, showing empathy and patiently listening to a customer vent can diffuse the situation. But beyond just listening, it’s crucial you summarize and acknowledge what the upset customer is saying.
Knowing that they’ve been heard and understood can go a long way, and shows him or her respect.
4. Find the RIGHT solution
Notice I emphasized the RIGHT solution. Apologizing, or refunding, or bending over backward isn’t always the answer in every scenario.
In most cases, a problem can be rectified by coming to a solution that is beneficial for both you and the client. Really sit with what the client is communicating, and see if there’s anything you could’ve done to prevent it. If so, will this require a refund? Expedited shipping? Or, just an apology? Some solutions can hurt, but chalk it up to learning and experience…some of the most costly mistakes I’ve made as an entrepreneur have ended up making me better at business and a more effective communicator!
With all of that said, every situation is different and some customers are just downright unhappy for no reason. They can’t be pleased. If this is the case, the mutually beneficial solution to the problem is to cut ties (in a kind way) and move on. I’ve had to do this twice back in my wedding stationery days. It was never easy, but you have to remove your own emotions and selfish interests and look out for what’s best for both you and the customer. If you find yourself needing to fire a client, remember these points:
- A phone call or in-person is always best. A misunderstanding tone can lead to further anger and a bigger headache than necessary. Remember, you’re doing what’s best for them in this scenario – not just you!
- Remain calm and professional while also being assertive.
- Choose what you say carefully. You don’t want something you say to be used against you.
5. Don’t get bitter, get better
Whatever the solution may be, whether it’s an apology, or you have to part ways, never get bitter. Every scenario, no matter how unfair it may seem, can lead to bettering your client experience and skills as a business owner if you let it.
From breakups to refunding upset clients thousands of dollars, to defending my product from an unjustified, unhappy customer I’ve dealt with it all. And while it’s SO easy to get angry and defensive right back, it does nothing but hinder you from improving. Even if you did nothing wrong, there’s always something to take away – maybe it’s a reminder to listen to your gut more or be more assertive in your communication process.
Whatever it is, your emotions as the business owner must stay out of it. Bitterness, anger, and sadness all lead to creating a bigger problem and divert from finding a solution. Once the problem has been solved, take some deep breaths, chalk it up to experience and move on!
We all deal with unhappy clients and disappointed customers – don’t let it stop you from pursuing your dreams!
PS. If you’re wondering how to dial in your client experience as a custom stationery designer, check out my course Pen to Press! I cover everything from designing proofs and mockups, how to prepare files for print properly, and creating a smooth client experience!