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Dec 08, 20205 min read

Unhappy Clients


No matter how good you are at what you do, sooner or later you'll come across an unhappy client. Although your ego can get hurt, don't be disheartened. Bad feedback often leads to great work, as you learn valuable lessons and really push your skills.

So, what to do in such a situation?

Source: Keep Calm and Carry On (thanks to Ministry of Information – UK, 1939)

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How to Deal With Unhappy Clients

1. Keep calm and carry on

It's natural to react negatively if you receive a complaint from a client. It is easily possible you feel upset and offended, which only makes you defensive and puts you in danger of responding to your client in a negative manner. In such a case, stay calm and take a step back from the situation.

2. Communicate in person

When dealing with complex issues – if possible – use one-to-one communication. Don't write your response; request a face-to-face meeting. At least, arrange a phone call. You need to be able to communicate empathy and concern. You can’t do this nearly as effectively via letter or email.

3. Apologize respectfully

Approach the problem directly by apologizing to the client. This can help the client to calm down and also allow you both to talk professionally about next steps.

4. Identify the problem

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

5. Re-establish the brief

Sometimes, it is wise to start from scratch and re-establish the project requirements. Make sure you know exactly what the client wants. 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?".

6. Written word remains

Once you've found out 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 arise. This can simply be drafted in an email, or via an 'official' document, outlining all the project objectives.

Here, creating user stories can help. Since you create simple statements – e.g.: As a person working remotely, I want the second monitor just for communication, so I can feel connected to others. – they capture what is to be done.

7. Go the extra mile

To make the client happy, expend extra effort or something that shows you're committed to 'getting it right' and making them a satisfied customer. Because happy clients lead to a great reputation and word-of-mouth referrals.

You can also offer to deliver Minimum Viable Product and/or Clickable Prototype.

8. Keep talking

When you start to revise the work in question, ask the client to provide regular feedback. You will know quite quickly whether they're happy with your second attempt. More often than not, they'll be happy. And they will see that you are doing your best to resolve the situation.

Significant role in such feedback gathering can hold also Product Owners.

9. Make concessions

Finally, even if you think your actions were completely justified, give your client a peace offering. It may be 20 percent off the current invoice. It may be 40 percent off their next purchase (which increases the probability that they will do business with you again). Offering nothing says you are right and the client is wrong. Even if this is true, you’ll be the loser. The client may not always be right, but the client is always the client. He or she is the one who writes your paycheck. Never forget this.

10. Review the situation

When your client is happy and you've produced what they want, you should make an assessment 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, you'll be able to handle future issues.

11. Start preventing unhappy clients

From personal experience, one unhappy client represents approximately ten people, who were silent (experience with SaaS). So, something that made one person unhappy is currently making nine other people. How can you deal with that?

Within this Knowledge Base, there are multiple articles that work as prevention to unhappy clients. Having a product owner is one, but we also with Agile methodology, you consistently gather feedback from the client and thus, its unlikely that your clients are unhappy.

Unhappy Clients Pitfalls

  • In the case the issue's extent is really big, the project can become unprofitable.
  • Such cases are usually very time consuming and can delay your other projects.

Resources for Unhappy Clients

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Prokop Simek


CEO at DX Heroes
CEO at DX Heroes


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