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Dealing with Unhappy Clients

Sometimes as business owners we need to deal with unhappy clients – or even people who are not our clients but are not happy with us or our business anyway, for whatever reason. It is even more difficult to deal with these individuals when they reach out to us online – either via a blog through comments they leave or via a general website where people can post information about companies they may not be pleased with – and they do so anonymously. A recent article in Business on Main, 9 Ways to Approach Anonymous Haters Online, provided a variety of suggestions for dealing with such individuals.

Although I haven’t personally had to deal with such issues; I know of one colleague who has. In his situation, the client was unhappy with an end result of a project he did – the client expected other than the outcome; although the outcome was expected by others at the client site. Rather than ignoring the situation (since the other stakeholders were pleased), he approached the one who was not pleased and asked if they could talk about the situation. There was no real resolution that would please the unhappy stakeholder; but having the conversation helped to diffuse the situation.

Certainly in this situation my colleague knew who the unhappy client was. However, it is not so easy to deal with situations when you are not aware of the identity of the unhappy individual – such as anonymous comments on a website or blog. We’ve likely all heard of the radio commercials of a business that will help you “push down in the rankings those negative, untrue comments about your business.” However – are they always untrue? If individuals – anonymous or not – have valid complaints and questions about your product or service – address the situation. Ignoring it does not make it go away and sometimes it fuels the fires.

Let’s look at some basic steps to address both anonymous complaints and those from identified individuals. This assumes the complaint is valid and/or is not made using foul language or an offensive tone.

Take these steps to address anonymous complaints about your products or services:

  1. Respond to the complaint in the same forum it was made.
  2. If valid, apologize and explain how it is being addressed. If not valid, explain why it is not valid.
  3. Ask the individual who made the complaint to feel free to reach out to you personally to discuss his/her complaint so that you can better address his/her concern.

If the person does not respond – at least you have diffused the issue. It is much harder to have credibility for your anonymous complaint when the individual you are complaining about reaches out to you and you don’t respond.

Take these steps to address those clients who are not pleased with your product or service:

  1. If there is an issue, bring it to the client ahead of time – better you approach them rather than them approaching you.
  2. If you don’t know about the issue ahead of time – and it is brought to your attention by the client – take the time to really understand the client’s concerns (really listen!).
  3. If you need time to think about it prior to coming up with a resolution, ask the client for that time and let them know when you will be back in touch with them (and be back in touch when you promise you will be.)
  4. Present solutions to the problem and, in conjunction with your client, settle on an acceptable resolution to the situation.
  5. Resolve the situation, meeting with the client at some designated point in time to ensure that the situation is resolved to their satisfaction.
  6. Follow up with an apology letter and how you will ensure that the situation does not occur again.

Taking the time to address complaints – in a professional manner – helps to diffuse the situation.

Check out the article in Business on Main. It provides for possible resolutions to a number of different situations.

Your thoughts? How do you deal with unhappy clients? What are your best practices? Have some stories you’d like to share?