1. Avoid unhappy clients with a few simple steps
- Give realistic expectations and deadlines. I know it is hard to tell a customer something will take a month when they think it should be done in a matter of days and that even after it’s done it may be months before they see any results. But, if you don’t give yourself enough time to complete their project properly, you’ll be stressed, the project will suffer and you’ll probably miss the deadline anyway and then they will be unhappy early in the project. If you give a deadline that is reasonable and then beat it, they will be ecstatic and will have a better attitude as they wait for results. You also have to give the client deadlines for information or materials they need to give you in order for you to meet your deadlines. Make sure they understand if they don’t meet those deadlines, your deadlines will be extended by the same amount of time they are late. Starting off on the right foot always makes for a happier customer and smoother project.
- Educate your customer on what you are doing. You don’t have to go into major detail that they won’t understand. But, you should be able to explain what you are doing in simple enough terms that they will feel they have learned something and are more invested in the project. Just like a mechanic who explains (in terms you understand) what is wrong with your car instead of just saying your flibberdy jibbet needs a new flugelbinder. If the client feels like they understand what you are doing, they will question and doubt you less because they will trust you and won’t feel like you are taking advantage of them.
- Over-communicate. I can’t stress this enough. The worst thing for a customer is not hearing from you as the project progresses. If they don’t hear from you, they will assume you aren’t doing anything. If they think you are ignoring them or not making progress, they will look for things that are “wrong” and get themselves all worked up. The worst thing that can happen is for a client to have to call you to find out what is going on. Send them regular updates and use a tool such as Basecamp to record your deadlines and theirs. Trying to do everything through email can become confusing and cumbersome when working on anything but the smallest project.
2. What to do if your client is unhappy
- Set up a meeting for a time when they will have your undivided attention for as long as they need. Tell them you are ready to listen to their concerns and want them to explain everything they are concerned about while you just listen and take notes. Let them talk until they wear themselves out or feel they have expressed all of their concerns. Don’t interrupt or try to argue any point while they are venting. Just take notes and let them talk. Once they are finished, say “I want to make sure I understand your concerns. I have noted that your concerns are ____”. Repeat back the major points of concern. (Sidebar – this is also a great tactic to use when you are fighting with your wife or girlfriend.) Once they agree that those are their issues, take the list one issue at a time and either explain why the item is the way it is or work to find a compromise or solution that they will be happy with. End the meeting with a review of the solutions and deadlines for when they will be complete.
- Never point fingers or get angry yourself. If you point fingers or get angry, you give the client license to do the same. You can say the client missed a deadline without sounding accusatory. Instead of saying “Well you missed your deadline by 5 days so we were 5 days late too” you can say “I see there was a 5 day delay in our receipt of the product list which pushed our deadline by 5 days”. You are saying the same thing but without sounding accusatory. Their response will be much different to a statement that simply sounds factual than one that sounds like blame.
3. What to do if your client is still unhappy
- If you have tried to resolve the issue with the client and have had no luck, you should have someone that you can bring in as back up. Regardless of who the person is, you should introduce them as someone who is an expert or who has authority. This will make the client feel like their issue has been escalated to someone higher in the food chain, even if it really hasn’t. It many cases it also helps if this person is of the opposite sex as you because it will change the dynamic of the conversation. It also helps to have an attractive female on staff (but only if they are knowledgeable too).
- If all else fails, be prepared to fire the client. Even if they are a high dollar client, if they are generating 25% of your revenue but taking up 65% of your time, it doesn’t make sense to keep the client. If you just can’t resolve their issues and have done everything possible, you need to be prepared to refund a portion of their money (or maybe all of it) and have an amicable break up. You may even refer them to someone else that can handle their project. You don’t want to get in a downward spiral where you are offering free services to make up for issues they perceive or may have even caused. They will most likely never be completely happy with your services and therefore won’t refer new business. Also, if they know you will give them something for free if they complain, they will always find something to complain about.
Jon Clark is an SEO Specialist and founder of PPC For Hire – an Internet Marketing Company catering to small and medium sized businesses in San Diego, CA.