Don’t play hide and seek with an unhappy client

Hide Sooner or later it happens.  Something goes horribly wrong.  You want to crawl in a hole.  Or slam your office door. 

But the one thing you do not want to do to face the client.

Too bad.  How you handle this disaster will say more about your brand than any marketing tactic or campaign.  Zane Safrit tells a story of how he dealt with a client's event that went down the tubes in a hurry. 

All too often, companies dodge the problems.  Or they recite company policy when a sincere "I'm sorry" would actually heal the situation.  There's no empathy.  Just rhetoric.  And that just won't cut it.

Do your employees understand how you want them to deal with the situation when a client is angry or disappointed?   Have you not only told them but modeled the behavior?

How have you handled this in the past?

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4 comments on “Don’t play hide and seek with an unhappy client

  1. Janet Green says:

    The first issue of a newsletter I produced for a client in my freelance desktop publishing business contained three typographical errors, which neither I nor the client caught in proofing. The client told me that she expected ‘these things to be perfect,’ and asked me to pay to have them reprinted. I diplomatically reminded her that she had signed a work agreement which stated that the client was responsible for the accuracy of the proofreading, and that according to that agreement, her signature on a proof was her acknowledgement that things were “perfect” and ready to print. Rather than leave things at that, which I thought would have surely resulted in hard feelings, I then offered to split the cost of reprinting with her, and we both vowed to be more diligent in the future. It worked out well and we produced several more issues together. I think any time there’s a mistake, yes the way you handle it says a lot about your brand. But you also have to be careful not to let yourself be treated as a scapegoat – we are all adults, and can (or at least should) all handle our share of the responsibility for a mistake… even clients. ~ Janet

  2. ian says:

    You have to play it straight. Take responsibility, and immediately tell the client what you’ll reasonably do to fix the problem.

    While I have certainly been yelled at, I have never lost a client when I use this approach.

    One warning, though: Janet, above, has it right. Don’t let the client just nail you to the wall for all time. Fix it, let them know you’ve done what you can, apologize again, and then it’s time for everyone to move on.

  3. Janet,

    You make an excellent and often forgotten point. Odds are, no matter what someone does — their work is collaborative. And it’s not about assigning blame, it’s about resolving whatever is broken.

    Most often, a reasonable compromise can be found, as in your example. What if the client had refused to pay her half? Would you have re-printed it for her?


  4. Ian,

    We have a rule in our house. Once someone has apologized and (in the case of our daughter)a consequence has been endured (i.e. losing the iPod for a few days) — it’s over. We don’t use it as a stick to beat each other up with.

    The same should be true of our business relationships. We need to step up and own our responsibilities. But you and Janet are right — you don’t have to be the whipping boy.


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