Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Not to Do with an Unhappy Client

There is plenty of advise offered on how to keep clients happy, but what do you do when the client is not? More importantly, what should you NOT do -- what actions might you be inclined to take that will make the situation worse? I don't know about you but this also sounds like coming home to an unhappy spouse? And since client relationships are much like dating and marriage, the similarity is quite real. Here are my thoughts on what not to do:
  • Do not try to talk your client out of what they are feeling. No matter your perspective theirs is the only one that counts to them. To try and change their feelings is futile. Simply accept what they feel and verbally acknowledge that to them.
  • Do not offer a solution without hearing what they have to say about the situation first. Without knowledge of what they think went wrong you are shooting in the dark with half-baked ideas and assumptions.
  • Do not deny wrong-doing even if you can't see it yet or it is not true. Accept and acknowledge what they see as wrong.
  • Do not point out their errors if there are any. This is definitely not a time for cross-blaming or stating resentments.
  • Do not put up walls of ego. Ask humbly what it would take to make this better. Not everything they might offer will make sense but allowing them to be and feel in control will later turn into empathetic compromise.
  • Do not make any assumptions about what actually happened. Take the time to understand what did go wrong at your end whether it was your actions or someone else in your firm, and what part the client may have played in all of this.
  • Do not try to gloss over anything with weak words and broad statements. Your client is going to need to know specifically how you will fix their problem. It may require some amount of time on your part to actually come up with a plan, which you can ask for. Just make sure to stay in constant contact with the client while you are planning.
  • Do not propose a plan of recovery that includes only your participation (unless that is only what is needed). In your plan of action be perfectly clear about what you will do and what they need to do to reach a their expectation. This is perfect time to address what they did not do that contributed to a poor situation -- but never suggest blame or poor performance.
It is so easy for bad situations to escalate into really bad situations from which there is no recovery. Mostly it's because our ego and well-being demands we defend ourselves, even when we might be wrong. Do not fall into this trap! I have found it is so much more productive to just let go of defensive actions so that I am allowed to be part of the solution.

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