If you’re still on board with freelancing after reading my blog post, Do You Even Know Why You Want to Become a Freelance WordPress Developer?, then gear up, today we’re going to tackle a huge aspect of the freelance world you need to know about: customer service.
See, as a freelancer, you’ll need to provide the actual service that makes you a star (i.e. programmer, writer, designer, etc.), but you also need to provide stellar customer service to deal with your clients when they get really angry, too.
Certain clients earn the ‘difficult-to-work-with’ badge through no fault of your own. However, it’s up to you to resolve issues with problem clients in the most professional manner possible.
Yes, I know it’s hard, but you’ll need to be the proverbial bigger person. Don’t let anyone ruin the standards you set for yourself and for your business.
Today we’re going to discuss what you should say to unhappy clients to not only save your project from destruction, but salvage your business relationship.
Buckle in and get ready for careful navigation down a rocky road.
Take a Breather & Don’t Burn Bridges
When you receive an email from a client that’s written in ALL CAPS, or super passive-aggressive, resist the urge to send an equally passive-aggressive or snarky reply.
In fact, take three deep breaths before you even strategize a killer response.
Understand that your client is not upset with you, per se, but with an expectation that they had about the project that was not met accordingly.
It’s easy to get defensive or feel responsible when your client is annoyed; after all, your client is unhappy with your service and it’s not like you can blame your customer’s dissatisfaction on the work of some other disgruntled employee (it’s all on you, kid).
However, in order not to snap at one of your clients in the heat of frustration, think about this: How many times have you regretted sending an unpleasant email?
I know of at least six emails I wish I could rewrite in a tone Yoda would be proud of; one that conveyed years of experience and wisdom. But, I can never take those emails back and those client relationships suffered.
On the other hand, you’ll never regret handling the situation the right way.
It’s actually in your best interest to maintain professional courtesy during this uneasy time. “Happy customers who get their issue resolved tell about 4–6 people about their experience,” according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs.
If you remain professional, I can assure you that your client will be super embarrassed by their (hopefully not continued) unprofessional behavior.
So how do you make an unhappy customer happy?
Understand Your Client
Now, go back to that email of complaints after you’ve cooled off and peel back the layers of client anger to get at the real problem. Yes, you may have to shovel aside a few nasty words to understand what your client’s really upset or worried about, but this is the only way to rectify the situation and ensure a happy customer.
Try to look at the issue from your client’s perspective.
If you can see exactly why your client’s peeved (i.e. your code fell like dominos and shut down their online ordering for the weekend), proceed to the next section.
However, if you don’t understand why your client has a complaint, you’ll need to do some digging.
Ask your client as many questions as you need to determine the real issue they’re unhappy about. Not only will this help you figure out a solution, but showing that you care enough to want to fix the situation as soon as possible will immediately take your client off the offensive.
Once they feel like their (albeit angry) voice is being heard, they won’t have to keep hitting you over the head with your (perceived) mistakes, flaws, or failures.
Discuss a Solution ASAP
Calmly express that you understand your client’s situation and their irritation. Use the same words your client chose to express the problem to you.
For example, if your client said:
“The comments on the posts aren’t threading and they look like a mess.”
You should reply with something like:
“It should only take me a few minutes to clean up the code for the comments so they start threading again.”
While not explicitly admitting that the comments section of your client’s blog looks scary because of your code, you conveyed what they wanted to hear: that you were going to clean up what they thought looked untidy.
You also identified the problem and promised a fast solution.
Offering up a solution not only calms your client down (Yes, it’s entirely fixable; don’t worry), but it will show that you’re actively thinking about ways to get them back in business.
Check-In With Your Client
A few days after you solve your client’s issue, send a friendly email to ask if they’re pleased with the outcome. This is the perfect time to gauge how your client is feeling about your services.
If your client seems happy, don’t forget to send them a thank you note expressing how much you enjoyed working together. Mention how you appreciated their understanding during the issue you had to fix. Close with how you’d like to work with them again.
If your client is still dissatisfied with your work or design, you should offer solutions to fix whatever they’re complaining about. Ok, ok, I can hear the audible groan, but hear me out.
You may have to accept the fact that your client is not going to be happy with tweaking your work, because the design may have been totally wrong for them from the start.
Do you have a clear revision rate in your contract? Listen to Ron Dawson from Dare Dreamer FM about why you should!
If your client insists on a redesign, do not feel obligated to start over for free. Having a revision rate in your contract bypasses the uncomfortable conversation about how you’ll still have to charge for the work hours you’ll need to put into fixing the project.
Why should you even bother?
Because acquiring a new client is an average of 4–6 times more expensive than keeping a current client, unfortunately. And because you want happy customers to refer your services to other potentially paying clients.
The good news is that resolving a complaint in your client’s favor means they become 70% likely to do business with you again.
So go back to the notes from your initial consultation and think about your project from a new perspective. How did the finished product solve the original problem presented to you?
Maybe the website design you agreed on didn’t work well with the content they needed to showcase, so the end result was a lackluster, hard-to-use website. Starting over with this information will help you move in a new direction that will satisfy your customer and ensure exemplary customer service.
You can’t afford to have dissatisfied clients as a beginning freelancer; you need positive referrals to build up your client list. Research shows that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. You’ll have an uphill battle right from the start if don’t at least try to resolve your client’s issue.
Never underestimate the power of a satisfied customer.
Happy clients will return for repeat business and they’re much more likely to refer your services to their acquaintances. Did you know that “Americans say they tell an average of nine people about good experiences, and nearly twice as many (16 people) about poor ones”?
You always have the chance to turn a bad situation into a positive one. If you use what you learn from these unhappy customers as feedback, you’ll only make your services better.