5 tips for successfully handling unhappy clients
Even if it hasn’t happened in the past, the likelihood is that at some point in your freelancing or contracting career, a project will go badly wrong.
Some things just don’t go to plan and when that happens, there’s every chance your client will point the finger of blame at you.
Handling unhappy clients, particularly ones you have worked with for a long time, can be challenging. Follow these 5 tips for some help in handling these difficult situations.
1. Don’t admit liability
It’s crucial that you don’t admit liability to anyone, even if the piece of work was below your usual high standards. You may feel under pressure from your client to accept your shortcomings, but doing so will prejudice your position if the matter goes to court and could invalidate your professional indemnity insurance policy. Instead, listen carefully to your client’s concerns, explain that you will need to look into it and will quickly come back to them.
2. Let your professional indemnity insurer know
Assuming you have professional indemnity insurance, let your insurer know about the situation immediately, even if your client hasn’t made a formal claim against you. The chances are your insurer will have experienced a similar situation with other customers and will be able to offer advice on the best course of action to resolve the issue.
Importantly, be honest when you speak to your insurer. They aren’t there to judge you; everyone makes mistakes and if you’ve provided sub-standard work to a client, they will be able to advise on what to do next. Similarly, if you think your work is up to scratch and your client is trying it on, say so.
If you don’t have professional indemnity insurance, read this article to find out why you shouldn’t be working as a freelancer without it.
3. Keep things civil
Complaints can become emotionally charged very easily, but it’s important to stay calm and not take things personally. Even if you feel your client’s grievance is completely unfounded or unfair, avoid ill-judged emails or comments as they can make the situation a lot worse. Always try to be professional, polite and not burn any bridges.
4. Work out what will resolve the situation
Ask your client what they consider needs doing to resolve the problem; it may not be possible, but it is a starting point for both parties to work towards.
If your client wants the work rectifying, in many cases it is worth doing so to avoid a full-blown claim or the breakdown of your relationship, which could destroy future work opportunities with them. Ask them to be specific about what needs putting right, agree the next steps and stick to any deadlines set.
If your client is simply refusing to pay your invoice without strong grounds for a complaint, it could (unfortunately) be a tactic to avoid the expense of your fee. You could consider offering a discount as a gesture of goodwill should you wish to retain them as a customer, or even if you just want to salvage whatever money you can from the project and move on to a new client. Ultimately this is something you would have to decide for yourself as a commercial decision.
5. If you receive the dreaded solicitor’s letter…
The above scenarios are fine for resolving relatively minor complaints, but what should you do if you’ve received a threatening letter from your client’s solicitor?
This is where your professional indemnity insurance comes in – it covers you against allegations of professional negligence (such as providing poor or inadequate work or services to your client), covering the legal costs and expenses to defend you, as well as any compensation that may be payable to your client.
Don’t respond to your client in any way or appoint your own solicitor to handle it - as soon as you receive the solicitors letter, forward it on to your professional indemnity insurers and they will take it from there.
Find out more about how professional indemnity insurance can protect you against client projects that have gone wrong.
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