How To Handle Upset Clients | 4 Simple Steps

by | Jun 25, 2024 | AGM Blog, Blog | 0 comments

At some point, a client will get upset. It’s a fact of business. Whether due to a mistake on your part, or a simple misunderstanding: the harsh fact of business is something will eventually go wrong.

That’s why it’s critical you learn how to de-escalate issues without losing the client altogether.

You cannot control if a problem will occur, but you can control how you handle it. That is why you need a game plan for handling an upset client so you can be prepared.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll walk you through the process we’ve used to maintain retainer clients for 5+ years. Regardless of market turns, switching strategies, and varying results, you have to retain control of the narrative.

This is how.

1. Set Clear Expectations

One of the most common reasons customers get upset is unmet expectations.

When they hired you, they were expecting something. Whether more leads, sales, or a product that will improve their lives: you were hired to meet their end goal.

Problems arise, however, when what they believe they hired you for and what you can practically deliver are not the same.

To prevent this, it’s crucial to set clear, realistic expectations from the start and maintain open lines of communication throughout your engagement.

What to Do?

1. Initial Meeting: Clearly Define Services and Outcomes

  • What to Do: At the beginning of your engagement, clearly outline what your services will entail and what results the client can expect. Document these expectations in a detailed agreement and share them with the client for mutual acknowledgment.

2. Regular Updates: Schedule Consistent Check-Ins

  • What to Do: Schedule regular check-ins, whether weekly or bi-weekly, to discuss progress and address any concerns early. Use these meetings to realign expectations if necessary.

3. Transparency: Be Honest About Challenges

  • What to Do: Be upfront about any potential challenges or delays. Clients appreciate honesty and are more likely to be understanding if they feel informed.

What Not to Do?

1. Avoid Vague Promises

  • Do not make vague or overly ambitious promises that you might not be able to keep. Focus on what you will deliver, rather than what you may.

2. Do Not Ignore Follow-Ups

  • Don’t neglect regular follow-ups. Failing to check in consistently can lead to misaligned expectations and surprise disappointments.

3. Don’t Hide Problems

  • Avoid hiding potential issues or delays from your client. Hoping the problem will resolve itself or that the client won’t notice can lead to bigger issues later on.

Bonus Tip: Transparency is everything. During your weekly meetings, if there are challenges or unmet expectations, come prepared with an action plan. This puts you on the offense rather than the defense.

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Get on the same page. Literally. Always have a document outlining everything you need to discuss.


2. Address Mistakes and Take Responsibility

It is more important to be accountable than ‘right’.

Your client doesn’t care why their numbers dropped: only that they did. Whether the mistake was on your side or theirs, or even if there was no mistake at all, it is still on you to take accountability and find a solution.

By coming in on the offense, rather than defensively protecting your pride, you’ll earn yourself more respect than never admitting fault.


What To Do?

#1: Immediately Acknowledge the Situation: Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. While fixing a problem before it was ever noticed is the ideal situation, it’s not always possible. Instead, get ahead of the news, and take action.

#2: Apologies and Correct: Offer a sincere apology and outline the steps you will take to correct the issue. Ensure the client knows that you take their concerns seriously and are committed to making it right. Provide an action plan of steps you’ll take to fix the problem.

#3: Avoid Justifications: Resist the urge to explain away the mistake. Clients want solutions, not excuses. Focus on what you will do to resolve the issue and prevent future occurrences.

3. Prioritize Live Communication

When a client relationship is on the line, an email simply isn’t enough. It’s time to get on call, or in person.


What To Do?

  • Immediate Response: When a client expresses dissatisfaction, respond as quickly as possible to discuss the issue live. Make time in your calendar, and stick to it.
  • Active Listening: During the call, let the client fully express their concerns without interruption. Acknowledge their feelings and show empathy. Let them explain their frustrations fully – even if the venting isn’t pleasant to hear- and do not attempt to defend yourself.
  • Follow-Up: After the call, send a follow-up email summarizing the discussion and the agreed-upon resolution steps. This provides a written record and reassures the client that their concerns are being addressed.
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4. Seek Client Approval Before Major Actions

Always get client approval before launching significant campaigns or making substantial changes. This prevents misunderstandings and ensures that the client is on board with your plans.

It also gives you a platform to open with during the discussion. Now, you can point to where the approval line fell through, and have an immediate step in the process to fix.


What To Do?

  • Document Approval: Use emails or project management tools to document client approvals. This creates a clear trail that can be referenced if any issues arise.
  • Explain Decisions: When seeking approval, provide a detailed explanation of why the proposed action is beneficial. This helps your client understand your strategy and builds their confidence in your expertise.
  • No Assumptions: Never assume that a client will be okay with a decision just because it seems minor. Even small changes can have significant implications for their brand.
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5. Over-Communicate and Stay Coordinated

Maintaining constant communication and staying coordinated with your clients helps prevent issues from arising and keeps the relationship strong.

By staying in consistent communication, you can identify problems before they become crises.


What To Do?

  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular (preferably weekly) meetings to discuss ongoing projects, upcoming plans, and any concerns. Consistent communication shows that you are attentive and proactive.
  • Detailed Reports: Provide detailed reports on your activities and results. Transparency about what you’re doing and the outcomes helps build trust.
  • Feedback Loops: Create opportunities for clients to give feedback regularly. This can be through surveys, follow-up emails, or informal check-ins. Addressing feedback promptly shows that you value their input.

Getting Ahead of Upset Clients

Effectively handling upset customers goes beyond resolving issues; it’s about proactively managing expectations and communication to prevent conflicts before they arise.

By setting clear expectations from the start, addressing mistakes promptly, prioritizing live communication, seeking client approval for significant actions, and maintaining consistent communication, you can build stronger, more trusting relationships.

That is how you handle an upset client.

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