dealing with a difficult client is a huge challenge! just tell yourself that it is a learning experience - dealing with the problems is how you learn what to do with your biz to avoid more problems in the future, attract the right people, and make your biz run more smoothly. difficult clients will always be upsetting (i still get upset when i have one) but it does get easier because each time you learn what you need to do in the future to avoid difficulties and you get better at dealing with complaints.
dealing with your immediate problem:
really listen to the complaint
if you do not have policies in place to deal with problem you face with your customer then your immediate goal is to figure out what you can do right now to respond to their concerns and for both of you to walk away amicably. really hear the concern being voiced - try not to get defensive, make excuses, or be argumentative. just listen. and then come up with a solution that you can both live with.
consider if this is someone you want to come back
as much as it is mortifying to have an unhappy customer, keep it in perspective. you might be tempted to bend over backwards to make them happy, after all word of mouth is a big part of the marketing strategy for little businesses. but remember that your most difficult clients are generally not your ideal clients so you probably don't really want them to come back. also if you give in to their demands THAT is what they will tell her friends - you will get the reputation of being a push over who will give in if people just complain. ugh.
so the key here is to be polite, be professional and be firm. offer a fair solution that will allow the client to walk away with something and will allow you to maintain your professionalism. and whatever you do, do not air your dirty laundry all over facebook, twitter & your blog. i see this happen sometimes and it is just plain yucky. your entire fan list does not want to hear “i had a complaint about xyz so from now on i will no longer be doing blah blah blah. sorry if that upsets you.” ugh. don’t do it. just deal with your client privately and professionally then walk away.
dealing with future problems:
create a plan
the key now, moving forward, is to have systems in place to deal with possible complaints, problems or difficult customers in the future. brainstorm all the different scenarios that you might encounter with your customers and determine right now how you would respond to each of them. write out a plan for yourself including the steps you would be willing to take to deal with the problems, what you will refund, discount, replace, guarantee, and what is the customers responsibility. even include how you would deal with discounts for friends & family, requests for donations & charity items, special rates for VIP clients etc.
terms & conditions
create a product/service guarantee, a return policy, and a refund policy that you can clearly communicate to your customers. have a space for your terms & conditions on yoru website as well as in your client documentation (information packages, invoices, contracts... whatever you use for your biz.) if you are not sure what to include in your terms & conditions have a look at what other similar businesses communicate to their clients – this will often give you ideas of what you need to consider.
it also helps to have a frequently asked questions section on your website or in your information package so people know what to expect when they purchase a product or service from you. again, do some brainstorming and try to predict the questions, concerns and objections people will have and then address them in advance in your FAQ section.
be sure that your website, brochures, ads & other marketing materials demonstrate your best work, your true style, what customers actually get. don’t promote stuff you hate doing. don’t advertise something that you can’t consistently offer. don’t infer that you can do something you aren’t capable of doing. when customers make an inquiry about your product or service be sure they have seen examples of what you do so they know what to expect. they need to know they are in the right place and you need to know they are your right people.
be clear with customers if you are testing a new product line, offering lower prices or modified services because you are just starting out, trying to build your expertise and portfolio... basically anything that might result in a question about your practices later on. this will again help to manage expectations: clients will be happy to get to try out something at a discount and more understanding if things do not have the result they were hoping for. it will also make it a lot easier to change your prices, products, practices and policies down the line without alienating customers that have supported you.
what practices and policies do you have in place to pre-empt problems before they happen? what strategies do you use to deal with a difficult client? what further questions do you have about this topic?