There’s an old saying that you can’t please everyone. But, how do you respond if the person you need to please is a client you rely on to make a living?
It’s inevitable that despite the amount of research and carefully worded content you create, you’re going to eventually face a client who’s dissatisfied with the results. Sometimes the tone isn’t what they wanted, other times it’s simply a misunderstanding or a clash of personalities or styles. I’m very fortunate to have encountered only two who were rude or just trying to get free work.
The thing about facing unhappy clients is that it’s inevitable, no matter how much research and carefully worded content you create. I have encountered a handful of unhappy clients over the past 12 years but most are just misunderstandings or clashing personalities which can be resolved with some good communication skills from both sides of the table.
Whatever the issue, there’s a way to handle it that will save the assignment, or at least allow you to maintain the client relationship so you can work together in the future.
The Importance of Client Satisfaction
If you’re like me, having your work criticized is difficult to handle. I remember writing a business article once, only to have the client return it with a comment that said “I wanted to inform my audience, not bore them to death.”
Client satisfaction is the bread and butter of providing any type of service. Even if the client is less than diplomatic, you must maintain the highest levels of professionalism at all times. That means taking criticism or negative feedback in stride and not taking it personally. It’s rarely meant that way.
So, how do you handle an unhappy client?
Begin With Clear Communications
I believe in taking a proactive approach. Most problems can be prevented by setting expectations and boundaries up front. It’s also important to clarify anything you’re unsure about before you begin and address any problems that occur during the writing process as soon as possible.
Clear communication is essential when handling an unhappy client. I always take a proactive approach by setting expectations and boundaries upfront so that problems can be prevented in advance. This includes clarifying any uncertainty and addressing issues or questions as they arise during the writing process rather than after the completion of the work or services provided for your clients.
We meet with our clients to get a firm idea about what they’re looking for in terms of tone and content, and we inform them of our expectations at the outset of the business relationship. For example, all clients are entitled to two rewrites. If we can’t make them happy within that parameter, it’s possible that the writer/client relationship just isn’t a good fit.
Be Firm, But Polite and Professional
There will be times when you feel that you’ve done an excellent job, but the client will strongly disagree.
For example, they may accuse you of using poor grammar, not doing adequate research, or missing key points. In terms of spelling and grammar, for example, sometimes it’s simply a matter of geographic location. Other times, conflicting style guides can be the problem. You could ask them for specific incidences of misspellings or poor grammar and other issues. If they oblige, work with them to correct whatever they feel falls short of their expectations. If you feel strongly that their feedback is unfair or the accusation is false, lay out your case calmly and in detail.
One client I’d worked with on several occasions wasn’t happy with my latest article for his blog. He told me that, while the writing was good, I’d provided too much information that he felt was off-topic and wrote too little about points he felt were more important. Fortunately, it was easy enough to fix, but that could have been avoided by his being less vague at the beginning and me asking for clarification.
Resist the Urge to Get Defensive
I’ll be the first to admit that I get a little testy when a client asks for ridiculous changes to what I firmly believe is top-level content. I’ve ghostwritten several books and found myself feeling grateful that my name isn’t on them when I see some of the changes the client has made to the final copy.
It’s tempting to say that if they know so much, they could just as easily write it themselves.
While the client is hiring you for your expertise as a writer, at the end of the day, it is their brand and reputation on the line. Rather than getting defensive and trying to justify every word you wrote in the face of unnecessary or detrimental revisions, work with the client to explain your approach and why you feel that it works better in terms of flow, information, or style.
How to Handle a No-Win Situation
Most of the time, clients are reasonable people who want to work with you to get the best results on a project. Your ability to make a living may depend upon them, but your content could affect their ability to draw traffic, convert customers, or educate their audience.
A good business relationship benefits both parties.
So, what do you do with a client who’s simply unreasonable or has unrealistic expectations? What if the client is abusive or attempting to take advantage of your good intentions?
First of all, no fee is worth abusive behavior. I will address it firmly, if it happens, but just once. After that, I will terminate the relationship.
When I started as a freelance copywriter, I had a client who was looking for an article on new technology. Since my background is in tech, I thought it was a pretty good fit for my experience and capabilities. The only problem was that he had a small budget and needed to keep the word count down, basically at the low end of my flat fee for certain types and lengths of content.
It was difficult given the subject matter and amount of research needed. The topic was also too complex to provide more than a very general overview within the limits I was given. But, I did my best and felt that I delivered on what was asked of me. The client did, too.
He asked if I could expand on a few sections. I said okay and proceeded to round out the content without going too far over the predetermined word count. A few hours after I submitted the revised text, he returned it to me with a request to add more. This back and forth went on until the work in progress was three times the original length, and the ROI for my efforts was threatening to go into negative numbers.
Being new and not wanting to lose one of my first clients, I allowed this to continue much longer than I should have. What he really wanted was a long-form, in-depth article for the price of a short blog post, and he tried to take advantage of my inexperience to get free copy at my expense. I finally had to put an end to it in the politest way possible.
In the end, I lost a client but learned a lesson. Sometimes, you just have to cut your losses.
Client satisfaction is one of the most important elements of working with the public, especially when you depend upon good reviews and repeat business. As long as your customer is acting in good faith and willing to work with you, it’s important that you do everything within reason to make them happy.
As a business owner, it’s your duty to ensure customer satisfaction. If they have been unhappy with the service or product that you’ve provided them then there is no reason for any further work together as this will only harm both parties’ reputations in one way or another! It may seem like an odd rule at first but if we take into account how much more valuable our word-of mouth (WOM) advertising can be than paid ads well maybe things might change our perspective on what really matters here.