It happens to us all, that angry call from a client, something has gone wrong and it is down to you and your agency. It doesn't really matter what it is, or even if it is actually your fault, most of the time it probably isn't, the client simply does not want to hear anything but contrition, everything else is, to them, an excuse and more likely to make things worse.
Get a client that does this often, and they are out there even if you have not experienced it yet, and it can make you want to give up. It doesn't matter whether you run a small agency and deal with clients directly yourself, or you are trying to help staff handle such situations at a larger agency, it can have the same effect.
For anyone who has suffered through such client rants, let me assure you that you are not alone, it happens everywhere, and in my experience, the majority of agencies will see such client rants a few times every year. What we are going to do now is show you ways of diffusing these things as they happen, along with things you can do to avoid them in the first place.
Dealing with a client who is so angry is not easy, but the place to begin is to understand that whatever is wrong, it is not about you, it is all about the client. They are reaching out to you to give you a chance to make things right, and that is what you must focus on.
This is backed up by marketing expert Jay Baer, who notes that "People who complain put in the effort to register their opinions, which is much better than the silent frustration and apathy of the unimpressed middle."
The approach that yields the best results, is therefore to focus on what it is that they need, so that the client feels like someone is paying attention and listening to them, and that will help them calm down. Then you can move on to creating a solution that they are happy with. This is important for your own business, as research from Zendesk has revealed, an unhappy client shares their experience as much as 50% more than a happy one does, so it is well worth the effort involved.
No matter where the conversation began, be it social media, email or text message, you need to shift this, and talk to the client on the phone as soon as possible. It is much easier to adjust your responses as the conversation develops, but it is also less prone to miscommunications, as you can more readily understand tone and emotion through voices than you can in text.
Of course, if the client begins by cold calling you on the phone, then you need to keep track of what is said there and then. If you find you are left a voicemail from an upset client, call them back immediately, the longer it goes without a response, the harder it is to defuse the situation.
An upset client, more often than not, just wants to be heard, so let them talk. Note what is being said so that you can address concerns moving forward, but try not to interrupt them, as this can often lead to frustration and more anger.
When a client is this upset, waiting for a response will only escalate their anger, and allow them to start believing that you or your agency simply do not care about the problem or his business, and that the client should probably start looking for another agency, or worse. This is the outcome you wish to avoid at all costs, for obvious reasons.
Even if the issue at hand is something that will take time to solve, you should always show the client you are doing something about it right there and then, that could be a timetable of action to resolve the problem and what the client can expect to see in the short term to begin that process, but a tangible process is vital to give the client confidence in your ability to resolve the issue.
A quick response can calm things down, for instance, at a recent event we had some production issues that resulted in a few complaints being noted on the post event survey. I contacted everyone who had voiced concern, and without exception, they responded with thanks for acknowledging their concerns. Interestingly, when talking directly, many went on to say the issue was not as much of a problem as they originally thought.
We have talked about a client needing to be heard in these situations, but another aspect behind this behavior is the need for validation, that their problem really is a problem. No matter what the issue is, even if it is not your fault, at this point, the client believes it to be your fault, and arguing about fault with just lead to a client who is even angrier.
You do not have to take responsibility for anything, but agreeing that the problem is indeed a problem can really calm things. "I agree; I'd be upset/frustrated/angry/confused too" as a response can make all the difference.
That is not all you can do, going over the client's concerns be repeating them shows the client you are listening, and that gives them confidence in your intention to sort things out.
You should never rush to take the blame, unless it is very obvious that you or your company has made a mistake, but always be ready to admit that something may have been your fault after a proper investigation, failing to take responsibility is the worst response possible in cases where you are culpable.
When problems are found to be outside of your control, it is important to remain objective and offer advice on how to contact or deal with the party who is responsible, the temptation to gloat may be high, but it is really not the way to go for anyone who wants to retain clients in the future.
Listen very carefully to what the client is saying, and take notes on all the details of the problem at hand. Let the client know you are paying attention by asking relevant follow up questions, and reiterating the problems they discuss. Make sure by the end of the conversation you fully understand the problem, you can't deal with it if you do not understand it after all.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in these situations is hearing the problem, and deciding on a solution that suits us. This is not the right approach, ask the client what outcome they want, you may be surprised. Not everyone is looking for a refund, some just want the problem fixed, so offering refunds every time can actually cost you money.
Most problems will not be fixed during that phone call, requiring more time and work, that is not a problem as long as you do two things. Firstly, give the client a timetable, include a follow up phone call as soon as possible to let them know progress is being made. Secondly, you put that plan into action and actually call them.
This is a great time to ask for any detailed information on the problem, be they emails, screenshots and so on, as this tells the client you are actually working to resolve things for them.
If you operate an agency, you probably do not know the details of what happened for any given situation, so after the client's call, and you have calmed them down and promised that follow up, the next action is to discuss the issue with your team and find out what actually went on.
The aim is to put together the events that led to the problem, so you can understand the cause as well as a solution. Remember, you are responsible for your team's actions, so the follow up call should not only give more detail about the proposed solution, but the cause as well, and if your team were at fault, then you need to also apologize for that and take responsibility.
Knowing both the cause and the outcome of what happened, you can put together a plan for a solution that meets the client's desires, and it is important to let the client here this plan as soon as possible.
There may well be many occasions where the problem is actually nothing to do with you or your agency, and here you should direct the client to the responsible party so they can deal with things. For valued clients, it can be beneficial to offer assistance where possible, even if it is as simple as advice on how to approach those responsible for the best outcome.
For solutions to problems you are responsible for, once you have outlined the plan to the client, keep them informed as things progress. It is important here that you do this personally, delegating to others can, for the client, feel like the problem is of less importance, or they have to go through everything again to explain to a second person, which will annoy them, and so you should always be the point of contact, every time, until the problem is fully resolved.
To be the best agency you can be, it is important to commit to continued improvement, and these kinds of problems, while not welcome, are a good place to learn. Understanding what went wrong, and taking measures to avoid that same mistake again, will provide a positive from a negative situation, and can really help in the long term.
If you begin to see patterns in customer issues, you can be sure it is a problem with the wider system within your agency, and fixing that will alleviate the problems clients are experiencing.
An agency is only as strong as its team, and so coaching your team regarding these kind of client rants and how to go through the process of resolving the issue for themselves means you are less likely to be drawn into dealing with all of these problems yourself each time.
Trusting your team members to deal with these difficult situations themselves is important, if you do not trust them, they will never be in a position to take responsibility, and your agency will suffer for it.
Giving your team the skills and confidence to deal with upset and ranting clients will, in the long term, help those team members grow, and make life easier for you as well.
Posted on Mar 14 2017
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