It would be wonderful if your freelance writing business rolled along smoothly, wouldn’t it? (You got all the gigs you applied for, you always got paid on time, and all of your clients loved you.) It sounds great, I know. Hopefully, most of the time all of these things happen for you.
However, in the unlikely event you need to put out a fire with a client who is less than happy, here are some tips:
Acknowledge what the client is saying.
If the other person feels as if they are being listened to, that will serve to help them to calm down. The last thing you want to do is to let the situation escalate. A simple, “I can appreciate that you are frustrated/disappointed” is appreciated.
Make sure you understand what the problem is.
This is a simple matter of, “You are saying that you had asked for [X] and you got [Y] instead.” Say or e-mail it back to the client so you are both on the same page.
Don’t lay blame or make excuses.
This is just a waste of time. Even if the problem could be attributed to someone else’s action (or lack thereof), it doesn’t matter at this point.
Commit to fixing the problem.
Once the client understands that there is a solution and that you are committed to helping find one, it helps them move away from being upset and on moving forward. Apologize for the misunderstanding and come to a consensus about how to solve the problem.
I try not to focus on why something didn’t go as planned because we don’t have the ability to go back in time and change things. Maybe there was a breakdown in communication or I just plain got it wrong. It happens. I apologize and focus on fixing the problem. Then I commit to making changes so we don’t run up against the same problem in the future.
Once the problem has been solved, move on.
This one is a hard one. So far (touch wood), I haven’t lost any clients because of a mistake, but I do tend to beat myself up mentally if we have had to deal with an issue. I am getting better about saying, “I’ve gotten on the wrong track here, and I’m glad you have pointed it out so that I can get back on the right one.”
How do you deal with an unhappy client?
About the writer: Jodee Redmond is a freelance writer, editor, and Internet researcher.
First published in February 2007; updated September 2021