Guide to Client Service: Volume II, RelationshipsChapter three

Managing an Unhappy Client

One of the most difficult situations you can be in with a client is one where they are unhappy or expressing  concern. It might go against conventional wisdom, but these situations can often be viewed as an opportunity: an opportunity to shine in the eyes of the client by helping to solve a problem for them, regardless of the reason for the issue.     

Let’s set the stage: you get an email or a call from a client and all of a sudden you are thrown into a panic because the client seems unhappy, they are upset, or something has gone amiss.  “Oh no! We are going to lose them as a client!” Enter Crisis Mode!

While those moments can certainly put your stomach in knots, there are effective methods to navigating these situations in a way that minimizes stress and can even benefit all parties involved.

In a perfect world, the best way to deal with a client concern is to be proactive and resolve potential issues before they ever occur.

6 Steps to Managing an Unhappy Client:

1. Pause & Listen

Relax and pause. Always let the client speak and listen until they are done expressing the concern. Take a moment to realize that you don’t have to have an answer right away and present a solution immediately. Take the extra time to listen and really learn what is causing their concern.

2. Empathize and Understand

Put on your client hat and look at how the issue impacts them. Really understand their perspective by getting as much information as possible by asking questions.

3. Own It

Acknowledge that the client is experiencing frustration and immediately assure them that your team will offer a solution, but resist the initial urge to seek out who’s to blame. Sincerity is key here—it can usually help to diffuse a situation.

This also works well when you have to deliver bad news to a client. The best way to get a  resolution in motion is to tackle it head on and move to the next step.

Keep in mind the difference between admitting fault and apologizing for the circumstances of the situation. Do not admit fault unless you know the reason for the problem. You can aim to extend an apology for how the situation is impacting the client, without apologizing for the issue and admitting to a fault.

4. Present a Solution

Identify what happened and the cause. Be sure to gather the client’s perspective on the cause of the problem and align with them to create a solution. Present the steps that will be taken to ensure that the issue is resolved and does not happen again. Use the opportunity to learn from any mistakes or errors in a process and fine tune it for the future.

5. Set the Solution in Motion

After the issue has been addressed and a solution is in place, it is vital to make sure that it is implemented. Confidence can be regained with swift execution of the proposed solution.

6. Follow-Up

Err on the side of over-communicating when it comes to following up with the client.  Make sure the solution has corrected the problem and communicate with the client regularly to ensure the same issues aren’t creeping back up.. Make the concern a high priority and address it until it no longer needs any more attention.  

A few examples of over communication are:

  • Sending out a daily/weekly priority plan that outlines the steps being taken
  • Add it to any recurring meeting agenda as a high priority item for discussion
  • Set up a call with the main point of contact after the issue is resolved


With this type of game plan, you have a great chance at creating a win/win for everyone.