When you’re a business owner, customer complaints happen. It’s a fact – yet one we readily forget when an angry e-mail lands in our inbox.
For freelancers, complaints are usually daunting and intimidating. We invest so much in our work that we often identify with it – to a point that negative feedback can even take a toll on our ability to focus, self-esteem and overall confidence. Mix it with the fear of losing the customer, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Yet, sooner or later we all end up reading that angry e-mail. And when the time comes, we need to put our fears aside and take action.
How about it?
1. Focus on facts
At times, customer complaints come with rough and aggressive language. This adds up to the emotional burden of the situation, and makes it more difficult to react properly.
If letting it go is tricky for you, acknowledge the complaint and set a time for discussion. This will help you take a step back, and focus on the problem rather than on verbal expressions of anger. Remember, though: for customers, complaints are a pressing issue. When deciding on a time for discussion, make it a priority to handle the situation quickly.
2. Avoid the blame game
When addressing negative feedback, you should aim for a constructive discussion. Resentful remarks won’t do any good – and can soon escalate to the blame game. Hence, keep your comments professional and to a point all the way through. This often mitigates both the customer’s harsh feelings and manners.
3. Ask questions, and summarise
When clients complain, the situation is stressful on both sides. Asking questions is a great way to:
- show the customer that you care about him/her
- confirm or clarify the nature of the complaint
- get insights on how to fix the problem.
Active listening techniques will help a lot here. On top of ongoing feedback, summarise the key facts of the complaint at the end of the discussion. Rephrasing the contents in your own words supports mutual acknowledgement and understanding – and makes the client see that “you got it right”.
4. Apologise gracefully
When managing a customer complaint, keep your apologies short and sweet. Being defensive or indulging in long explanations won’t help. Quite the contrary, longer apologies tend to be perceived as “making excuses”, especially when done in writing. Just say “I’m sorry about that”, and focus on how to make it better.
5. Take action
At times, complaints are based on excessive expectations or inaccurate perceptions on the client’s side. In that case, explain what went wrong to avoid further misunderstandings. Again: keep it to a point, and don’t blame the customer. Instead, be thoughtful and suggest ways to handle the situation differently in the future.
In other cases, the complaint originates from a fault or mistake on your side. Here, you should amend your work to bring it up to par whenever possible. If you can’t do it, find someone that will help you solve the issue quickly and effectively.
Depending on the scope of the complaint, you might also want (or need) to offer some kind of compensation to the client. You could offer e.g. a free product upgrade or a reduction on the project price. Even though losing money might hurt, it’s only fair.
6. Follow up
Negative feedback is valuable. When the complaint is resolved, reflect on what happened and see if you can get any important lessons out of it. Maybe you could improve your workflow to avoid relapses? Do you need to work a bit more on your skills? Or maybe you should make your website copy clearer?
Also, get in touch with the customer – and see if they are happy with your work now. When handled properly, complaints can help us strengthen our relationships with clients. So don’t fall for the “fix and forget” trap.