The majority of responses I see in Facebook Groups and online forums in regards to client problems is very one sided and reactionary. “Fire them!” “Shut down their website!” “Send them to collections!” Not only is this a very “torch and pitchfork” type of response it makes you and our industry look uneducated and inexperienced. It hurts the legitimacy of what we are trying to do. You have to change your perspective in these types of situations. That angry email from the client is an opportunity, not a battle cry.
The reality is that the client wasn’t upset when the project first started, so something happened along the way. There are many reasons why Projects Go South. Whether it’s “expectations,” “alignment” or even money, there are multiple opportunities to Fix a Project, before it gets to the point of angry emails being exchanged.
To better understand client confrontations, here are some ways you can put yourself in a better frame of mind to handle the situation.
- For this to work, you have to be humble. Ask yourself, “Did I do everything right? Were there things I could have done better along the way?” If your answer is Yes to either of these, that’s a good start.
- The angry email from the client is the effect of what’s happened thus far. Depending on how crazy sounding the email is from the client, that’s how bad your communication was. If it’s really wild and out there, then you left the client to their own devices and that’s when they started to make up assumptions as to what was really going on.
- When you get an angry email from a client, they are awaiting your response. If that email got you upset, then it worked. That client is trying to get your attention. It’s at this moment where how you respond, will define how the relationship continues.
Just like the “torch and pitchfork” example I gave earlier, your first reaction may be to reply with a lengthy email explaining to the client how they are wrong. This will get you absolutely nowhere. I have a saying, “When you are upset, do the opposite.” The first thing you should do is not respond at all, until you have had time to evaluate the situation properly and can come up with an appropriate response. This is a great time to take a walk and think it through.
Once you get back and are ready to prepare a response, follow the steps below.
5 Steps in how to reply to a clients angry email
- Take a walk. As mentioned earlier, do not respond right away. It’s not only that you would say the wrong thing, it’s that you need to examine the facts. Between you, the client and the project team, all the facts need to be examined.
- Schedule a call. Now that you know the facts, your response should be light hearted, empathetic and brief. It should convey that you care about the situation, sorry that it has come to this point and you will do whatever it takes to make it right. Do not try to negotiate this through email. Words do not have the same intonation as voice does in these situations and can easily be misinterpreted.
- Set aside enough time for the call. Make sure you set aside enough time for the call. Depending on how intense the situation is, it could take a while to sort things out. You’ll also want some time after, so don’t schedule back to back appointments. The last thing an angry client wants to hear is you have a “hard stop” in a hour.
- Show up prepared. This is not a battle. You are not gathering evidence. You were hired to provide a solution to the clients problem, so you will do so in this case as well. After you have done all of your research, put together a list of steps to explain to the client, how you are going to fix the problem. If this includes the client paying for overdue invoices, include that too. Your plan should have some give and take. At the same time, it’s not about reducing the amount owed, it’s about getting the work done. The client wants the work finished, so figure out a plan to finish it.
- Rise above and focus on the future. This is your time to shine. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and nerve-racking, but this is business and you’re an adult. Stop thinking about the past and let the client know that all you are concerned about is moving forward.
It’s been said, in so many ways, that what you do in times of stress defines you. This is one of those times. It is your responsibility to see this through. You took on this client. You took their money. You are part of why this project is the way it is. You cannot run and hide. Addressing it head on and fixing it is so much easier than you think.