An Unhappy Client

From time to time, something you say or do may arouse a client’s ire. When he or she calls in angry and begins yelling and screaming, how do you deal with it?


Before you sign a contract with clients, tell them that you only handle complaints in person. You should never handle complaints over the phone. I suggest putting a reference to this in your contract so there isn’t any question about your company policy. The next step, when a client calls with a complaint, is to handle it immediately.


Understand The Problem

If a client calls and begins complaining, respond with “John/Mary, I understand you are upset. What time will you be home (or at the job site) today so we can get together to review the problem, one on one and get it resolved to your satisfaction?”

When the client gives you a time, agree, and then make sure that you are at that appointment on time. Do not aggravate the situation by being late, or worse – not showing up at all.

When you arrive, ask all parties to the discussion to sit down. You don’t want to address a problem while standing. You want to diffuse the situation and put everyone at ease. “John/Mary, is there somewhere we can sit while we talk about this problem?” Then you ask them to tell you exactly what is wrong, and you listen carefully. Do not allow yourself to get drawn into a debate or discussion. You listen. No excuses, no explaining, no arguing… just listen.

When your client is done venting, ask what you can do to correct the problem. “John/Mary, what would you like me to do to fix this problem? How can I make it right? And listen to the suggestions, even if you think that they are wrong.

Make a Plan

If the client’s fix is reasonable, agree to it on the spot and either fix it right then or arrange to have your employees or subs fix the problem immediately. If you have to go back to the office and get more information regarding how or why the problem occurred, then do that. But before you leave, set a time for a callback within the next 24 hours. Go back to your office, find out all the information you need, and then get back to the client and resolve the problem.

Be sure you apologize for the problem, even if you didn’t cause it. Shoulder the responsibility, and that will also help deflate the problem. Revise the time schedule for the completion date if the problem has delayed the job in any way. Last but definitely not least, get a Change Work Order signed by the client to extend the completion date on the job.

Time To Make Up and Clean Up

Buy the owners and their family a dinner out. You can do this with a gift certificate for about half the hourly rate your attorney would charge to listen while you explain your client’s complaint and why you are being sued or why they are refusing to pay you.

Check the job two or three times each week from that point on to be sure the problem is fixed and that it doesn’t come up again. Make sure your subs are aware of the problem if they were involved in any way. Be sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing to get the job back on track. 

When the job is within five days of being complete, take the owners through the job, and compile your final punch list. Be sure they sign the final punch list and check off each item as you complete it. When the job is finished, and you have your final check, ask your clients for two referrals, or give them a chance to buy more work from you. That will show them that you aren’t upset at them for getting angry with you, whatever the reason.

And finally, be sure you review this problem with everyone in your company that was involved and any subs or suppliers that were involved, so the problem does not come up again. If the same problem shows up on other jobs, give the perpetrators of the problem a transfer to your competition. Remind everyone that clients aren’t a nuisance or a problem – they are the reason you are in business, and they must be treated accordingly at all times.

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