It happens. In spite of our best efforts, there are times when we can’t seem to meet the expectations of our clients. So what do you do when a client project goes wrong?
- Revisit the initial project expectations. My recommendation is that you get these in writing at the very beginning of a relationship. This documentation is sometimes referred to as deliverables, creative briefs, concept papers, etc. If nothing else, write something down somewhere and send it to the client to make sure you completely understand their expectations. Failing to fully understand the client’s expectations is often the source of most difficult situations.
- Pick up the phone or schedule an in person meeting. Don’t try to settle things via email. My experience has taught me that human interaction solves most problems. Name it. Say it. Deal with it. And move on. (The only exception to this is when the conversation becomes hostile or legal matters are involved. At that point, it is a good idea to get as much in writing or email as possible.)
- If you are at fault (e.g. missing deadlines, quality of work, etc.), then admit it verbally and quickly. Don’t make excuses. Life happens to everyone. The client hired you to do a specific task not so they could hear about all the drama in your life. Most people appreciate honesty.
- Send a summary of any and all substantive conversations back to the client for review. This is as much a preventative measure as it is one that helps resolve a difficult situation. Your notes document what you discussed and provide the opportunity for the client to clarify if necessary.
- Establish a revised set of expectations and timelines. Send this to the client for review and confirmation. This new set of expectations should replace the initial one and provide detailed steps (with dates) to completing the task or project in a way that satisfies the client’s expectations. Make sure those dates are reasonable and provide some measure of margin for the unexpected. You want to get it right on the second try.
- Do what’s best for the client. Sometimes that means incurring expenses you don’t have to or taking steps that are above and beyond “the contract.” People know when you are working for their best interest…or yours. Don’t take the cheap or easy way out.
- Walk away with integrity. If you are in business long enough, you will eventually have to let a client go. After you’ve exhausted every avenue to make the situation right, it may be time to recognize that you may never be able to please a particular client. I have strong termination clauses in my agreements, but I have waived those on rare occasion when it provided a path out of a toxic situation. Try to operate with as much integrity as possible. Don’t leave room for someone to say negative things about your character. People forget project details; they remember how they were treated.
- Go find another client. There is plenty of business and opportunity out there. When one project fails, go find another one.
Difficult situations are part of being in business. Learning how to navigate through these experiences will give you confidence as you move forward and will sharpen your ability to discern client needs and your capacity to meet those expectations.
How have you handled difficult situations in your line of work?
Ben Stroup is a content activist in a post-paragraph world. He is chief broker of opportunity at Ben Stroup Enterprises. Connect with Ben via email, Twitter, and Google+. Subscribe via email to learn how to use content to move people to action.