What do you do when a client who previously loved you suddenly turns cold and blames you for a series of mistakes? That’s the email I got this morning from a reader who can’t make my teleseminar tomorrow, I Made a Mistake and it’s Kinda your Fault!
My reader, let’s call her Nadine, told me that she’s facing a tough situation with a client who loved her work but has mysteriously turned cold. You know, I believe that when you earnestly ask for help the universe provides. Because Nadine’s meeting is tomorrow before the call, I decided to help her out. She was generous enough to allow me to share her question and my answer with you.
My client is acting weird
So here’s Nadine’s story. Maybe it’s familiar to you…(the formatting is weird-sorry)
I am sure this question has been asked time and time again, (and sorry for the
long length of this email – this has been really bothering me) but if you don’t
mind, could you please tell me the best way to handle a dissatisfied client? I
have been a VA for a few years now and have never encountered this particular
My client loved me during our first few months. Then after she met with her new
business partner, things suddenly changed.
First, she has a free/cheap shopping cart that isn’t completely compatible with
her website and was installed by another site designer before I began working
with her. I let her know this and even sent her a copy of the error messages.
Yet she still insists on using it, but when there’s a glitch, she’s upset with
Second, she started off loving a site redesign I did for her, but then she goes
off on me when it didn’t include her old logo (after she previously approved my
new logo design) because she didn’t feel that it really contained her concept.
Finally, she asked me to point another site she owns to her main site. I asked
her for the login credentials so I could do this which she never gave me, but
later she called GoDaddy and said she took care of it. A month later,there’s a
glitch with this other site which I never touched and she’s upset with me.
I guess I am trying to find a way to explain the technological problems to her
without sounding like I am placing blame on either it or her.
Does any of this sound familiar to anyone? How did you handle it? Should I just
fire her as a client? This was my initial thought, but I am trying to be
patient. She’s currently, my highest paying client.
I am meeting with her tomorrow morning to hash things out, but I don’t want to
say anything to set her off.
Start with you
You recognize this right? Because I sure do. Many of my solopro clients come with this crazy-making it is me or them situation with a client who is acting strangely, out of character. Something is off and you’re not quite sure what it is or who’s doing it.
It’s clear that Nadine and her client are viewing their work relationship in different ways. Something has happened to change how the client is communicating with Nadine and she’s gotta find out what it is. But first, Nadine has to take care of herself.
Which entrepreneur or self-employed person likes to have a mishap or make a mistake? No one. A mistake or misunderstanding calls your insecurities, anxieties and nastiest fear gremlins to life, which in turn stirs up an ocean of negative feelings. Just like the waves of the ocean, those feelings just keep coming back until you manage them.
Here’s what I shared with Nadine…
What makes this situation so tough is there are a lot of moving pieces: your feelings and thoughts, the actions and what’s driving your client. This where emotional intelligent gives you a big edge.
To make it easier to think though your emotions and those of your client, I created a framework called In | Out | Us. You can use this over and over with all kinds of small business situations. It’s great because instead of worrying endlessly about what to do or say, it allows you to focus your thoughts on specific questions that help you consider what to do without all the drama.
In | Out | Us
1. Looking in- What’s up with me?
How are you feeling about a)the situation b) this client c) the fact this client is high paying. No judging, just write down your feelings to see what they are. Often there’s a ‘top note’ and ‘bottom notes’.
Negative feelings can be like toxic sludge; icky, ugly and spreading everywhere. When you actually look at them it’s possible to shift to a different image. I like to think of negative feelings as bad weather, you know storm clouds. They roll in, very threatening and dark, then roll right out again. They aren’t permanent, although it feels like things never end. These feelings, I’m guessing you’re frustrated, annoyed, puzzled and worried, will pass. Usually, fear is on the list, too.
Feeling guilty comes with the territory. Yet, it’s not helpful. The way to move past that is to recall times when you have been brilliant and terrible working with a challenging client. This situation doesn’t define you as a business owner and I’m sure you’ve had many satisfied clients.
Your goal when looking in is to discover your feelings and releasing the negative ones so you can clearly analyze the next bit, Looking out- What happened?
2. Looking out- What happened?
What’s the first question people ask when the poop hits the fan? What happened? That’s usually code for: Who is to blame? Whose fault is this? Pretty natural since we’re socialized to point the finger.
That leads to defensiveness which is the enemy of meaningful conversation. That’s why clearing the emotion is so important. It lets you enter the conversation in a collaborative way, not in a defensive posture. Then you can see what happened. You’re looking for what I call contribution:
-what did you do or not do to arrive here? What did your client do or not do to get here?
The other piece of what happened is looking at impact and intentions. When bad things happen we naturally assume bad intent on the part of the other person. You know the deal with assumptions, right? Ass-u-me… better to realize you’re guessing why she did what she did. Even better still to ask.
After you’ve gotten thru the next step, looking forward- what’s up with us, you can start the conversation with something like this….
I noticed that our working relationship changed since your business expanded. Have you noticed that? or I wonder why-can you help me understand what changed?
3. Looking forward- what’s up with us?
Now that you have a handle on the emotions and actions you can turn your thoughts to brainstorming to solutions. This assumes you want to keep her as a client. You don’t have to. You might decide that unless there’s better communication that you will send her to another VA, aka fire her. If you decide to work it out you want to follow this process.
First, help your client be less defensive too. Explore what her emotions might be so you can help to manage them.
Write down what you think she’s feeling. Now for each negative, imagine what action of yours might have prompted that response and prepare a sentence about your intentions.
For instance, maybe she’s angry because she thinks you didn’t redirect her site properly. You might say to her,
I realize that you might be angry over the redirect, I’d love to tell you what went on for me with that. Key thing to remember is you’re not making an excuse. You’re explaining what’s going on for you.
Invite her to a conversation where the goal is re-creating your work relationship so it flows better. If she’s not interested, you got an answer.
The upside about all of this- yes, there is one- is that you have an opportunity to do some great things:
- grow your people skills and confidence
- impress her with your professionalism and caring
- cement her as a long term client, if you want.
- SOLVE the problem!!!
This is exactly the kind of work I do at my Mend it Retreats It’s a terrific way to get coached through it. I’m so happy I could help and hope you’ll let me know how you make out.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments. And, hey, there’s still time to register for my complimentary teleseminar. We’re starting early so don’t dawdle…
Tags: client mistake, dina eisenberg, emotional intelligence, entrepreneur, people skills, solopreneur, Speak up Powerfully, virtual assistant