10 Ideas How to Deal With Unhappy Clients

"Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." ~ Bill Gates

Creating exceptional client experience should be on top of your priority.

Yet – chances are you have encountered an unhappy client before.

When a poor customer experience happens, it is never too late to mitigate and certainly an opportunity to learn by turning a negative situation into a positive customer experience.

I don’t believe in the expression “the customer is always right” – but once in a conflict you will need to choose between being “right” and being “wise”. It’s all about preventing your ego take control over you…

Instead of being afraid, upset or offended because of an angry client, use the situation to improve your product or service and build a better relationship with that client.

In my experience – almost every time we managed to make an unhappy client happy/whole again – this client became a long-time ideal client.

Here are ten ideas on how to handle unhappy clients:

1. Communicate Immediately

The quicker you respond to complaints the less likely the situation will escalate. At the same time investigate if there are any others who experience the same issue (even if they didn’t complain). Often the complaint is not an isolated issue. 

2. Listen, Acknowledge and Don’t React First

The first thing you should do is listen and understand what happened from the client’s perspective. Acknowledge their feedback. And when you don’t react it’s easier to care about them and solve their problem.

3. Apologize for the Inconvenience

Begin with “I’m sorry,” Then elaborate with a brief explanation… “I’m sorry your order was late, it isn’t the customer experience we’re aiming for, and I can understand how this would be frustrating. I’ve investigated the issue and here’s what happened…”

4. Put Yourself in Their Shoes

Be kind and put yourself in their shoes. Even if the issue is not your fault, or not that “big”, in your opinion… try to see it from their eyes… 

5. Show Empathy

Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with the customer. It means you truly understand how they feel and can meet them where they are. By understanding how the customer feels, you’ll be able to relate with them on a more personal level. 

6. Gather More Facts

Reassure your client you will do whatever it takes to solve the situation. Explain the process, the information you need, the follow-up time frame, and the path to a conclusion.

7. Be on Their Team

Always be on the same team as your client. For example, when a client wants to return a product beyond the return policy date. Instead of saying, “Sorry, it’s too late to return the product,” say, “It looks like this purchase is outside of the return window, but let me see what I can do for you.” Then the customer sees you as a friend – not as an enemy.

8. Don’t Take it Personally

If you take client complaints personally, you risk getting emotional or even angry with the client, and this is when the situation becomes worse. De-escalate the situation by staying professional while showing empathy and understanding.

9. Let Them Lead to a Solution

Learn to love having these types of tough conversations. They lead to solutions that make clients happy, which is always rewarding. They might also lead to solutions that can fix a problem you didn’t even realize you had. It’s the best type of feedback!

10. Make it Right. Make Them Whole

I’m not saying the customer is always right, but I feel it’s my responsibility to make it right. I always try to go above and beyond to solve a conflict or repair hurt feelings. Set expectations with them so they know when and how their issue will be resolved and then meet or exceed those expectations.

Now It’s YOUR Turn

For five minutes… come up with as many ideas as you can… what tips do YOU have to handle unhappy clients?

Let's Brainstorm


Please share your ideas (all of them or just one) in the comment box below… and let’s get WOWing.

Live fully, stay awesome,

Nisandeh Neta

Top Commenters – last 30 Days

Let's Brainstorm


Please share your ideas (all of them or just one) in the comment box below… and let’s get WOWing.

Live fully, stay awesome,

Nisandeh Neta


    If they are right. Actually it never is a problem. Then it is actually easy to solve. If they are not right. Than it is a bit more difficult.

    1. STAY CALM
    Yes! This can be challenging. Especially if people are shouting at you for something you had no control over.

    Sometimes the solution they want is much simpler than the solution you could think of.

    Some people, use complaints to get your service for free.

    Some people are not your client after all. Then handle them with the greatest respect and part as friends
    But disconnect ASAP. You do not want bad energy in your business.

    Some people really mean well. They are can be your free "proofreaders"
    Make sure you stay connected to them. They might be your biggest clients. And most loyal.

    I hate that, but it is trough.
    It can be that you were not clear enough
    That you promised too much

    It happens. And sometimes it is nobodies folt or it is the folt of them or you.
    Learn from it and move on.

    After taking a breath, take your losses and move on. Do NOT take their complains personally

  2. It depends why they are unhappy and if they willing to find a solution together. If they just want to be unhappy no matter what, then maybe let them go.
    If they are willing to find a solution then always their is a solution to keep everyone happy!

  3. Jee... @Naomi I totally admire your ability to stay cool with such patients. I believe it's double hard to do that when your whole work is about helping them!!! Unfortunately I had many encounters with doctors and even when they were instances when they were frustrating I always reminded myself that at the end of the day they are too PEOPLE, who probably had a bad day, or after 28 hours shift etc...

    I have to say that your approach of telling them it's not the best way to get you to cooperate with them is a charm. I;ve been known to scream at customer service on the phone after calling nearly every day for months only to get the same answer that "we will call you back" when they didn't. But when I got someone on the phone who responded to me that way - it stopped me on my tracks and cooled me down immediately as I realised that this specific person is tryon NOW to help me and shouldn't suffer from my previous experience with others.

    SO a good one to remember... THANKS

  4. Well, sometimes is just... FIRE THEM!

    Sometimes people are already unhappy before they even start with you... You feel they want : voor een dubbeltje op de eerste rij zitten. Whatever you do, it will never be good enough. Just don't even start...

    Furthermore, when you tackle the subject as fast as possible, they can become your BEST customers (very often there is that "allergy" but mainly because they are too much like you...)

  5. A good list Nisandeh. Will keep it in mind when I have an unhappy customer. Up till now I haven't yet had an unhappy customer, but sometimes I make a mistake in my job. My colleagues are my clients there. What I always do is apologize that I didn't completely follow their instruction or overlooked something. Than I thank them they pointed it out to me and giving me the opportunity to correct same. Moreover, when I am agitated one way or the other I vent it privately and then pick up the phone or e-mail my colleagues explaining what went wrong. In this way my emotions are less or gone and I can think more rationally.

  6. This is one of the things I am sooooo grateful to see how you are dealing with these!!

    A few additions:

    Don’t be afraid to return money. It will pay back. Immediate payback will create reciprocity and your formerly unsatisfied client will feel obligated to show that they deserved it. Besides- you really don’t want to keep on dealing with a client who is going to drain your energy… better let them go. Returning their money also shows them that you are not there for their money!

    Ask THEM what you could do to make it up, and give them a few examples so they won’t feel embarrassed to ask for what they really want. I often offer one on one time with them which they value tremendously- and it’s a great way to find out what they do want!

    If you have a money back guarantee, give it without asking. Only after that ask for the reason.

    If you don’t hear anything from a client, it might be that they’re unsatisfied. Dare to ask for their feedback. It’s gonna help you improve your services and products.

    Always. Always. React on a negative feedback. Never ignore it.

    1. Just to be honest, some people are just A holes.... they started threatening with lawyers etc and you didn't even start a conversation yet. I'm very principal, so I want to keep their money since they know who you are, did already a class (this was concerning my dance school). Anyways, I gave their money back since I didn't want the hassle but I knew they would never come back... but KARMA comes... one day...

  7. I agree with the items in the list. I did the excercise the other way round today and had a huge overlap. I know my extreme sense of justice (rechtvaardigheidsgevoel) gets in the way..and how to overcome that?
    Step away from your ego
    Ask the customer when (s)he will be satisfied (without doing promises just figure out what they want or how to help them overcome their frustrations).
    DON'T argue... This should be rule no 1 by the way.
    Set a stage where it is possible to connect...and then see where it goes...
    Try to have an empty head, and try to park your non-objective thoughts. Difficult for emo-persons like me....I know.

  8. With this list you're giving us a very good protocol to take sincere care of unhappy clients. I don't have much to add, but here are two:

    1. Make it up and do something extra - it can be very simple: a hand written note added to the new delivery (e.g. if you have a webshop) makes a big difference and costs you nothing.

    2. Expectation management - Be clear how you solve your clients problem and communicate what the following steps will be.

  9. The above list is fantastic. I used to work in Customer Service and I wish I had some of those tips. Here is what I learned from that time:

    1. CLIENTS ARE... PEOPLE - Even if they sound like barking dogs and sometimes have the weirdest requests and crazy demands, at the end of the day they are PEOPLE... all they want is someone to LISTEN to them. If you can keep your "cool" while they rant and give them space to ventilate their frustration and anger 8 out of 10 cases that would be enough for them.

    2. SHOW YOU'VE LISTENED - Once they finished their rant, show them that you truly listened by saying: "Let me see if I understood correctly what you're saying..." and then repeat what they said but stick to the FACTS, not their assumptions and conclusion.

    3. GET THEM INVOLVED IN THE SOLUTION - Once you've repeated what they said, check if you got it right and if so, ask them "What do YOU suggest could solve the issue" - it doesn't mean you're going to do EXACTLY what they said, but it gives them the opportunity to become part of the solution.

    4. OFFER THEM A SOLUTION - Sometimes, what they are asking is even easier, cheaper and faster than what you had in mind - if so, give it to them. If what they are asking is not possible - offer another solution. Check if that is agreeable for them. If not try another one. if nothing helps. Say you're going to check with your "supervisor" and see what they can do. Sometimes the best solution is give them the refund and let go of that client...

    1. #1 is also really true. I've been barked at as an MD often in emergency cases. You are the 100th doctor they see but you are the bad person and need to solve this problem RIGHT NOW. I always stay cool, which helps a lot (but when they get aggressive, I explain that this is not the way to get what they want... When it's not the patient itself who's yelling, I either ask them to leave (as I ask to do with animals - don't come near my boss!) or I leave for my safety). But this is rare fortunately, I can normally influence people with one sentence like Crocodile Dundee did to Charlie the Buffalo :).

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