#277: How to Respond to an Angry Client

Brandon Welch is a marketing consultant who works with local businesses. Recently, he explained how these businesses should respond to negative online reviews.

As I read his advice, I realized his approach is very similar to the one I use when dealing with negative client feedback.

That negative feedback could be a harsh reaction to a first draft. Or maybe a complaint about our response time or pricing.

Whatever the complaint, our tendency is to react emotionally rather than respond calmly, thoughtfully and strategically.

Reacting takes little to no thought. Responding requires thoughtful action.

In today’s podcast episode, I’ll walk you through Brandon’s process—and explain how you can follow the same steps to respond better to negative client feedback.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smartphone, tablet or iPod.

How to Respond to Negative Feedback

Step one: Empathize and apologize

Brandon points out that in these kinds of situations, it doesn’t really matter who’s right and who’s wrong. The customer feels the way they feel. You have to meet them where they are.

When you empathize with them (“I’m so sorry about your experience with ____! I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes”), you lower their defenses.

They’re ready for a fight. When you react in a relaxed, empathetic way, it disarms them.

Step two: Communicate your values

Next, you need to paint a picture of your values and how they align with what they hoped to experience.

For example, you could tell the client that this is not what you’re about. This mistake or oversight is below the standards to which you hold yourself.

Step three: Ask for forgiveness

Asking for forgiveness is pretty straightforward. Simply say something to the effect that you hope they can forgive your mistake or oversight.

Step four: Offer resolution

Explain how you’re going to make it right.

Be clear about what they can expect and when they can expect the fix.

Step five: Show authenticity

You need to show humility and humanity—even if you know you’ll never work with this client again.

Show that you truly want to make this right and do whatever it takes (within acceptable limits) to make that happen.

Regardless of what happens from there, you’ll know that you’ve done everything you could to resolve the issue.

A Real-Life Example

Let’s take a real-life example.

A couple of months ago, a coaching client of mine was having a difficult time with a client.

She had a scheduled phone interview with the company’s CEO. But just three hours before the interview, her mother was in a serious, life-threatening accident—and she had to rush her mom to the hospital.

Fortunately, her mom started to improve after a few days, but it was a scary and stressful time.

The following week she tried to reschedule the call.

The CEO reminded her that she’d cancelled the last meeting unexpectedly and asked her to suggest a time that was 100% guaranteed because he didn’t want to have to move the meeting again.


When I heard this story, my gut reaction was to send the CEO the nastiest email possible.

But that’s an emotion-driven reaction—and probably not the best course of action.

Instead, I asked my client to consider that the CEO’s frustration may have little to do with her. Maybe he was having a bad day and took his frustrations out on her.

It’s not fair. But it happens.

Next, I suggested that she apologize again, explain why she had to cancel the call, and assure him she has every intention of making it this time.

Something like this:

Hi Joe,

I’m very sorry about having to move that call last week. I know how frustrating it is to have last-minute cancellations. [apologize and empathize]

I take client appointments very seriously. But my mother had a major medical emergency three hours before our call, and I had to rush her to the hospital. Totally unexpected situation. [communicate your values]

I have X day/time blocked in my calendar, if that still works for you. [offer resolution]

I have every intention of being there. And again, my apologies for canceling last time. I look forward to reconnecting. [ask for forgiveness + show authenticity]

One last tip: once you’ve tried to make amends in this way, move on. Try not to dwell on the situation.

Remind yourself that you did your best to fix it, and part of being human is making mistakes.

And mistakes are the way we all learn and get better.



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