5 simple steps to help you deal with unsatisfied clients


Dissatisfied customers upset about an issue are something almost every freelancer has to deal with sooner or later. No matter how professional or hard-working you are, you will encounter someone who gets upset. So, what should you do with an unhappy – sometimes angry customer?

“This is not what I had in mind at all. I think I’m going to find another freelancer”

“This isn’t working”

If you’ve delivered the work and your client says something similar, please keep in mind that it may or may not be your fault, but that’s usually not the point. It is, however, important to act quickly and in accordance with your client’s wishes. Ultimately, your goal is to deliver goods your client likes. After all, there’s nothing more important to your business than a happy client, one who recommends you for other projects.

Remember you can’t make everyone happy but also, that it is possible to turn an unhappy client into a forever client.

Following are a couple of simple steps, you can use turn a client around and help change that dissatisfaction into satisfaction (and hopefully, a long-term client). 

1. Stay calm when dealing with an unhappy client

First and foremost, you should keep a cool head. Try to not get personally involved, regardless of your client’s anger and dissatisfaction. Stay neutral and be a calm listener, pay attention to what he or she has to say.

That kind of collected attitude will assure your client that you are:

  • Confident in your services
  • Not afraid to admit a mistake
  • Open to critique

Once you have shown that level of professionalism and kept a neutral stance, your client is more likely to trust you with his problem and explain it to you. This is when the next tip comes in handy.

2. Identify the specific problem that caused dissatisfaction 

Identifying the problem at hand is the most important thing you can do if you want to salvage the relationship with your client. Don’t be content with vague explanations about what caused the dissatisfaction. Try to figure out exactly what worked out and what didn’t.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes and ask as many questions as you need to get real information and understand your dissatisfied customer:

  • I’m sorry to hear this isn’t working for you / is not what you had in mind
  • What things are and aren’t working? The working hours? Delivery times?
  • Let’s figure out together where the problems arose

Miscommunication is often the cause of an angry client. Communicate and find out where exactly your expectations did not meet what the customer wanted. Only by understanding what went wrong can you fix it.

Here’re some ideas to avoid miscommunication:

  • Summarize phone calls in writing and ask the client to confirm that all the information discussed has been considered
  • Check typos on emails. If you are in a hurry you could quote something wrong. $10 is not the same than $100. So check the document before sending it out.
  • Start the process with a proposal, that can be discussed with the client and ultimately becomes a contract when accepted.
  • Try not to communicate with clients if you’re upset at that moment.
  • Connect with clients not just in business but personally. This will most certainly help you understand his/her ideas.
Portfolio Dragos Muntean

3. Offer solutions to the client

Now that you are familiar with the exact causes of the problem, you have to come up with a solution. 

a.   Offer to re-do the project at no extra charge 

You might need to fix a couple of details or maybe you have to start from scratch. That really depends on the situation at hand. What matters is that you show your client that you understand where you went wrong after talking it through with them and showing them that you are confident you can fix it.

Here’s an example of an unhappy customer response letter that you could use: 

“Dear client,

I’m sorry to hear that the deliverables aren’t as you expected. After having discussed the problem with you, I now understand what you had in mind and I’d like to make the necessary amends on the project to meet your expectations.

I appreciate your patience as I work to resolve this within the following days.

The freelancer”

b.   Offer to revise the work for an additional fee 

Sometimes, the client will be unhappy or angry with the work because the initial idea of the project changed (often changes may come from management) and now the work doesn’t meet their goals. Here, it’s a different end-work than what you both originally agreed on. So, in those situations, it’s actually not your problem.

In this case, you can offer to provide a new proposal and estimate (you might consider including a discount) to the client – one that adds the new necessary changes.

Here’s an email template you could use with an unsatisfied customer to increase project scope

“Dear client,

I’m sorry to hear that you’re not happy with the work but what you mention as a problem was not included in our original agreement (Please find the original contract attached as reference).

Since I am closely familiar with the project at hand, I’d be happy to continue working on it and to send you an estimate that includes the new project scope.

Awaiting your thoughts on this. 

Best regards,
The freelancer

c.    Offer no revision at all 

Maybe you’ve already made some revisions on the project, or the business relationship is really not working. In this case, it’s time to let the client go. How?

You can simply wish them luck and part ways or if you know a freelancer that could be a good fit for the client (and the project) you can recommend the new professional to the customer. If they need the project completed urgently, this can make a difference.

 “Dear client,

I’m sorry to hear that the project hasn’t gone the way you hoped. So I understand if you no longer want to work with me on this.

I can, however,  recommend [Freelancer’s name] for [Work or project to complete] as I think his/her work will better match what you had in mind.

I wish you the best on the project and your business,
The freelancer”

Some clients will ask for a refund on their deposit. If you signed a contract, you’re protected on the front from these kinds of situations and you can communicate so to the client. Here’s an email template for a client that asks for a refund

“Dear client,

I’m sorry to hear that the project isn’t going the way you hoped. I understand if you no longer want to work with me on this. However, as per our contract, payments are not refundable.

I hope you understand that I’ve blocked away time in my calendar to work on this and also delivered part of the work already.

If there is anything else, however, you would like me to do, please let me know.

I wish you the best on the project and your business,
The freelancer”

If you find it appropriate, you can also offer them a partial or complete refund. In this case, remind the client that you’re making an exception as this was not what was included in the contract. 

4. Get feedback

Should you get the chance to amend your mistake, you have to double-check with your client as soon as you think you have fixed the issue. In case you’ve identified the problem correctly by communicating with your client, you are likely to get a positive response in most cases.

Even then, try to exceed expectations by following up with an apology and possibly, give a discount on the next project. Any previously dissatisfied client is sure to appreciate this.

5. Learn from your mistakes 

Once the crisis has been averted, you are almost ready to lean back and take a break.

However, there is one last step of utmost importance. Think about your project and the things that went wrong and try to use that information to improve your work. Ideally, you are aware of the specific problem and its cause. Regardless of if it was a lack of communication, a technical error or a time-management issue – make sure you learn from the error and try avoiding it in the future.

No freelancer makes it to the top without dealing with angry customers. Bettering yourself by utilizing the experience from your past is crucial for success. So learning from the experience is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your freelance career.

Always keep in mind: No client is like the other. Different client types need different treatments. But if you understand how to satisfy your clients, your relationship will surely lead to long-term freelance projects!

Natalia Campana

Natalia is part of the international team at freelancermap. She loves the digital world, social media and meeting different cultures. Before she moved to Germany and joined the freelancermap team she worked in the US, UK and her home country Spain. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and IT professionals to find jobs and clients worldwide at www.freelancermap.com

By Natalia Campana

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