Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dealing With Vague Complaints

When you're self employed, there will come a time where you deal with vague complaints. Now, sometimes these complaints are legitimate and the client simply doesn't understand how to fully express what they don't like about a project. Sometimes the complaints are not legitimate. It can be an excuse to get out of paying what is partially owed or the entire bill.

Quality Is Defined By Your Client

When you're in business for yourself, you have to understand one basic concept: your client defines quality. You may believe that you provide quality services, but what you think of as quality and what your client thinks of as quality are two different concepts. So, before you determine whether a vague complaint is legitimate, you must first understand your client's concept of quality. This includes understanding the purpose of the project, its scope, and how your client wants to be treated (among other factors).  This is something you should understand from the very first stage of communication. This involves you (as a service provider and human) really listening to your client and their needs. 

Is the Vague Complaint Legitimate?

It can be frustrating to get a vague complaint. It basically amounts to buying dinner and just saying, "I don't like it." Yet, you didn't really say what it is on the plate that you don't like. Is it one particular food? Is it the way something was prepared? Was it the way the meal was presented? Was it the service? (oooooohhhhh) So, you have the task of determining what it is that your client didn't like about what you provided. Now, sometimes they will give you little clues. So, you have to make sure that you pay attention to the initial contact to express their discontent. 

Then, it is on you as a professional to ask follow-up questions. Your questions will vary depending upon how much information you received. In extremely vague complaints, my return question is, "Can you tell me something specific in the project that makes you unhappy? I'd be glad to work with you and fix it."

Your idea of a legitimate complaint is often different from that of a client. Something may simply be a stylistic difference. Your job is to resolve it. You may be the professional, but your job is to make the client happy. This isn't necessarily about you being the most creative writer / artist / graphic designer. It's about a happy client who tells their friends about you. It's about you going that extra mile (without complaining about it). Now, with that said, if it turns out that the client doesn't like the sum total end result, you need to evaluate all of your written correspondence. Please, for the love of cheese, even if you have multiple phone conversations, always follow up with an email summary. This documents that you're on the same page. Read over your documentation of the process to determine if you've misunderstood something (because had you documented it in writing, you could have minimized the risk of misunderstanding). If you followed their directions to a T and it simply turned out differently than they anticipated, you have some decision making to do. There's really no right or wrong answer as to whether you should re-do the entire thing without charge or explain that you followed their requests and that if they are unhappy and have a different idea, you'll work with them on a new project amount. 


First, go back and read it. It's probably the best 5 minutes you'll invest in your business this week. 

If you get a vague complaint, follow up with respectful questions to determine the validity of the complaint. Some clients simply aren't good at expressing what they don't like and that makes them vague.