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Brainstorming for difficult clients has much less to do with ideation than it does with communication. Before you jump the gun and schedule a new ideation session with the team, there are several steps you should follow to reach a client resolution.
As soon as a potential content situation arises with a client, it’s important to take a break from everything else and think about the issue at hand. Carefully read recent emails from the upset client, and try to find clues that may have been missed about their concerns. Did they joke about the quality of content ideas, timeliness, or about failed content promotions? Did any of your colleagues notice anything unusual?
Review the email or conversation that revealed the client’s current mindset. Try to empathize with the client’s feelings, whether or not you personally agree. Try to maintain a professional and detached perspective while you consider their point of view. Most people respond immediately with a defensive, self-interested stance; it can take a few hours to calm down enough to see the issue from a different perspective.
Sincerely apologize to the client for any confusion, errors, perceived slights or other problems. Assure him or her that you will endeavor not to let it happen again. This often goes a long way to correct issues and repair rapport.
Contact the client and ask him or her for an appointment to review the issue. Never just assume that the client will give you time.
Following a line of exhaustive questioning about the content, maintain an unbiased presentation. Any hostility or defensiveness will trigger negative reactions in the client. Here are a few questions you should definitely ask about failed brainstorms:
Be sure to ask the client what he or she thinks is a fair solution, as the client has most likely already arrived at what he or she would like to happen. Take note of what the client would like, but don’t immediately agree to it. Continue digging until you’re confident that the issue is totally resolved.
Create a collaborative experience with the client by subconsciously pushing the team angle. Mirror his or her language (and body language if possible) in a subtle way. You can repeat rephrased versions the client’s statements while nodding to show that you are actively listening.
Also, make it clear that you won’t lose interest in the client’s issue by telling him or her when to expect follow up emails about the situation, as well as a fresh brainstorm (if applicable).
While it is easy to simply offer more/better service, it’s not recommended. Giving away unlimited freebies can lead to a client’s devaluation of the product. If the client expects to get two free articles a month with four paid articles, then soon they will calculate their bill for four as a sum for six. Here’s how to avoid building client expectations:
Review the client’s contract with him or her. Make sure that the client understands your obligations, and what is beyond the scope of the contract. This can often serve to remind a client of clearly outlined brainstorming expectations.
When you present the possibilities to the client, make sure that the resolution is agreed upon and clearly noted by both parties. Further miscommunication on the topic could be devastating for the relationship.
The very day that the client chooses a resolution you should be working hard at providing it; whether that means dropping everything and brainstorming with your team, or scheduling meetings with the promotions department.
Provide the client with daily progress reports until the immediate resolution is complete. Follow up with the client to ensure that he or she is happy with the end result. Schedule additional follow-up reminders in your calendar so that you continue to contact the client frequently, as people sometimes forget issues after a few months.
Never subject your team to verbally abusive clients. If a client is emotionally overreacting in a rude, offensive or otherwise unsavory way, then it might be time to stop working with him or her. Your team’s morale is much more important than one angry client.
While client discontent is unsettling, it can often lead to a stronger relationship. Once the issue is rooted out and resolved, you and your team will understand the difficult client’s needs more thoroughly than any of your ‘easy’ clients.
When you find out that one client is unhappy, make sure you take the time to reassess all of the clients on your roster. Consider sending out an anonymous survey to gauge client satisfaction, or scheduling a brief call with each client to touch-base.