When the Project Goes Wrong: Who's Responsible? - IE3: Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency

When the Project Goes Wrong: Who’s Responsible?

Businessman scolding a colleague

You’ve finished a job, but the customer is clearly unhappy. She claims that you didn’t follow the contract, and she refuses to pay. While this is a tough situation for your company to face, you don’t necessarily have to resign yourself to forfeiting the compensation that you’re due. In fact, in many cases it’s possible to convert an unhappy customer into a happy, loyal one.

Get to the Root of the Problem

It may seem overly simplistic, but in many cases, the key to resolving a customer’s insistence that a project has gone wrong is to ask for the customer’s side of the story. Many times simply hearing a customer out goes a long way in defusing the situation. This is especially true if the customer believes his or her concerns were dismissed while the project was in process.

This doesn’t mean passively listening to a customer’s endless haranguing. Instead, Inc. magazine advises proprietors to pose open ended questions and engage in active listening. Take the time to pick up the phone or make a site visit to determine precisely why the customer is dissatisfied. By doing so, you assure that your efforts to address the customer’s complaints actually address the real problem. You also divert the customer’s focus away from his or her frustration and gain valuable information and insight into the situation.

You also needn’t worry that taking a position of proactive empathy automatically implies that you’re accepting legal responsibility or blame, according to Inc. magazine. Simply make it clear to the customer that you’re taking his or her claims seriously and that you want to gather as much information as possible to assess the circumstances accurately and devise a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Correct and Compensate if Possible

Making the effort to smooth an unhappy customer’s ruffled feathers is often worthwhile, even if he or she isn’t being completely rational. Even if your company’s work or products were up to par, there may be some elements where your company’s performance was less than stellar. In such cases, it’s a smart move to acknowledge those shortcomings and offer reasonable compensation. Going the extra mile by foregoing a portion of the money that you are owed can ensure that you are paid for the bulk of the contract. Again, this does not mean accepting total responsibility, nor does it necessitate waiving the entire fee that is due and payable.

Instead, Inc. magazine advises proprietors to inquire about what the customer would consider a fair resolution and work toward fulfilling those terms if possible. By placing an emphasis on using the word “fair,” you’re signaling to the customer that you’re willing to compromise – and that you expect him or her to do the same, the magazine advises.

For instance, a customer may threaten to withhold payment because a technician arrived late for a service call. A reasonable approach could be to explain that the technician was unavoidably detained (if that was the case) and offer a sincere apology for the inconvenience. You could also consider offering the customer a discount, especially if the customer missed time from work waiting for the technician.

Stand Your Ground when You’re Right

Despite the truism “the customer is always right,” there are instances when a customer is clearly in the wrong. You should also be willing to stand your ground if a customer is being completely unreasonable, according to an article in the New York Times. In extreme cases, this may mean completely shutting down a customer’s complaint or refusing to provide products or services to that customer in the future.

Obtain Legal Advice if Needed

Of course, despite your best efforts, a customer may adamantly refuse to pay for services or products provided by your company. In such cases, taking the customer to court may be your only recourse for collecting the money that you’re owed. Obtaining legal advice is a must before taking such an extreme step.

On the other hand, if a customer threatens to bring legal action against your company in addition to refusing to pay for goods or services rendered, consult with an attorney immediately. Even if the complaint is frivolous, consulting with an attorney protects your company’s legal and financial interests. If the customer’s complaint has legal merit, obtaining the services of an attorney can minimize your company’s legal exposure to financial damages.

Disclaimer: This article represents a general discussion on how to deal with dissatisfied customers. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction with specific questions concerning your company’s circumstances.

Audrey Henderson

Audrey Henderson

Audrey Henderson is a Chicago-based independent writing and research consultant specializing in sustainability, affordable housing, popular culture and the arts, travel, mental health issues, interpersonal relationships and business. Her written work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, Sustainable Cities Collective, Scripps Natoinal Digital, JustMeans and tcrBLOG, the online outlet for The Chicago Reporter.
Audrey Henderson

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