How to Respond to an Unhappy Client

How to respond to an unhappy client

How do you respond to an unhappy client?

Recently a client contacted me because she had received a nasty email from someone who had signed up for her detox program. I’ll be honest – the message was pretty mean, and even I had a moment of “ouch, that stings!” while reading it, even though it wasn’t addressed to me!

My client came to me because she wasn’t sure how to respond. I could relate. I once had a detox client send me an angry email because she hadn’t felt successful on the program. Her email stirred all kinds of emotions in me, everything from anger to sadness to embarrassment. I have to admit, my feelings were a little hurt that she didn’t like the program. Literally hundreds of my clients had loved – and gotten great results from – the exact same program.

When I thought about how to respond, I realized that as a business owner I always want to give the highest level of customer service possible, even if that means potentially losing money. In my case, I chose to refund my client, apologized for her frustration, and offered her a complimentary entry into my next program so she could try again.

The email she sent back completely shocked me.

The first thing she did was apologize. Turns out she’d had a bad night and taken it out on me. Amazingly, over the next few years she became one of my best clients. She signs up up for detox after detox and refers new clients to me left and right.

I have to tell you, her reply was absolutely not what I expected. And to be perfectly honest with you, I had another unhappy client where I responded the same way but didn’t get a kind response in return. In this case, however, because I responded with the best possible customer service, my client came back to me time and time again. I encouraged my client in the opening story to do the same in response to the email she received. It costs us nothing to respond with kindness and compassion, and you never know what will come from the interaction.

Top notch customer service is part of my brand identity. I always want my clients to leave an interaction with me feeling like I heard them and care about their experience working with me. Because, quite frankly, I do. Even though this seems like a totally obvious way to approach business to me, I know that many people can feel stuck around how to reply when a client didn’t get what they expected, or just flat out didn’t like the program. The work we do is incredibly personal, so an unhappy client can feel painful and disorienting. At some point in your business, you’ll likely have a client who is less than thrilled with your work. Here’s my process for not taking personally.

How to respond to an unhappy client

Step 1: Vent to someone you trust. Tell them you don’t need solutions, you just need a safe space to talk about how frustrated you are. A great place to do that is in my private Facebook group that’s just for health coaches. You can join us here.

Step 2: Put yourself in their shoes. Although it can be helpful to try to understand why they didn’t like the program, it’s actually more valuable to simply think about what kind of response you would like to receive the next time you find out a program isn’t a good fit. This step is critical as it’s a great reminder that it’s not personal. Sometimes, it’s just not the right program for someone. Think about what would surprise and delight you as a client, and then…

Step 3: Kill them with kindness. Even though your first instinct might be to tell your client how they clearly missed the point of the program, or that they should have put in more effort, I’ve found kindness is always the best option when replying to a unsatisfied customer. If it feels appropriate, refund your client’s money before you reply. At a minimum be sure to acknowledge their frustration, offer a refund, and ask them how they’d like to proceed. Wish them the best in your closing, and send a little positive energy their way as you send your email. You’ll feel so much better.

Want more?

If you want to hear more about how to surprise and delight your clients, I’m hosting a free class on How to Run a Cleanse on Wednesday, March 15th. In this class I’ll share exactly what I did to create a cleanse program that has served more than 1,000 happy clients – with just a handful of refund requests. If you’re interested in joining the class, you can register here:

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever had an unhappy client? If so, how did you respond? Did you get the outcome you wanted? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


  • Lindsey

    Reply Reply October 24, 2017

    Love this post, so many great ideas! I have a question about the refund part of this though. In my group programs all of my materials are downloadable, and I specifically say in the material that I don’t offer refunds because of this and that this is an industry standard practice and all that jazz. So, my question is, would it be flaky to still offer someone a refund on a case-by-case basis, or is it better to keep continuity in the industry and just apologize profusely that the program didn’t work for them but still not offer a refund? Hope that makes sense, this is something I have been wondering about for awhile.

    • Julia Sarver

      Reply Reply October 25, 2017

      Hi Lindsey! Great question, I’m glad you asked it. This is a common sticking point for online entrepreneurs. There’s no “right” answer here. I’ve seen lots of variation on this in the online world. My materials are also downloaded instantly, and I still offer a 7-Day refund. I prefer to give clients the option to check out the program and then to change their minds as needed.

      In the above example, the client was beyond the refund window and I refunded her anyway in order to err on the side of high-level customer service. In my opinion, if someone really hates my program and is beyond the refund window, it’s better to give them a refund and leave them feeling good about their interactions with me rather than sticking to a refund rule. And, of course, I approach it on a case by case basis.

      That said, you can go either way – a strong “no refunds” policy is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s very clear on the sales page. Hope this helps!

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