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May 24, 2017

How to tell a client they're wrong

Published: 24 May 2017 

We all want to keep our customers pleased and happy. After all, that’s what will help make them continue to work with us. However, sometimes what they’re saying is just wrong, and you know it. This can lead to an uncomfortable situation. You need to tell them they’re wrong, but you also don’t want to lose them as a client.

So how exactly do you tell a client they are wrong?


1. Make sure they’re wrong

The first thing you need to do is make sure they are actually wrong. There’s a difference between disagreeing with someone’s opinion and them being incorrect. If you are disagreeing about something that has previously been stated, see if you have proof to back yourself up. It’s always good to get agreements in writing. Make notes in meetings and document approvals to ensure you can back up what you’re saying.

2. Make sure you understand the client

Sometimes things can be miscommunicated and can cause a whole heap of trouble over nothing. Particularly if you’re communicating via email, it’s important to make sure you understand exactly what the client is saying. It can sometimes be difficult to convey tone through email when compared to telephone or in-person conversations. If you need clarity over anything, make sure you get this before confronting the client.

3. Avoid sugarcoating

You have established the client is wrong, you have proof, and now you need to break the bad news to them. But how do you do that without making them angry and ending up fired?

You want to make sure you remain polite, but don’t overdo it. Some people often decide the best way to deliver bad news is by saying phrases such as “no offence” or “don’t take this the wrong way.” These phrases can often have the opposite of the desired effect and can make your message come across as more patronising. Make sure you don’t start off nice and complimentary and then deliver a lot of bad news. Often, the better strategy is to just be more blunt and straightforward and deliver the news and evidence without any sugarcoating.  

4. Focus on facts

The client is wrong, and maybe you’re angry at them. When you’re feeling angry and overly emotional, it can be easy to try and attack someone’s character. This will do more damage than good. Instead, remember to stay focused. Don’t make any assumptions about the client, such as calling them lazy. This will only make the situation worse. Instead, just rely on the facts of the matter.

5. State your experience  

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Your client has hired you for a reason - you know what you’re doing and what you’re talking about. Sometimes a client can lose sight of this and will only focus on their wants and needs. It’s good to reassure a client that you know what you’re doing, you have many years experience, and they need to trust you that it will work out.

It can also be a good idea to give a projected outcome of what will happen if you continue down their path. Because the client doesn’t have your experience, they may not have thought of these outcomes. Raising any issues with their ideas, while also suggesting an alternative, can cause the client to increase their trust in you.  

6. Come to a compromise  

People are stubborn. Often you won’t be able to convince someone that they’re wrong and get them to acknowledge that fact. But you still want to make sure you’re achieving your client's goals, rather than continue disagreeing with them. To make sure your conversation ends with an outcome you can move forward on, make sure you suggest alternative ways to achieve what the client wants. This way you will avoid continual problems and best of all, you won’t be fired by the client.

Whatever approach you take to talking to a client, remember to never attack them, and remain polite without sugarcoating your overall message that they are in fact wrong. Keep their goals in mind and strive to continue to achieve this. By suggesting alternatives to what the client is suggesting, you will be able to demonstrate your knowledge base and come to an agreeable outcome.

Have any thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

Ben Maden

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