I almost lost a client. One email turned the setback into a win.

My story of how I handled client relationships when something went wrong.

Two months ago, our client's VP of Product sent me the following email

Hey, I wanted to share some feedback with you. I think you guys did a great job on past project - it looks modern, sleek and a strong UI. The mobile mocks we did afterwards, were not at the same bar.

We won't be going forward with those mobile views. Wonder if you changed the designer on your side, who has a different aesthetic? Projects that we'll send in the future will mostly be focused around the web.

I know that kind of message too well.
Kind of polite, but often carries long-term consequences under the hood.
I thought that most probably, our collaboration will be slowly fading until we stop receiving new projects from them.

That's harsh.

Some backstory

I run a web product design and development company. We had been working on these mobile apps with other product managers on the client's side.
The feedback was always great. The PMs accepted every deliverable. All deliverables met all requirements, and everybody was happy.

And no, we didn't change the designer, it was the same person who made all the highly praised work before.

What happened, then?

I had given myself two days to analyze what went wrong before I replied.

Here is my original email

Hi,

I'd like to start with a big thank you. Even though you didn't have to, you decided to share feedback and invest your time to explain why certain things did not live up to standards. I genuinely appreciate it. Without your attitude, we wouldn't be able to grow.

I did analyze it with my team, and we think we identified the problem on our end and came up with possible improvements.

Given the tight deadlines in recent mobile projects we did together, thus quick turnarounds, our team had focused too much on refactoring UI.

We followed the proposed wireframes, sketched, and delivered ideas submitted by PMs without digging deeper into UX reasoning.We missed the crucial communication part to understand whether we should map the requirements 1:1 right into Sketch files, or we should propose right UX solutions in the first place.

That's our fault.

To make sure we will reduce the number of such situations of ambiguity here is a list of steps we will implement for any new incoming request:

1) Ask about the purpose of the project/task. Is it for

a) Developers to implement the new design

b) Client showcase to receive feedback and iterate on the conceptc) Potential client showcase to present possible solutions, impress, lead to a sale.d) Ideation purposes, to explore how could a view/screen look like, and how users could use it.

2) Define the scope of the project

a) UX

b) UI

c) Both

3) Always ask for a few, core user stories following the template: When_________, I want to __________, so I can _________________.

4) All further questions we often ask like persona, work environment, business goal users are supposed to achieve by using the application, and so forth.

In projects where the fast turnaround was required we sometimes skipped points 1, 2. And that's our mistake.

I'd love to test this framework for the next request. And by test, I mean to do a non-billable first iteration.

I want to be sure this will help us deliver better quality faster.

We do value the relationships we built for the last 7 months, and your company deserves it.

That's quite a long message. Thank you for reading this far.

Best,


Let's quickly unpack this message, I

  • expressed gratitude for the feedback

  • described the root of the issue

  • took full accountability for the situation

  • proposed what we can do better

  • offered a non-billable iteration

The last point is crucial.
If I provided a refund instead, that would put us in a position of questioning our expertise.
Also, refunds are associated with conflicts or situations that break collaboration. Showing that we were willing to take the extra mile to make up for the setback is a whole different story.

Now, the surprising results.

I never got a reply.

But four days later I receive a spec for a new project! The following week, new tasks again.
The workload almost doubled. Finally, we have been asked to design their new mobile(!) from scratch.

Lessons

  • Even though you may feel confused that the client accepted, then expressed disappointment, even though you did exactly what they asked for - take a step back, cold analyze, be empathetic.

  • Take accountability, be kind and transparent, understand their motivations

  • Propose a way to move forward

  • Don't judge results by whether someone replies to you. You can measure your impact based on the actions the other person takes


Thanks for reading!


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You can find me on Twitter - It’s @dcedrych