how to deal with a unhappy client or client problems

How to deal with an unhappy client

how to deal with unhappy client how to deal with a unhappy client or client problems

Unhappy clients, it happens to all of us – even the best of us. I want to talk about how to deal with an unhappy client – call it a good or bad day, whether it’s your bad day or theirs, the blame doesn’t matter. Your client is dissatisfied with your product. It hurts, because your creativity/service is unfavorable. The industry is small and ironically a photographer friend reshot a dissatisfied client of mine and a few months later I reshot one he did! And the reality is, I said, listen, it happens to all of us, I’ve reshot a friend’s project and he’s reshoot mine, some days are good some are bad. Whatever you do, always have another photographer’s back (no bashing on any level) is my rule because sooner or later we’ll all experience the same circumstance.

While we are business owners, we are also customers. I too have also been a dissatisfied client! My circumstance was oddly enough with a photographer many years ago.

When I was an unhappy client

This was over a decade ago, I wasn’t thrilled with my test photos with my new agency – it wasn’t 100% the photographers fault and I knew that, it was about my expressions and makeup. I wasn’t going to do anything about it, you win some, you lose some, and sometimes that’s just the way your face looks! When my agent told me she told the photographer and he would reshoot a look, I was mortified because I wasn’t going to say anything to him – cat was out of the bag on how I felt!

A few minutes later, I ran across his Facebook post – “Ugh, unhappy client (blah blah blah)” and then comments below, “That person is crazy!” “Who would be unhappy with your amazing work?” “Tell her to  ____.” His comment below those comments? “I think I know the problem.” ???

I ran across his Facebook post – “Ugh, unhappy client (blah blah blah)”


  • He didn’t reach out to me to remedy the situation. My agent did instead and acted on my behalf (her job but it wasn’t he who offered the solution, she asked him to).
  • Photographer posted about me being dissatisfied on social media
  • I had to reach out to him to follow up for the reshoot!

End of story – I was so afraid of hurting his feelings, I even apologized in my email to him! I don’t even know why I apologized. To make things less awkward, I suggested a partial refund instead of reshooting because I was now embarrassed and didn’t want to see him face to face again and he obliged – I don’t think either of us wanted to see one another again since the situation turned uncomfortable.

It’s not even that I wanted a refund as a client if he just reached out and casually said, hey, let’s do a quick 30 min reshoot for a look (and not posted on social).

Though I’ve been an unhappy customer several times, I have always messed up royally on several occasions that I understand people make mistakes, we are human after all. This has allowed me to give grace and act kindly, and now let’s talk about my experiences of having unhappy clients.

When a client was unhappy with my work

It’s difficult to admit and call out things you did wrong in handling a situation but I hope by sharing my mistakes, it could help you avoid making them in the future. Looking back, I realize it was obvious that the client was going to be difficult to please which also means – trust your gut early on if you can.

I have several to choose from over the years, all on different levels and through a variety of businesses. Regrettably this particular story is with a former good friend. I took a lot away from the situation and hope to never experience it, nor act upon it the way I did no matter how valid it might have felt at the time.

how to deal with unhappy client


  • I responded too firmly and looped in a family member who attacked me in a separate email. My reason was to communicate out in the open, but it was not necessary.
  • I unfriended my friend on Facebook. I would never do this even if I was mad. I did admit it when she asked because I believe in owning up to your actions, even if regrettable and childish. (Unfollow feature on Facebook was not around at that time).
  • Despite my feelings of being attacked, I should have humbled myself to stay calm and apologize.


End of story – I asked to hop on a call and chat with her. We came to a conclusion of me sending every RAW file on a hard drive to her (I would never do this) so she could tell me which to edit. She came back even more dissatisfied (no surprise, hello RAW files is like opening your soul which showcases every bad and good thought you’ve ever had – therefore similar to showing a painting with only a body, no head without adding the hair and final touches). She insisted the value wasn’t there. I was incredibly proud of the work I did but I realized I couldn’t offer much – I had already extended my time at the wedding, paid my assistant additional, given more than usual with a previous session. I stuck to the signed contract (always sign a contract even with friends!) Though the story didn’t end there, it also doesn’t matter. I should have turned the other cheek and communicated in a better manner. We may not be responsible for the acts of others, but we are responsible for ourselves.

I am embarrassed at how I handled the situation due to out of control emotions and lack of experience. I should have handled it differently, and I’m going to talk about what I should have done.

how to deal with unhappy client how to deal with a unhappy client or client problems

It’s OK! Just breathe and relax, you can make it right and your unhappy clients can turn into happy clients and will still give you praise and referrals!

How to remedy the situation

In other cases, I have offered to reshoot, sent an apology gift (and I mean when it’s been totally my bad), and in a different business (graphic design) I even dropped the rest of the balance due. You have to decide how to make things right, say you’re sorry and find ways to remedy the situation as best you can. And when you do so, guess what? Sometimes those clients continue to refer business to you later on.

Have a dissatisfied client? What to do when a client says they don’t like the work? Let’s jump into the reasons your client could be unhappy, and if I didn’t give you enough to do and not to do things, a list of what not to do, and what to do in these situations.


That they might not tell you

  • They don’t like their makeup, hair, or body
  • They don’t look 25 because they’re not
  • They spent too much and want some financial refund
  • They have no idea what they want and wouldn’t know even if you gave them a million options
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • You actually just did a poor job, really. Even if you tried your best.


  • Get defensive (or at least not verbally to them or written in an email response). Instead, vent to a spouse or friend, then respond appropriately – more on that.
  • Respond right away or when emotional – but DO respond as quickly as you can
  • Tell them it’s really their fault (even if it is!)
  • Give an excuse of why they got what you gave – even if it’s valid
  • Immediately unfriend or unfollow them (at most, just mute or unfollow)
  • Post a passive aggressive complaint on social media


  • Apologize – when you can in a calm manner. Give it a few hours.
  • Have a levelheaded friend read the response before you send it, if you’re unsure about your tone.
  • Ask if they can be more specific on what they don’t like. I’ve heard complaints from eyes being squinty (she was laughing), to referring to a shoot taken 30 years ago that she liked (maybe wants more Photoshop?). Invite them to be candid and specific so you can remedy the situation – to do this, you must be kind.
  • Politely and gently explain if you must – without defensiveness if possible. If you sound like you are giving excuses, even if valid, don’t. Excuses will not satisfy the upset client even if it makes perfect sense. Instead…
  • Offer a solution – always. Whether it’s a reshoot or partial refund. Or dig up RAW files and find more photos, or Photoshop their head, body or skin. If you don’t believe in partial refunds (I don’t) then offer a reshoot. If you feel the shoot was up to your level of quality you can say, “I would love to offer a reshoot at your convenience to see if we can get it right!”


  • Put aside pride
  • Be kind and humble
  • Actually apologize and say, “I’m sorry”
  • Let go of all the (valid) reasons you couldn’t control (bridesmaid late, they chose not to do a first look, client picked the time and wanted that background, etc.) From here, you are only in control of your response and how you handle the situation.
  • Come up with a solution – and stretch yourself – go to them to reshoot.
  • Your reputation is on the line but most of all, you should be able to be happy about the way you conducted yourself as an adult, business owner, and human.

You should be able to be happy about the way you conducted yourself as an adult, business owner, and human.

My pep talk to you –

Your ego is bruised. You tried your best and you feel like you failed. Feeling like you attributed to someone’s disappointment is devastating. It wasn’t intentional. You win some (hopefully most) and you lose some. Some clients are a great fit, other’s aren’t and a variety of circumstances – environmental, things out of our control, and even unreasonable expectations can be factors.  There isn’t a single company that hasn’t dealt with an unhappy client or will.

Respond kindly, humbly and find a way to make it right. By doing so, your unsatisfied customer may still refer you to other and be satisfied with your service. Then, pick yourself up, learn from the mistake whether it’s taking more time, voicing suggestions, or going with your gut of not working with that client and move on. Hopefully the learning experience, though ego bruising can be turned into a valuable experience for you and future clients.

Have you had any stories of unhappy clients? What did you do? What did you learn from it? Were you an happy client and the business turned your boo to a yay? What did they do?

Let’s get a discussion going in the comments so we can all learn from each other’s situations, mistakes and successes.

Diana Elizabeth is an author, photographer, and obsessive thrift shopper. You can typically find her in the garden wrist deep in dirt, at a local estate sale or planning her next epic party. She continues to blog weekly.


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