3 Tips to Communicate With Upset Clients and Colleagues


Anyone who has finished their Diploma of Building and Construction knows that disgruntled customers occasionally come with the territory, no matter which niche you’re in.

While it can be hard to know how to deal with difficult customers in construction, one thing is for certain: treat them poorly and you could be faced with a very real threat to your business’s reputation. In the very worst case scenarios, you may see an unhappy customer resort to posting scathing reviews and personal statuses, and even getting media attention to spread their story further.

That’s not something you learnt how to deal with in your Diploma of Building and Construction!

The good news is that there are some simple guidelines to follow when dealing with bad construction customers to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible. What’s more, if you put that little bit of extra effort into your client complaints procedure, you may not only retain the client but turn them into an advocate of your customer service. Let’s look at some broad examples of dealing with angry customers, and what you can do to resolve the situation for your building and construction business.

1. Listen, Privately

It sounds simple, but in the midst of a heated conversation, we can sometimes forget that our clients first and foremost want to be heard—so practice those active listening skills that you fine-tuned during your Diploma of Building and Construction.

Rather than risk engaging in a back and forth on a public forum, such as in the comments of a Facebook post, draft up some fairly generic apology responses which invite the instigator to message your business privately so that you can find out what exactly went wrong and work towards a solution that everyone’s happy with. You can then tweak these in each instance so you sound like a human and not a robot.

Once you’re in private, ask the person to describe the nature of the problem in detail. If they can provide names, times, costs and other relevant details, you can verify exactly what happened. Even if you can quickly see that it’s a simple case of miscommunication, or the client not fully reading a contract, still hear them out and then politely direct them towards the solution.

It helps to have a predetermined escalation policy or framework in place that tells you when you might want to refer up to someone more senior, when you might want to give the person a phone call or continue the conversation via email, and when you might want to follow up after a week or month to check in with the solution.

 Building and Construction

2. Show Respect

One of the most frustrating parts of dealing with client complaints, specifically in the building and construction industry, is that plenty can get lost in translation. While you’ve completed building and construction certificates, your client has not.

Perhaps the client is using incorrect terminology, or you can’t understand what they mean because of their poor writing style. Perhaps they’re calling three times a day wanting updates, but you only usually give weekly reports. Even though you’re on different wavelengths, you can still show mutual respect.

Though frustrating, your role is to help, not to talk down. Avoid industry-specific words where possible, and explain terms that are getting misused. Don’t be tempted to discuss how qualified you are, dropping your Diploma of Building and Construction into conversation. You should also avoid suggesting that ‘it’s just policy’—try and put yourself in their shoes and understand what they were expecting and why they are upset. Try and find that human-to-human connection.

It may be that you can paraphrase their complaint, and ask if you are understanding correctly. Before ending the conversation, be sure to outline what action you will take, and if/when you will next be in touch to follow up.

3. Find Middle Ground

If the fault lies with your business, then it is in your best interest to compensate the customer in some way, even if it means making a slight loss yourself this time. A media storm fuelled by their anger could end up costing you way more.

Try to give a little and see how you go. It might be a replacement, a refund or full reimbursement—depending on the nature of the problem. Dealing with clients is just another part of your building and construction certificates learnings, and after a few instances you’ll become better at judging how to handle them.

If the fault lies with the customer, then you can use your discretion. You’ll want to remain firm, as not everyone who makes a complaint should be entitled to a benefit. If you can see that this customer is going to be a problem in the future then you may be best off offering some small incentive to close the conversation and be done with it.

Remember, building and construction clients talk. As long as you keep a cool head, keep your emotions out of the equation, and respectfully guide your client to a conclusion that works for everyone, then you are doing the best that you can.

Don’t forget to reassess your customer service procedures in light of each building and construction complaint, making sure that there are no gaps that this person slipped through—like not receiving an essential piece of communication.