10-Step Plan to Handle Client Crisis Situations

Web sites are intricate platforms with many moving parts. Every time I develop and launch a new one, my biggest fear is getting the dreaded client phone call that something isn’t working. We all have that fear. It’s our baby and it’s also a vital tool for the client. Any failure could have potentially devastating consequences.

Unfortunately, that dreaded call is inevitable. Something will go wrong and when it does, you will be the first person to know.

Of course, the best defense to a client crisis situation is to double or even triple check your work to ensure everything is working. A thorough pre- and post-launch checklist can help you remember all the nooks and crannies for last minute fixes.

When the inevitable does occur, be prepared. Regardless of how the client is reacting to the situation, you need to have a cool head so that you can understand what’s going on and how to resolve it.

Below is my 10-step action plan that I try to follow every time a client crisis situation arises.

1. Calm the client down

When you get a frantic call or email from a client that there is a problem with the web site, the first goal is to calm them down. Cool heads prevail so you need your client thinking as rationally as possible. Most of the times, the problem is minor and clients just don’t have the knowledge to understand the extent of what’s not working.

2. Be empathetic

When problems arise, make sure you let the client know that you’re there to help them and that you understand their frustration. Just knowing that someone else is aware of the problem at hand can bring much relief to the client.

3. Ask questions

Once you have the client calmed down and somewhat relieved, start asking questions. I don’t mean interrogate the client, but ask enough questions to help you pinpoint the problem. Some clients may know exactly where the problem is originating while others may need to be prodded a bit more.

Active listening is also a good tool to employ. To actively listen to your client, you should take what they say and rephrase it back to them. For example, if a client says, “A few of my web site visitors have complained that my contact form isn’t working,” you could say in return, “So you think that there might be a problem with the web site or contact form that’s preventing people from getting in touch with you?” While this might not be the best example, rephrasing a client’s statement in the form of a question can help probe them for more information. It also gives you the opportunity to think of solutions since these questions are pretty easy to form.

4. Determine the issue

Get to the root of the issue and figure out what the problem is. This might be pretty easy to determine or it may take a while to nail down. Regardless, understanding the issue is the most important part. If you need time to figure it out, explain this to the client and then hang up the phone or close your email. You may even find that you’re not responsible for the problem but that shouldn’t preclude you from helping.

5. Take blame

If you find out there was something on your end that caused the problem, don’t try to shield yourself. Take the blame and explain to the client how the error occurred. This show of responsibility and maturity is an important step in developing your relationship with the client.

If you’re not to blame for the situation, don’t play a “it’s their fault” game. Instead, identify who you think the culprit might be and try to reach out to them before contacting the client. If the best works out, you can both approach the client with a workable solution.

6. Apologize

If you’ve taken blame for the issue, apologize immediately. If it’s a really big problem, you may want to consider offering the client a discount on services or at least a written apology. This will go a long way in re-solidifying your relationship with the client.

7. Offer a definitive plan of action

Once the dust has settled and the issue has been pinpointed, offer a concrete plan of attack to the client. This might not be necessary if the problem is small, but if it’s something a little more significant, you may want to explain the procedure for fixing it to the client. This can help relieve them further when they know there are steps being taken to resolve the situation.

8. Supply a timeframe

Obviously, some problems take a little longer to clear up than others. Create a timeline for fixing the issue and make sure the client is aware if it. The biggest question on the client’s mind is going to be, “When will this be fixed?”

9. Fix the problem

Carry out the work needed to fix the issue as promptly as possible. If this means putting a hold on lesser priority work, do it. If you’re not the responsible party for the problem (for example, if the issue was caused by something or someone else), see if you can refer the client to another person or company who can help. If another vendor erred, offer to communicate with that vendor on behalf of the client (if you haven’t already) to get the problem resolved.

10. Follow-up

When everything is said and done, and the problem successfully resolved, follow-up with the client to ensure no further errors have occurred. You should then reiterate your apology, if necessary, and make sure the client knows how to reach you in the future should anything else occur.


Of course, each situation will demand a unique course of action. This list is just a template that I hope you find useful. Are there any remedies that you employ not in the plan above? Let me know!

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