How to Manage a Customer Crisis in SEO

customer crisis

Wouldn’t it be great if all your customers were happy all the time? Sadly, even if your customer relationships are generally harmonious, there are times when they are just the opposite – and it’s not always your fault. Sometimes there are issues beyond your control that lead to unhappy clients. The question is: how do you handle these issues and keep the relationship running smoothly? Here are some tips.

4 Issues Customers Complain About

First of all, let’s look at a few issues that always cause complaints.

1. Google Updates

As an SEO manager, you may have a love-hate relationship with Google. Google may be the reason you even have your job, but its constant algorithm changes make your life difficult. Just as you got everything set up, Google dropped Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird to tank the client SERPs ranking you spent months or years building up. And clients definitely notice when their analytics software shows fewer visitors from search or when they do a vanity search and can’t find themselves. You’d better believe they will soon be talking to you about it.

The solution to this is twofold. First, don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Basing your entire strategy on chasing the big G’s algorithms is a recipe for failure. Use different SEO tactics so one point of failure doesn’t bring the whole thing crashing down. Second, get informed so you can inform your clients. If you know what’s coming (Matt Cutts is always talking about it), then you can warn your clients in advance. And if you happen to get blindsided, switch tactics to minimize the damage. If you can tell clients what the problem is and how you plan to solve it, you will avert a crisis.

2. Disappointing Results

Another reason for a customer crisis is disappointment with the results of SEO efforts. Some clients are blinded by the promises they see online to push search rankings through the stratosphere in only a few weeks. How can you compete with that? If they have used people with less than ethical standards, then poor results may not even be your fault.

Solve this by doing an audit of the client’s current presence and educating them about ethical SEO. At the same time, keep it real and show exactly what customers can expect you to achieve over what period. It’s also worth encouraging clients to see search rankings as part of a wider picture.  That means tracking any increase in attention as a result of your optimization efforts. If you’re informed and can ensure that your clients are informed, then you will avoid any short term aggravation while your strategy is taking hold.

3. They Don’t Know What’s Going On

Some clients complain that they don’t know what they are gaining for the exorbitant amount of money they spend on your services. Sorry, you can’t tell them that you are actually overworked and underpaid. Instead, do an audit of your internal procedures t ensure that clients are getting regular reports on what you’re doing. As mentioned above, setting expectations, timings and benchmarks gives clients something they can look at. Then you can report on and celebrate every gain to avert a client crisis before it happens. And even if they come in fuming, getting your reporting right will help calm the situation down.

4. Poor Customer Service

Any of the issues above could result in a complaint that you provide poor customer service. That’s the last thing you want to hear when you’re working hard to retain a full and active client portfolio. With this complaint, you need to read between the lines. What your client is actually saying is: “you’re not listening to me or talking to me”. In other words, it’s about providing attention. If you’re running the SEO department you can’t speak to every client yourself, but consider creating a process for regular reporting to clients and assigning some of the junior members of your team to check in with clients on a regular rotation. You’ll soon find out whether the client thinks there’s a problem and if it’s something you can solve.

How to Anticipate a Customer Crisis

Those situations aside, it is possible to spot the signs of a looming crisis. In addition to the technical aspects of SEO, which you’re already following, it makes sense to keep track of your online reputation. Keep an eye on what people are saying about you on social media and reviews sites. People are pretty vocal when they have a problem so setting up alerts and assigning someone to monitor the social side (or working with the social media manager) could pay off. That way, you’ll get early warning of potential problems before they escalate into crisis.

When you do, a good procedure for any situation is:

  • assess the likely impact on your customers
  • plan for a solution
  • communicate honestly with them about both the issue and your plan to solve it.

That template works for managing almost any crisis.

Irretrievable Breakdown – How to End a Client Relationship

Sometimes, no matter what you do, the client relationship is damaged beyond repair. Either the client no longer trusts you to do the job that you know you can do or you approach each client interaction with trepidation (or both). That’s not healthy for either of you. In that case, there’s little choice but to end the relationship.

How do you do it? Entrepreneur outlines four scripts you can use to engineer a breakup with your client. The article suggests that you keep it businesslike and avoid dwelling on any personal characteristics that might have made the relationship difficult.

And there’s one final thing you can do – you can offer to hook the client up with another service provider. This might go against the grain, but think about it for a minute. Your ex-client might not have the same issues with someone new; the new provider will be grateful for the business; and the client won’t feel abandoned.  That sounds like a win for everyone.

How have you handled crises with clients in the past?

Creative Commons Image by Janos Palinkas / Flickr