When a Class Goes Bad...

by Greg Surtman

We’ve all been in situations where a client is not happy about a class or service that is being delivered.  In fact, each of my top 20 clients at Cuyahoga Community College has experienced a bad class at least once over my career.  Since I believe that working through difficulty can lead to higher levels of trust,  I have always looked at this situation as an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with that client, and I’d like to share my 4-step process with you. 

Step #1 Listen to Their Story

When something goes bad for a client, they typically have a lot to say.  It’s important that we give them an opportunity to “tell their story”.  Whether it takes them one minute or fifteen to accomplish this, they deserve to be heard.  When this is happening, do not interrupt them and take detailed notes.  There is nothing more frustrating for a client than to be interrupted while trying to articulate their bad experience.

Step #2 Address the Emotion

There is often a high degree of emotion attached to these situations, and rightfully so.   We all know what this is like from a customer’s point of view.  I have found it very helpful to start by making a sincere apology.  This is the statement I like to use after the client has had a chance to tell their story:  “I am sorry this is happening to you and I am going to do everything I can to make things right”.  A few important things to note about this statement is that we are not playing the “blame game” and we are not jumping to a solution that we think will remedy the situation.

Step #3 Gauge Expectations

I have found that different clients can have much different expectations when something goes wrong.  Asking a question like “Given where we are right now, what would you like to see happen?” provides us with a roadmap to make things right.  In most cases, clients will make reasonable requests like “we need to reschedule with a different instructor” or “we need to change the curriculum because it’s not hitting the mark”.  When client requests are reasonable, there’s a nice opportunity for us to go a little above and beyond.  When client requests are not reasonable (i.e. “we want you to re-deliver this class with a different instructor, and deliver two more classes for free”) we have to evaluate these situations on a case-by-case basis and come up with a solution that will preserve the relationship.  This should be a team decision.

Step #4 Follow Through

Whatever solution you and the client agree upon, it’s absolutely critical that the follow-up services are top notch and timely.  Clients are generally understanding when something goes wrong the first time, but twice in a row is unacceptable.  I took it upon myself to ensure everyone involved knew about the situation and how important it was to provide a better experience for that client.

This 4-step process helped me work through some very difficult situations and turn them into relationship-building opportunities.  Make sure that you are not letting one bad class ruin a relationship with an account that has a lot of potential.  It usually takes extra effort… but it’s worth it! 

If you would like to explore how Contract Training Edge can help your team address similar situations, please contact Greg Surtman at 216-509-6398, or

Happy Selling, my friends…