1. Unload the negative: In a face-to-face meeting, first invite your client to inform you of all the things that are bothering him/her in great detail. Ask clarifying questions to draw out and completely understand exactly what the trouble is. It is very important to repeat back each point in order to get explicit confirmation that you understand exactly what has been said. It is equally important to avoid contradicting the client, imposing your views, or defending against what is being said in any way.
This task is complete when the client has said everything that is on his/her mind and when you have recapitulated with a complete summary of all of the points that have been brought to your attention. While you may be itching to tell your side of the story and to correct any misinformation, stay calm, repress such urges, and stick with the guidance above.
It takes great self control to do. Just keep asking for more and recapitulate again, until the client has no more to say and they are completely sure you have heard them accurately. The point here is that it will be a great deal easier for your client to hear and listen to you after they have been heard.
2. Transition to positive: In the same meeting, next establish a basis of trust and credibility with a forthright, honest and sincere apology for anything you have done wrong and a firm statement about your interest and intent to do what it will take to make things right. Every sword still in its sheath must be laid on the table so that there are no barriers between parties which would inhibit moving forward. Ask the client if s/he would like to hear your perspective on the same points just raised. If so, share your version of the facts.
The objective is to create an atmosphere of mutual interest and understanding that leads naturally to a joint desire to move forward. If the client is not interested in your side of the story or if they refuse to imagine that there is anything you could do to get on track for success, then there is not much point in going further.
3. Take positive action: The third step in the same meeting is to make a concession so that your client feels they are getting something to make amends even if you still believe their claims have no merit. Then lay out and initiate actions that prove you are committed to moving forward and to make things right. Positive action, no matter how small, is absolutely vital to close out the meeting. The number one reason things go wrong is lack of management attention. Assure your client that you will stay involved in order to make sure things stay on track and their needs will be met. Then follow through by paying attention, staying in touch, and making sure things come out right.
Each of these three steps must be taken and worked through to completion in one session and in the order presented. To prepare for the session, compile the facts as you understand them so that in step one you can be listening to discover what they client knows or has experienced that you may not know and so that in the second step you have an organized, orderly and unemotional presentation of what you have to say. Be creative in step three. Find a way to give something in order to get something so that both parties feel that they have come out ahead and to lay the groundwork for a long and fruitful relationship.