My first ever negative feedback - and what I'm doing about it

Ever had a client complain about your service? I hadn’t - at least not until last week. In fact, my clients are usually highly complimentary about my service, as can be seen from these testimonials.

This particular client (I’ll call them Client X for now) had a cleaning tender they wanted to respond to for a local council in the Sydney area and they engaged me to develop their response. The agreed deliverables were all of the tender response schedules (developed based on information provided by Client X) together with an integrated Health, Safety, Quality and Environmental Management system and a set of Safe Work Method Statements relevant to the cleaning sector. I purchase these from Safety Culture at a discount which enables me to customised everything with the essential information such as the client’s logo and company details.

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Time was a little short as it took Client X a week to pay my deposit invoice and start sending through the information required, leaving just 5 days until I needed to get the first draft of the response completed. I’d committed to a specific date in my original proposal so Client X would have 3 full days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) to review the draft, and provide any additional information so I could get the submission finalised before the tender deadline of 10:00am on the Tuesday.

As part of the submission, Client X needed to complete some OH&S forms which I sent to them from their new integrated HSEQ Management System. All forms throughout the system were customised with Client X’s logo, the name of the business owner, the date of creation and the date of review. The forms were sent to Client X on Tuesday (the day after I started work on the response).

On the Wednesday, I recommended to Client X that the submission could be enhanced by including a cleaning schedule for the public amenities and other buildings that Client X was bidding for. Client X responded that this wouldn’t be a problem and that they would complete it the next day.

All good so far - we were in regular communication each day and by the Friday afternoon I was able to send Client X a link to two dropbox folders containing the tender submission with 8 Appendices, and the completed and fully customised HSEQ Management System. I also emailed a summary of the information still needed.

Over the weekend I received no contact from Client X so on Monday morning I sent an email reminding them that I was still waiting on some crucial information and raising concerns that the submission was due the next day and I hadn’t yet received any feedback or the requested information. I also called Client X at 9:13am requesting feedback and the outstanding information

Around noon on Monday I received the cleaning schedule - awesome, thanks. At 3:00pm on Monday I received the scans of the OH&S forms, with a note from Client X that the name of the authorising person was incorrect (I’d used the christian name “Rick” - which is how Client X signed off on his emails - rather than the more formal “Richard”). Client X asked if I could change these but also noted that it could be left as is if necessary. Since by this stage we were only 3 business hours away from the submission deadline I told client X that there wasn’t really time to make the change and get the forms completed again but that I would ensure that all 150 or so references to ‘Rick” in the whole HSEQ Management System were updated in the next day or so. The HSEQ Management System itself didn’t need to be uploaded as part of the response but the 4 OHS forms already completed by Client X did.

At 3:00pm on Monday Client X also sent me though all of the information required for the pricing response as a scanned PDF. There was an error in this as the numbers didn’t add up so I queried them at 4:30pm, and at 6:30pm Client X confirmed that there was an error and I updated the pricing details.

At 7:30pm Client X advised that he was downloading everything and asked a question about the electronic lodgement of the tender. At 8:30pm I followed up to check if Client X had been able to lodge the submission ok, and at 9:00pm he replied with a few small changes which were updated by 9:10pm. At 9:43pm Client X requested a few more minor changes and these were updated at 7:00am the next morning. Three hours to go before the tender submission deadline.

At 8:55am Client X emailed me asking once again if I could change the name “Rick” to “Richard” on the 4 completed OHS forms that had been sent to me as PDFs the day before. I responded that this wasn’t possible and that Council would be more concerned about the completeness of the response than the spelling of a name on a form.

Between 9:16am and 9:31am on Tuesday morning I received 3 phone calls from Client X advising that they were having difficulties downloading the tender documents and asking me to email these to them as PDFs and word / excel documents, which I did. By this stage there were less than 30 minutes to deadline.

Later that day, I sent Client X an email thanking them for their business, wishing them good luck and attaching my invoice for the balance owing. Some weeks later - after 2 follow up emails, a text and a voice message - I received an email from Client X stating that they did not intend to pay my invoice as the service they expected was not received. The issues they raised were:

  • I should not have asked them to provide so much information

  • I should have developed the cleaning schedule for them (even though I am not a cleaner and do not know how long or in which order their cleaning activities would take place)

  • I refused to change “Rick” to “Richard”, meaning that the 4 OHS records provided with the submission were incorrect

  • There were a couple of small errors in the submission (which I changed as soon as they were raised) and that this indicated I had not completed any proof reading.

  • I had used an existing template that was not customised to their business (incorrect)

  • I was told multiple times that the dropbox link to all of the files was not working (incorrect)

  • They asked me multiple times to send the documents to them by email (the only request for this was received on the morning that the tender was due) and that the final email was received too late to submit

  • I basically did not complete any work at all, just made a few minor changes to the information they provided (incorrect)

  • They felt that the deposit paid was too much for the work completed and they expected some or all of it to be refunded.

I responded to this by reminding them of the timeline of events and letting them know that I had developed a lot of material for the response, customised it to meet the tender requirements, and that I had definitely not received multiple requests to fix an (apparently) broken dropbox link and to email the documents to them. I told Client X that I believed I had delivered the services as per my initial proposal to them but as a gesture of goodwill I would reduce my final invoice by 50% provided it was paid within 7 days. I also let them know that I would commence recovery action if the invoice was not paid within this timeframe.

Client X responded by saying that he had sent me 15 emails on the Friday night, that he followed up with multiple phone calls on Saturday and Sunday, again on Monday during the day and on Monday night - none of which I responded to. He also stated that if I did not refund at least 50% of the initial deposit, he and others would post negative reviews about my service. Client X also asked for a full refund of the cost of the HSEQ Management System and SWMS that I had purchased from Safety Culture as they were “not deemed accurate”. I provided Client X with a link to the documentation prior to purchasing these on his behalf so he knew exactly what he would be getting. These documents are developed by Safety Culture themselves and are in line with ISO requirements.

I responded that I did not receive any emails at all from him over the weekend and my call records showed no calls from him until Tuesday morning. I asked him to send me copies of the emails sent on Friday and over the weekend.

Two hours later Client X did indeed send me a number of emails that were apparently sent to me over the weekend. Some of these asked for acknowledgement that I had received them, and one on Sunday afternoon was marked urgent, and expressed concern that I had not replied. Until the emails were forwarded to me (now more than 2 weeks after the submission deadline had closed) I had not received any of them.

Why? I have no idea - I checked my junk folder and my trash in case I had somehow accidentally deleted them but no emails were lurking anywhere. I simply do not know how a dozen or so emails could have failed to reach me. All but one of these were replies to the same email (so one email with a trail of 10 others) and the email address shown on them is correct. They were sent from a hotmail address so I guess it is possible that there was a hotmail issue over that weekend but I really don’t know.

I successfully received emails from many other people over the days concerned and I honestly have no idea why I didn’t receive the emails from Client X. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that when I raised concerns on the Monday morning that I had not yet heard from him, that he did not refer me to the emails sent over the weekend. In fact the emails sent to me on Monday all ended with Thanks! and Thanks very much! rather than expressing any dis-satisfaction that I hadn’t responded to the weekend emails.

At the end of the day though, the emails that Client X sent to me as evidence of his responses over the weekend certainly look genuine so I believe they were sent to - but not received by - me. But as to calls and text messages, I most definitely didn’t receive any of these - if I had I would have a record of them on my phone (and I don’t receive that many calls and texts that I would fail to notice a client was trying to contact me just a few days before the tender deadline).

So what have I learned from this whole mess? Well for starters I’m making a change to my proposal document noting that I will usually respond to all emails the same day they are received but if we are less than 3 days from the deadline and I have not responded, to please call or text me to confirm the emails have been received. I’m also going to start emailing, calling and texting my client if we are just days away from the tender deadline and they haven’t responded to requests for feedback or information.

I now have a highly critical and negative review on Google Business - one that states I was very unprofessional and non-responsive, and that I used a template downloaded from the internet to complete the response. By way of response I have included a link to this blog.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of all of this is that if the weekend emails had been raised with me on Monday morning and resent at that time, I would have been able to address every issue that was raised, most of which were very minor and took only a few moments to fix.

It seems to me there were 2 issues unresolved. One was an update to a staff member’s resume. I didn’t update it because I didn’t receive the email with the update until all of the weekend emails were sent to me last week. The second issue - which seems to have been a big issue for Client X - was the development of the cleaning schedule. I’m still unsure how Client X thought I could develop this when I don’t know the logical order of cleaning activities, how long each task would take or when periodical tasks would be undertaken, but if I had known this was such an issue on the Monday morning I would have discussed it with them and then developed something as best as I could.

Will I follow up for payment of my overdue invoice? Probably not - I’ve spent far too much time on this already.