Disputes with clients can happen.  As an MLSA Member however, we expect that you handle an arising dispute with professionalism, integrity, and care. 

Whether it’s due to miscommunication, misaligned expectations, misunderstandings, unexpected changes, varying priorities or when a client realises they can take advantage of poor documentation or procedures, using a little H.E.A.R.T can provide you a way forward.


H.E.A.R.T stands for:





Thank and Take Action


Step 1: HEAR: Just hear them out – this isn’t always easy to do, but the customer will feel better in the end. It’s also best to do this as soon as possible – you can often notice that your client is feeling uncomfortable, either by the tension in their voice or by sending an email expressing some concern. If you do notice unease, act on it, you can pre-empt a full-blown complaint. Jump on the phone, give them room to express their concerns and assure they feel heard.

However, when you haven’t been able to pre-empt a conflict and face a concern or complaint, give your client time to speak their mind and explain their frustrations. Listen to what they say. Do not interrupt them.


Step 2: EMPATHISE: Acknowledge their frustrations and show that you care.

After a client has been given the room to ‘vent’, take time to acknowledge their feelings. Name their emotions: “I understand that you are frustrated, and I can see why. I would be too.” By showing your customer you understand, you can begin to defuse the situation.

Then repeat back their key concerns to show that you have listened and understand. It is crucial to your client that you care about their concerns and the problem at hand. If you need to ask non-judgmental questions to gather more information, it may also be helpful to take notes at this time.



Given the modern world with so many avenues for clients to pursue, the classic mantra of “the customer is always right” is more important than ever; thus, no matter the occasion, make an apology, even if the customer is blatantly wrong.

Keep it simple. There will undoubtedly be more difficult customers than others, but those, in particular, like to hear that you think they are right. Focus on making the individual feel empowered. Apologising to an angry customer makes them feel like they are in the proverbial driver’s seat and often diffuses the situation altogether.


Step 4: RESPOND: State the facts and communicate the solution/s.

So far, the conversation has been focused on the client and their concerns, their needs, making them feel heard and understood, without arguing or getting defensive. Now you need to state the facts objectively and clearly and outline a resolution.

In some cases, you will have an obvious solution ready to present to them on the spot, and at other times, you will explain the process and what will take place next to come up with an amicable resolution. Once they agree, re-iterate the resolution or process, explaining what you will do next, when and where, and if there is a cost or not. Email what is agreed.


Step 5: Thank them and Take Action:

Whether your response solves their issue or not, a thank you is a must. Let the client know that you appreciate them reaching out and that by getting in touch, you can better serve future clients. Add that you hope they continue to be one of those clients, of course!

Then, take action, ensure that you stick to the resolution and timings you have laid out. Record all further communications.  This can be crucial. Take notes of any conversations with the client. When you verbally agree to move forward with a compromise or otherwise, put it in writing and get an agreement via email.

You must remain firm, fair, and friendly at all times, and once a solution is reached, don’t waiver or let the client push you around if they later decide the solution reached isn’t good enough. If the client remains unhappy, be prepared to take the next steps, as outlined in your contract.



When dealing with disputes or conflict, egos often get in the way. It is important to remember it’s not about having to be correct or about winning; it’s not about laying blame, justifying why something happened or making excuses. It’s about resolving the situation quickly and amicably, ideally keeping the client in the process, but at the very least limiting the damage that an unhappy client can do.




The MLSA Domestic Landscaping Works Contract is available to all MLSA Members and was completed in partnership with MLSA legal sponsor FBR Law.  It is a standard form contract that is designed to comply with the legal requirements in South Australia.

The MLSA contract is to be submitted alongside your regular schedule of works or quotation for all projects over the value of $12,000 and does include a mandatory ‘Form 1’.

Utilising the MLSA Domestic Works Contract provides you with a template within which to document contracted expectations.

To purchase a copy of the MLSA Domestic Works Contact CLICK HERE.


If your signed contract outlines that materials must be specific (i.e. Australian made and certified, specific size, shape, specific properties, etc.), make sure that they are by checking with your supplier. If otherwise, speak to the client and get their approval in writing if materials don’t comply.


Variation Payments. Do not allow variation payments to accrue with the final payment. Have a payment plan for all variations from your contract.


* The MLSA offers support and advice regarding dispute resolution – give us a call and we’ll assist you at any stage of a dispute.