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3 Common Frustrations with Client Feedback (and How to Overcome Them)

  • By Sophie McAulay
  • November 25, 2020

There’s nothing creatives bond over more than talking about their clients.
Anyone who works on projects with clients has at least a couple of horror stories up their sleeve about a time when a client has given feedback so terrible it’s funny.
In fact, if you’re in need of a good laugh courtesy of your freelance comrades, take a look at this fitting website, Clients From Hell. Or scroll through these pieces of design feedback which have been turned into posters featuring such comments as ‘I like it, but can the snow look a little warmer?’.
Aside from understanding that poorly-given feedback is a universal problem, here are a few things you can do to handle different types of frustrating feedback, and get your project back on track.

1. It’s off brief

Whether you’re suddenly given a new piece of information that was never revealed before or the client completely does a backflip on what they asked you for initially, receiving feedback that’s contrary to your initial brief can be discouraging, as it can feel as though all your time working on the project has gone to waste.
But while you’re probably frustrated, snapping at your client about how they never told you this information in the beginning is unlikely to result in a solid working relationship for the remainder of the project, nor in additional work with them in the future.
What to do about it:  
Instead, let the client know that you’re slightly confused by the feedback and want to clarify whether the brief has changed. Remind them of the brief you were working to – you could even resend it to them and ask them if they’d like to make updates or provide a new brief.
Have another discussion with them about what they’re looking for from the project, and get confirmation that all stakeholders agree upon this. Set new expectations for timelines for delivery and if applicable, how much the project is going to cost (if you’ve spent extra time on creating the initial version). Being direct with them about how the new feedback affects the project is the best way to ensure they make their expectations clear before you resume working.  
Dealing with off-brief #feedback: Be direct with your client about how it affects the project, to ensure they make their expectations clear before you resume working. Click To Tweet

2. It’s too vague

‘I don’t like it’, ‘It just doesn’t feel quite right’, or even ‘Can you make the sandwich more playful?’ are just some examples of the kind of feedback that doesn’t help you understand how to improve upon your work.
What to do about it:  
Ask some clarifying questions. Is there something in particular you don’t like? Can you show me an example that you do like? Is there something you would change about the initial brief in light of this?
If you have an idea of another direction you may be able to take, talk to them about that and ask whether they think it’s more the kind of thing they’re looking for. If it’s not, don’t be afraid to let them know that this feedback is not particularly helpful, and you’ll need some more information in order to provide the next version.

3. It’s overly prescriptive

The opposite problem occurs when you’re given feedback that prescribes big changes to your project. It can be annoying when you know you’ve created something specifically designed to reach your client’s stated objectives, only to have them ask you to change crucial elements of your design or copy. Before you go ahead and change buttons, tone of voice, or content, talk to your client about their feedback.
What to do about it:  
Ask why. Start by finding out if your client has some basis behind what they are asking for. They may not be a designer or a writer, but chances are they have some kind of expertise about their brand. Getting their explanation can not only help you understand what they are looking for (and how to approach future projects with them), it’ll also give you a chance to offer your alternative.
If they don’t have a strong, outcome-based reason behind their suggested change, let them know why you chose to create the asset the way you did. Talk to them about how you expect the target audience to interact with your design or copy, providing them with a story that demonstrates the journey you’ve created for the user. This context can help them understand that rather than focusing on their personal preferences, they need to have an audience-focused approach if they’re to be prescriptive.
And you never know, taking the time to let them know what best practices or experience have informed your results could just change their mind about their feedback.
Provide clients with context to help them understand that rather than focusing on their personal preferences, they need to have an audience-focused approach when giving #feedback. Click To Tweet

Moving forward

While I’m not going to suggest that ‘the customer is always right’, there is an extent to which you need to remember who is commissioning your work. At the end of the day, if they like their snow warm, there’s only so much you can attempt to educate them before you just need to turn the heat up on your mountains.
Jokes aside, being respectful of your client’s feedback even when you just want to scream will go a long way to keeping the relationship healthy – at least long enough for you to finalize your project and get paid for it!

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