Tips for Responding to Client Feedback Clichés
Diego Lopez RGD, VP of Marketing & Creative Director at Compass Creative, shares his insights on managing vague or even cryptic client feedback.
It's not uncommon for designers to voice their frustration about clichéd client feedback online. Some have turned these clichés into posters. Others have dedicated entire websites to sharing client feedback experiences. While websites and posters could be intended as "good fun," it's ultimately a criticism of the client's ignorance or inability to clearly communicate what they’re trying to get across.
I used to laugh at those jokes. Not anymore.
Ten years into my professional career as a creative, I've arrived at a point where such phrases evoke neither disdain nor frustration. They are as common as hot dog stands in New York City, and just as appetizing. To me, "make it pop" is an invitation to test my understanding of the client's problem, practice empathy and lead the client to the intersection of beauty and business results.
But it took me a long time to reach this level of maturity.
During my university years, I was a walking stereotype. I wore Converse sneakers, skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses, I was intravenously connected to a steady dose of Starbucks Venti Caramel Macchiatos and equipped with anything Steve Jobs told me to buy. At the time, it was an iPhone 3G and a MacBook Pro.
There was also Tumblr. Oh, Tumblr! A sophisticated universe for creatives, by creatives. A world of poetry, art and stories. Also, where I first found a popular blog for designers to anonymously share stories of clients "from hell."
That popular blog introduced me to one of two schools of thought that exist in our profession.
One believes some clients are pesky philistines, annoyingly uneducated in the ways of design. These designers see themselves as celestial beings blessed by God with eyes of gold and refined taste in art, fashion and craft beer. They find solace on the internet, where reputable websites catering to designers perpetuate their beliefs.
But years of experience led me towards a different road. One on which we see cryptic feedback as an opportunity to employ empathy, understand the problem we are helping solve and use our expertise to guide clients down a path that will deliver a successful outcome in the client's eyes.
Everyone is the hero of their own story. But as professionals offering our skills to clients, we must be discerning and know when to make the client the hero.
Complaining about clients is tempting and easy. But let's not forget, we are here because of them. The work clients give us is what keeps a roof over our heads, food on the table and those new sneakers on our feet.
Our response to client feedback reflects our character, even if they aren’t aware of it.
Instead of taking a critical view of client feedback cliches, consider these practical tips for building successful client relationships.
Before agreeing to take on a new client, determine if they are a good fit.
How you do so depends on many factors, but the most important is an alignment in values. For me, any new client must value beautiful design (whether or not they have an "eye" for it), truthful storytelling and business results. Listen closely and ask a lot of questions.
Don't be afraid to say no — especially early on.
Saying no is hardest for freelancers. Many make decisions driven by a natural fear of not knowing how they're going to pay the bills if they don't take on any opportunity that knocks on their door. Saying no is scary. But it's also liberating because it allows for room to work with people you love.
If you say yes to a new client, set mutual expectations.
The most important is alignment on what success looks like for the client. Other expectations that you should always clarify (and subsequently share in writing) are deliverables, timelines, milestones and budgets. Clarity is an act of kindness. Be kind.
When you inevitably come across vague feedback, show curiosity.
Take it as an opportunity to dig deeper into your client's psyche by asking more questions until you clearly understand why they provided a particular piece of feedback. With that understanding, you can offer a simple and clear professional opinion, should their desires go against a design principle.
It's okay to fire clients.
Over the years, I've said goodbye to many clients. Some freelance, and some at my day job (and in my position, losing a client is a big deal). A client once told me, "the squeaky wheels get all the grease." I'll never forget that line. After kindly parting ways with clients who were not a good fit, I had more time and energy for the clients I love.
Last week a client asked me to "make it pop!"
"You got it!" I replied with a genuine smile. "Now, let me ask you a couple of questions, so I understand what you mean..."
With experience in research, brand strategy, copywriting and marketing, Diego Lopez RGD has spent the last decade helping brands of all sizes (from Porter Airlines, Manulife, Costco to beloved local brands) find clarity and express authentically, so they can better connect with their audience.