Working in a world of marketing departments, agencies and developers for almost two decades makes you get used to receiving client feedback, good and bad. But how do you deal with the bad? I was on both, the client and the supplier, side and both experiences helped me a lot in understanding and dealing with feedback. And whether you’re a marketing agency, a software developer or a web designer: at one point you will have to deal with it.
How do you handle client feedback? Should one simply follow client requests or rather politely refuse them? Is it worth having lengthy discussions? Reaction largely depends on the reason and nature of the feedback.
If your client simply doesn’t like what you have delivered then it’s not worth the discussion. As the ancient Romans used to say: ‘De gustibus et coloribus, non disputandum est’ (“There's no arguing about tastes and colors.”). Just make sure you double check the initial client demands and fully understand what he or she really wants before you start all over again. In case the initial demand was changed you might have to revise budget and/or timing.
Often negative feedback is fed by a mismatch between client and supplier expectations or misunderstandings. Plan a meeting or a conference call with all parties and make sure you get everybody aligned. Avoid long e-mail conversations or chat sessions, they only make things worse. If the original client demand needs further specification: engage with them. In case you are working in a multi-lingual environment make sure your counterpart doesn’t get lost in the translation. Real polyglots are rare.
Maybe your client gives you negative feedback because he simply lacks knowledge or has less experience with the subject than you have? After all you are the expert! In such case you should explain why you have done things the way you have done them. If experience taught you that this specific client request might cause a delay or an extra future migration cost that the client is not aware of, you should tell him. Believe me, I have met very few clients who didn’t appreciate this.
In all cases you should stay polite and friendly. You owe this to your clients. Definitely avoid getting personal and don’t confuse the message with the messenger. This is not a race you need to win nor an ego matter. So always think ‘solution’ rather than ‘win or lose’.
However, every now and then things can get heated. In such case you should let them cool down. Take a step back and have a good night sleep before sending out that steamy e-mail. And if a crisis has become inevitable, try to use it as a momentum to get your relationship straightened out. After all there is an opportunity in every crisis.