How to get better client feedback
As designers and developers, our jobs get a whole lot easier when we receive clear and organized feedback. One-word answers and vague answers are kryptonite to the design and development process.
Why is a feedback process important?
Whether you’re a part of a larger agency or a solo freelancer, managing client criticism is super important because it can save you time, makes your clients happier, and helps the process run smoother. Any improvements made to your feedback process pays off in the long term because it says a lot about how you operate. When the process seems unprepared and undocumented, it can highlight inexperience and could dilute your brand.
Fix the process, not the people
It can be frustrating to think that along with all the things you have to do to get the job done, you have to manage the people as well. For instance, if we ask why we receive vague responses, we will find that the process needs fixing, not the people. Gut-based reactions like “I don’t feel like we are there yet” and rushing the process are often times the culprits of many revisions and what feels like an endless project. The remedy to this is asking more direct and specific questions. (We’ll talk about that a bit more later!) If the client says they’ll “know what they want when they see it,” it’s our job to ask the right questions with the goal of clearer, actionable changes.
Here’s what often goes wrong:
1. Clients respond with their visceral reactions to what they see.
In this case, they need questions to reframe their thinking and understand your decisions.
2. You get actionable but negative responses.
Passionate clients are harder to manage, but imagine how ecstatic they would be with a referral if they love your service. All that matters is what they are trying to say and how to make that work.
3. “But you said…”
Client conversations can have many contradictions, which is why a brief and initial guidelines can be a savior. The sooner you can align on the same goals, you can reference back to those as a way of not letting smaller decisions steer the project in different directions. If there are many stakeholders in the process, it can make the project more complex. The balance comes from listening to the right person and asking the right question.
4. The client doesn’t like anything.
This is something we all dread when we’re coming up with concepts or pushing changes to the prototype. Don’t clear the artboards yet. If they don’t like anything, this makes for a very productive conversation. Discuss the tradeoffs you had to make and explain the rationale behind the decision. When the conversation dies down, present what the client’s customer would say and need. This exercise can be helpful when clients become indecisive.
Some ways to get crystal clear feedback:
Set the right tone
Your client can get excited about their company because of the heavy emotional investment. Sometimes their comments can be vague, biased, or stubborn. Be patient and set the initial tone by understanding their business, their origin story, and how they stay connected to their customers. This will determine what success looks like, what failure looks like, the business timeline, and what their communication style is. Some people love seeing the process of making a canoe while others want to get across the river! Understanding your clients allows you to manage the feedback and the timelines in a more efficient way.
Show them the right way
What you ask for is what you get. If you send an email requesting feedback, it casts such a wide net that it makes it hard for the client to start the process. Include a guidelines document that encourages the client to follow some best practices to ensure high quality and timeliness of the project. Some of these guidelines can include:
- Compiling responses in one message to reduce confusion
- Using bullet points to get the main points across
- Being as honest as possible to highlight the changes
- Making all comments actionable with a follow-up question
Document the feedback
If your feedback is messy and you have to shuffle through emails to surface the last message, rethinking how you design and capture it can save you a lot of time. A product like Pastel can come in handy for website designs. You can turn any website into an interactive canvas and share it with your client for documenting everything without having them install or sign up for anything. It is a great way to avoid surprises, have contextual discussions, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
Ask the right questions, before doing more work
Asking your client “What do you think of the design?” can open you to a lot of vague feedback. Your job is to ask specific questions that can turn any ambiguous comment into a clear direction for your next round. Here are some questions you can ask if you find the conversations becoming more emotional and vague:
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- How do you feel about the fonts and colors used?
- Does this achieve your goal? If not, why?
- Does this design attract your target market? If not, why?
Good feedback takes time
Be patient with clients when you send projects. It is a great idea to do the first conversation in person or on a call so that you understand how they interact with your designs and the types of questions they ask. Building in time for feedback also makes the process less stressful. A few days as a timeline should be optimal for them to have thoughtful and actionable responses. If they take longer, send a follow-up and remind them that more edits or a longer timeline will change project scope and costs.
A collaboration with your client doesn’t mean you have to treat every point like an order. A project is successful when you share your client’s goals and discuss how to achieve them together, making them happy in the process.
Really helpful. More than once I have given feedback based on my assumptions or interpretations, rather than my direct observation. When we provide feedback based on our assumptions or interpretations, not only can we be wrong, but we create a situation where defensiveness and denial can increase….