Arms folded, with discontented look on his face, my client blurted out, "I don't like it." Nothing else came out of his mouth, no clarifications and certainly no constructive feedback, just, "I don't like it." Now he waits to see how I'll react. Unfortunately for him, I know Kerbal Kung Fu and I KNOW how to deal with this type of sticky situation, after reading this section you will too.
If you've freelanced for any length of time you've probably run into this type of situation: the client (through her/his upbringing, bad personality or circumstances) feels like they can just sit back and bark about what they don't like about what's been created. This is a form a bullying - it's childish and unproductive for everyone involved. To be fair, there are clients that behave this way and aren't even aware of it, maybe we should cut them a little slack. But for the majority of folks out there - they know exactly what they're doing.
Clients are secretly expecting you (and me) to handle their bullying one of two ways:
- Anger - Shockingly, most people (including freelancers) don't enjoy other people recklessly ripping their work to shreds. Getting ticked off about the situation and saying something just as insensitive back is fairly common, but not constructive. If you're in, or considering freelancing, you need to develop a "thick skin," to not take things so personally. And hey, I know the jerk has no right to rip up your creative work, but if they're helping to pay your bills and support your business, you can't return the favor and be nasty back to them. I know this is a tough pill to swallow - keep reading, I've got a better way for you to go!
- Scurry away and try again - Clients typically expect this reaction, a very hurried retreat, along with an apology and a promise to "get it right" in the next round. They feel that since they're paying the bill, they call all of the shots (they're wrong). Freelancers without a strong will or combative personality are usually going to take this route - just apologize and try better the next round. This way's no good either.
How You Can Confuse and Blow Your Argumentative Clients Away
By just avoiding the two approaches I've listed above you'll throw your client a bit of a curveball and make them think a little. This is a good start. Getting angry and emotional about what was said must be avoided at all costs. Separate your feelings from your work - a life lesson that will save you LOADS of aggravation the sooner you learn it.
Instead of being apologetic about what you created and how the client reacted, get inquisitive - get curious why the client said, "I don't like it."
Why not calmly reply back with, "Okay, what is it specifically you don't like about it?" Or ask, "Can you point to why you say that?" The goal here is to gently but persistently force your client to defend their feedback. Think about it, if you have to defend why you created something the way you did (and this isn't a bad thing), your client should be able to expound upon their feedback. Through non-threatening questions, get your client to tell you why they said, "I don't like it."
Once they've identified what they don't like about your work, take things one step further and ask WHY they don't like it. For example, "You mentioned you don't like blue in the logo, why is that?" Let them answer and then reply back with, "I can appreciate that, would you mind if I told why blue works well in this design, how it will help attract the customers you want, and why I chose it?" Watch your clients eyes spin around in their head when you ask these questions, it will totally catch them off guard - it's fun to see!
Now I know of course in the real world that some clients aren't going to budge. Instead they'll just keep saying, "I don't know why, I just don't like it." That's fine, but what they don't understand is that THEY'RE part of the creative process, and it is hurting the chances that they'll get something they really do like if they aren't giving good feedback. Clients giving constructive feedback is essential to their project's success.
Explain to your client that your goal is to make sure they get the best result possible for their business; this typically means more revenue and more customers. Your goal is NOT to be a creative monkey for your client if they know nothing about marketing and design (okay, don't say these exact words - they aren't very professional). If the client persists in telling you they don't know why they don't like what you did but they can't say why, try this, "Well, I know that sometimes it's tough to articulate exactly why you like or dislike something, but in our case it's important that I understand it so I can effectively move forward with your project. If I am unsure about what you like/dislike about what I've done, I won't really know where to go from here, will I?
"From working with clients like you for XX years, I've found the best (and quickest) way to get exactly what they're looking for is to communicate clearly during these revision rounds. The more the client can clearly articulate their thoughts and feedback, the faster and better the project turns out. With this in mind, would you like me to give you some time so you can organize your thoughts so I can gain a better idea of what you're looking for, or would you be able to provide some clear feedback now?"
Bottom Line Bullet Points:
- Avoid anger, getting emotional.
- In a gentle but persistent way, question the client on her/his feedback - ask why.
- Understand that client IS part of the creative process; help her/him understand it as well.
- Indicate that the success and speed of their project involves them providing good feedback.
- Ask if they need time to gather their thoughts.