Managing Client Feedback The Smart Way
I will be the first person to tell you that gathering helpful client feedback is not the funnest thing in the world. In fact, this is an uncomfortable subject for me — one that I’ve been navigating for six years. AKA, the entirety of my career. Seasoned creatives will tell you to develop a thick skin, but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that.
To begin, there are two things that you should know about me. The first is that I’m sensitive. And the second is that I’m a people pleaser. More often than not, these attributes are perceived to be less than ideal. But you know what? That’s bullsh*t. I am who I am and I happen to think that these qualities are some of my best, despite the challenges that sometimes arise.
I’m sharing this with all of you because I know that I’m not alone. And that the majority of you reading this are similar to me. But if not, this post will still be informational. I just think that it’s important for you to understand who it’s coming from. I’m not somebody who is bullet proof or has it all figured out. But I do have a system that works. So let’s dig in, shall we?
REVISION VS. REFINEMENT
Here at Rowan Made, we've chosen to use the word "refinement" instead of "revision" to describe the part of our process where we gather and implement client feedback.
The word "revision" pits both parties against one another from the very beginning, implying that what's presented will have something wrong with it. And while we don't claim to be perfect, we don't want our clients to have these negative expectations of us either, which is exactly why we spend so much time on brand discovery + strategy in the first place. This allows us to mindfully develop, create, and present a solution that has the brand’s best interests at heart.
Because of this, we don’t go into our presentations expecting a huge list of changes, and neither should our clients. Our process is in-depth and by no means a quick fix, so the idea of “revisions” doesn’t accurately reflect our approach.
The word “refinement,” on the other hand, is defined as follows: the improvement or clarification of something by the making of small changes. Simply put, it encourages positive collaboration. So instead of focusing on what's wrong and succumbing to subjective opinions, we'll analyze what's working and tap into how we can make the design even better.
Don’t worry, if you’re currently using the term “revisions,” I’m not trying to delegitimize you by any means. But if you find yourself becoming a pixel pusher more often than not, I’d encourage you to shift your mindset in order to receive the kind of trust and feedback that you, the hired professional, deserve.
* A huge thank you to my friend Melissa for sharing her perspective on this topic last year. Her thoughtful explanation encouraged me to change my own mindset, and I haven’t looked back since. ;)
Now that we have the battle of “refinement” over “revision” out of the way, you may be wondering how a simple verbiage adjustment can stop clients from sending over endless amounts of refinement. And to that, I say: you’re right, it can’t.
This mindset shift from “revision” to “refinement” is only the first step. Beyond that, you need to position yourself as an expert and guide your clients into (and through) the refinement process. For us, this begins with three simple questions:
01. How does this concept showcase your brand’s ethos (x, x, and x)?
The last thing you want a client to do is begin their feedback by saying “I like” or “I don’t like,” both of which are a sign that subjective opinions are to follow. We prevent this by kicking things off with a pointed question that gives direction. This one, in particular, encourages them to think about HOW their brand is supposed to be perceived.
And just in case you’re wondering, ethos is a fancy pants word that characterizes a brand’s voice and spirit. For example, they may be very welcoming and approachable. Or perhaps they’re refined and luxurious. Either way, we’ll pull out buzzwords from their original brand strategy and place them in the “x” spacing above. This way, they’ll be guided into the right mindset instead of giving you a diary entry of what they like and don't like without much thought (sound painfully familiar, anyone!?).
02. What aspects (type, color, illustration, etc.) of this design will your audience be drawn to and why?
The second question continues to keep clients on track by encouraging them to think about all of the various design aspects from their audience’s perspective, not their own. Again, this helps keep everyone’s eye on the prize and subjective opinions at bay. We are designing for a specific target market, after all.
More often than not, clients will bullet point each design aspect and outline what their audience will like about it and why. Sometimes, they’ll say exactly what we were going for, while other times, they’ll share new insight. This is a collaborative process, so it's important to dig deep every step of the way.
03. Are there any aspects (type, color, illustration, etc.) of this design that do not fit with what your audience is drawn to? If so, why?
The last question builds off of the previous one, and allows clients to consider anything that feels off. The most important part, however, is the last bit, where we ask WHY. Without it, clients could easily dive into the “I don’t like” mentality before giving everything a second thought.
For example, if a client doesn’t believe a certain color is spot on, they have to be able to say why. Otherwise, we’re not learning anything and won’t be able to move forward with purpose. As you can imagine, this question can reveal a lot and often warrants more discussion, which leads me to ...
We share all of the above questions in Asana, so that our clients can sit with everything for 2-3 days. Then, once their answers are provided, we’ll let them know if any other questions come up, or if we believe a phone call is needed for further discussion and / or clarification.
The reason we don’t hop on the phone right away is because we’d rather discuss refinement once everyone has had some time to thoughtfully think things through. This means the clients have taken some time to carefully respond to our questions. And likewise, we’ve taken some time to carefully consider their response.
Remember at the beginning of this post, when I said that I was a people pleaser? I have this terrible habit of agreeing to things that I don’t actually agree with. So the ability for all parties to mindfully consider feedback is pivotal to our process.
Sometimes, things are very clear cut, making a clarity call unnecessary. But other times, it’s absolutely essential. It’s hard to define this other than to say: go with your gut.
When a call is needed, we’ll come up with an outline that helps guide the conversation. Often, this means chatting about what’s working, what’s not working (and why), and coming up with a game plan to move forward so that everyone is on the same page and in agreement. We approach these calls with a very open and collaborative mind, but also make sure to continually position ourselves as experts so that we don’t end up as dreaded pixel pushers.
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While the above accurately describes our refinement process, I think it’s important to note a few things. The first is that we only offer two rounds of refinement to help keep things in check. Anything else would be charged hourly (which rarely happens).
The second is that unless we force clients to accept what we create (which is definitely not how we operate), it’s inevitable that sometimes, we have no option but to become pixel pushers. This is a whole other topic in and of itself, so I’ll save that for another time. But for now, I want you to know that you are not alone. And that it happens to the best of us.
Just remember that if you guide clients through your process the smart way, with open and honest communication, it will become fewer and farther in between. Nothing is perfect, but we can sure make it easier on ourselves. ;)