Negative Client Feedback is the Start of Innovation

When a client leaves you a message along the lines of “We need to talk,” our first reaction is to cringe and start thinking of all the bad things the client is going to throw in our face. We instantly tense, and formulate our push-back strategy when the client starts bringing up the issues they find unsatisfactory, or worse, we think of hiding in the closet and trying to avoid the conversation altogether.

Stop right there.

A client calling you and letting you know that they’re not satisfied with the service or product you’re providing is the start of improvement. It is a GIFT! I know it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. No one likes to receive criticism. But if you can open your mind up to the idea that your client is trying to help you improve, then every piece of criticism doesn’t lend itself to “you’re not good enough” or other fear-based thinking that isn’t helpful for growth. Instead, this type of feedback can be transformative.

In this post, I’m going to talk about three types of negative client feedback, and how we can overcome them:

  1. “I’m not satisfied with [X], and I want a discount!” Our initial response is to push back on something like, “Well you have access to the other 90% of the features, don’t you? Or I’ve given you great service except for the ONE day you called me when my kid had a 103-fever, and I wasn’t available!” At the bottom of this statement, is your client saying that you as a service or product provider hurt their trust, and now they want to hurt you too (in the pocketbook).” Your client is saying, “I’ve seen this issue, and I’m worried that you might be like the other product or service providers out there and you’re not going to meet my expectations.” Your first response is to acknowledge or restate the experience your client has had. Restating the problem might sound like, “I understand that recently, our product has not had all of the functionality we promised,” or “I understand that I wasn’t there for you on the day you needed me.” It’s critical that your client feels that you HEARD them. Next, you want to work on a strategy for working through this trust issue together. A good follow-up question might be, “Moving forward, can I give you updates on how the repair is going so you’re always updated on the status?” Or “Would you like to meet on a more regular basis, so we can address items that come up more proactively?” You can even ask a more open question than that, “Moving forward, what can I do to make you feel more confident in my [product/service]?
  2. “Your [product/service] looks funny.” Clients may pick apart the aesthetics of a design feature or something you created. The bottom line is, your client is picking on something that is more of a personal preference rather than something you can definitively say is wrong. Although you may not necessarily agree with the feedback, the best strategy here is to look for a middle ground where the client is getting what he or she is asking for, and you don’t feel like you’re putting your firm’s reputation on the line by creating a product you don’t feel proud of. If you do a little more digging into “why” the client is looking for the change, this can uncover hidden drivers which can, in turn, help you learn how to steer the design towards something better. Either way, it’s an excellent place to have a conversation and make sure you and your client are on the same page for the project’s goals.
  3. “Your [product/service] has a proven defect.” If you’re dealing with software, maybe the software application has a bug, if you’re dealing with graphic design or a writing project, perhaps it’s that you have too many typos. Either way, at some point, a client will bring up an issue pertaining to quality. Quality problems are the best opportunities for growth. When you uncover quality issues, these are vast areas to look for improvements in your process. Are you rushing through critical portions of your project to meet deadlines? It might be time to look at your QA process. Although it’s never fun to have a client point out quality issues, it’s a massive benefit to your company if you use it as an opportunity to innovate and improve.

Creating a strategy for responding to client feedback (negative or positive) is critical for growing your business. Although we don’t usually look forward to challenging conversations with our clients, these conversations are often the most significant catalysts for organizational change. The next time you are facing a challenging discussion with a client, remember this is a tremendous opportunity for growth.

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