How to Keep Client Feedback in Check (and Protect Your WordPress Business)
Your clients are going to want a say in the work you do. It is their WordPress website, after all. The problem, however, is that sometimes your clients’ feedback isn’t helpful.
There are times when their feedback is vague: “I don’t know. I just don’t like the way it looks.”
There are times when they want you to go above and beyond what you agreed to: “Can’t we just get one more revision? Changing the colors can’t take that long.”
And then there are the clients who have great feedback, but they share it at totally inconvenient times (like when you’re in the final QA stages before launch): “I think I liked the contact form better when it was spread out across multiple pages.”
So, what do you do? This is your client’s WordPress website. You want them to be excited about what you’ve created for them, and getting a referral or testimonial from them would do wonders for getting you more business. But you don’t want to slow down your process waiting for their feedback, you don’t want to get into a battle over what makes for good design, and you don’t want to blow your budget by allowing your clients to run wild with revisions.
In my experience, the best course of action here is to, as Denis Waitley put it, “Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.” Translation: protect your WordPress business and keep that client feedback in check.
Tips for Keeping Client Feedback in Check
You are in a service-based WordPress business, which means that your time is extremely valuable. Any time you take your focus away from a task to handle something unexpected—be it a question, a last-minute piece of feedback, or an urgent and emotional phone call from your client—you’re taking money out of your pocket.
By learning to better manage your clients’ feedback, the better off your WordPress business will be in the long run. You’ll work more efficiently, cut down on scope creep, maintain stronger professional relationships with your clients, and keep everyone involved happy.
Here are some tips you can use to better manage client feedback:
Tip #1. Incorporate Feedback Into Your Process
Within each phase of your project—be it strategy, design, content, WordPressdevelopment, or something else—you should have a dedicated segment where you review work completed within that phase with your client. This’ll ensure that they are there with you every step of the way; providing assets, reviewing mockups, answer questions, etc.
Although I tend to err on the side of fewer meetings, I do feel that scheduling regular check-ins with your clients is helpful when your work is contingent on their feedback. You can do this weekly, bi-weekly, or based on the phase scheduling above. You can provide a status update on your own progress and then gather their consolidated feedback all at once.
Tip #2. Include Clauses in Your Contract to Account for Disruptions
Sometimes it can’t be helped if someone gets ill or injured and your client needs to step away for a while. That being said, you’re providing a service—a creative service that requires a good amount of energy and focus to get it done right. Stops and restarts are not conducive to your process or to the quality of your output.
If you can get it in writing, add a clause to your contract to account for project disruptions. This means that if someone disappears for a month, two months, a year, there’s a penalty built in so you don’t lose money while you wait. Or, if someone asks for an exorbitant amount of revisions, throwing your timeline completely out of whack, you are not to be held accountable for the late delivery.
Tip #3. Share Your Pricing Sheet with Them
Before beginning any web design project, be clear with your clients about what is included in the contract. Because once they see that so-and-so has animation on their site or so-and-so told them they need to more product images on each page, you’re going to start receiving feedback and requests that fall outside the scope of the original agreement.
Which is totally fine. Your clients can ask for whatever they want. However, you’re not in a position to give anything away for free. If you don’t have one, create a pricing sheet for just this purpose. It’ll break out your hourly rates for these types of add-ons, change requests, and extra revisions. This isn’t about saying “no” to your clients, it’s about protecting your WordPress business by establishing the value of the product they’re receiving.
Tip #4. Assign Responsibility to One Stakeholder
Too many cooks in the kitchen make web design incredibly messy. Do yourself a favor and get your client to commit to assigning responsibility to one stakeholder.
Tip #5. Add to Them to Your Project Management Tool
Your project or task management tool isn’t just helpful in keeping projects in line. In fact, these tools should be used to centralize and document all communication with your clients.
When it comes to feedback, this is especially important as you’ll always know where to look if you need to reference a change they requested or an update they approved down the road. It’s amazing how many of them will claim they “forgot” they asked for something or that they never saw the email, so keeping it all in one tool can be a real life-saver.
Tip #6. Set Aside Time to Manage Feedback
When we build websites, it’s easy to block everything else out besides the project at hand. If you want to maintain high levels of creativity and productivity, that’s often a necessity. It would be a mistake to block out everything and everyone to a point where your clients don’t hear from you until the website is ready for launch. It would also be a mistake to respond to every single piece of feedback as soon as it comes in.
Rather than allow a deluge of calls or messages to distract you from your work, turn off your email and your phone during dedicated work hours. Let your clients know that you have specific time periods each day when you’re available to speak if they have any feedback or notes they need to share.
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Tip #7. Hold Them Accountable for Keeping to the Feedback Schedule
If your work is absolutely contingent on your client’s feedback and you cannot move on without it, let your clients know upfront what sort of timeframe is reasonable enough to work with. Three days? Five days? Maybe only one? If your clients disappear, you shouldn’t have to lose money while you wait. Put the project on hold and require any restarts to have a new kickoff (and maybe tack on a restart fee).
Tip #8. Be Professional
There will be some times where you’re not happy with the feedback you’ve received, be it negative or unhelpful. My suggestion is this:
- Acknowledge every piece of feedback you receive within 24 hours.
- Address every piece of feedback you receive and do so in a professional manner you’re your clients are unhappy, provide helpful and actionable input.
- Do not under any circumstances get into a war over email. This can go on for too long and there’s a lot that can be miscommunicated through email. Get on the phone or meet with them in person to discuss the feedback.
If you want to maintain a positive relationship and foster more trust between you and your client during the feedback process, always be professional.
Tip #9. Use Visuals to Get on the Same Page
If you’ve ever had a client provide you with vague feedback like “I just don’t like it”, you know how frustrating that can be. Without constructive feedback, how are you to know what needs to changing in order to make your client happy? You’ll just end up grasping at straws otherwise and blow your budget.
This is why visuals provide a good opportunity for the two of you to get on the same page.
- Use a tool like InVision to get their feedback directly on files or designs.
- Always do live run-throughs of whatever you’re reviewing with clients. If you can, let them lead the way so you can be sure of what their feedback means.
- If what they ask for still doesn’t make sense, ask them for an actual example of a website that does it.
Tip #10. Put It into Perspective
When clients get out of control with feedback, it’s time to speak to them in terms they understand. If your typical client is a business owner or manager, they’re going to understand things like project scope, budgets, and contracts. For others, it may be as simple as explaining how their unwieldy feedback affects the timeline and quality of work of other clients (something I’m sure they wouldn’t want happening to them).
If they ever call something you’ve done into question or try to ask for more than what was agreed upon, always point back to those official documents you compiled—as well as their sign-off on them—to remind them that this was the style guide, these were the set number of mockups to be provided, etc.
Tip #11. Don’t Take It Personal
When someone criticizes a website you’ve spent weeks or even months working on, it’s hard not to take the negative feedback personally. That being said, don’t let it get you down. And don’t get into a fight about it. Just see if they can provide proof and be more helpful in explaining what doesn’t work.
Tip #12. Stay Busy
When you get stuck waiting for client feedback, you’ve got a choice: move on and hope they were cool with what you’d done so far or work on someone else’s website. The problem with the latter, however, is that it takes an adjustment to shift from one project to another. What happens if your client suddenly comes back and wants you to jump right back in again? Those adjustment periods are costly.
So long as it doesn’t take an extended period of time to receive feedback, find other ways to keep yourself busy. Take an online course, work on an open source project, build and sell your own WordPress theme, or do some research on new potential clients.
Tip #13. Filter the Feedback for Your Team
For those of you not working alone, I’d suggest minimizing the exposure your team has to negative feedback. That’s not to say you don’t want them to learn from mistakes or to know when a client is unhappy, but if you receive a painfully long, bordering-on-abusive email from a client, there’s no reason to send that to your team. Capture the points of feedback they need to sufficiently make the changes and let them stay focused on the job at hand; not on the client’s bad attitude.
Tip #14. Create Messaging Templates
Remember how I said to be professional in responding to feedback? Yeah, well, sometimes that’s a tall order to fill. This is where messaging templates come in handy. Any time someone provides you with feedback that isn’t helpful, is too vague, or requires pushback because it violates your contract, you can use a pre-written, professional message that requires only a tiny bit of personalization. It’ll also save you time having to generate these responses in the future.
Tip #15. Stay Calm
Above all else, it’s important to stay calm, especially if you received the feedback five seconds after you sent over a mockup (you know they didn’t have time to really look it over). This is most likely an emotional response and should not receive an equally emotional one from you in return. Sit on it and then respond when you’re feeling calmer.
Client feedback is a delicate thing. Of course you want your clients to have a say in the work you’ve done. Without their guidance you’d be lost. But you never really know which type of client you’re working with until you get into the thick of it, which means you should always be prepared for the ones whose feedback or lack thereof throws your process and your project pipeline into total disarray.
Remember: web design and development isn’t a sprint. It’s about producing a high-quality website your clients will be excited to share and that you’ll be proud to include in your portfolio. But if tempers flare and tension lingers as feedback gets out of hand and isn’t addressed properly, you could compromise all of your hard work as well as your business’s reputation.