Responding to Client Feedback: Unreasonable Responses to Reasonable Requests

How agencies should respond to client feedback—and how they shouldn’t

In our first discovery meeting with a new client, we discovered how badly the company’s previous web design company had treated it. As a new website had taken shape, the client had posed reasonable questions concerning some of the creative decisions made by the designers. Among them: Are you folks sure (our new client had asked) that the headline font you’re using is the best choice? The design firm’s reply is one of the worst responses to client feedback we’ve ever heard.

They responded by sending the client a link to Google Fonts, with a suggestion that he find one he likes.

This is a truly bizarre exaggeration of accommodation to client feedback. Instead of helping, the firm had simply sloughed off its role as experienced guide through the font choice decision-making process. When we heard this story, we realized that our client had been so ill-advised that we couldn’t wait to show him what a real marketing partnership is like.

At the other extreme is the creative who will brook no suggestions from the client company.

My favorite example of this behavior occurs in Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. In th book, architect Howard Roark responds to changes made to his building design by, um…well, by blowing up the building. Howard Roark might have had a legitimate beef. Maybe the design changes were bad ideas. But—dude. Dynamite? It’s a bit showy. Ultimately, Rand mimicked her character’s behavior when she learned that the movie screenplay trimmed Roark’s speech to the jury. In a fit of pique that lasted the rest of her life, she refused to sell the movie rights to Atlas Shrugged. 

The vast majority of web designers avoid the use of explosives to make their point.

And yet, a dismissive attitude to client feedback is all too familiar. Ironically, some clients are drawn to unyielding creative people, often because they are reassured by their certainty.

Creative decisions are founded partly in reason and partly in a mysterious “gut feel.”

This “gut feel” arises from the interplay between a designer’s innate taste and the mix of current design trends. Designers call on their gut every day, and each time they do, it gets stronger. Therefore, an accountant who may be looking at the bewildering variety of font choices for the first time probably won’t make the best choice. But a working designer probably will.

But a designer who listens carefully to client feedback is increasing the odds of creating something worthwhile.

It doesn’t mean she must necessarily take the suggestion. But if she’s willing to consider it’s possible validity, her openness will serve both her and the client well. Legendary ad man Bill Bernbach made a shtick out of carrying around a card conveying the thought “Maybe he’s right.” While the card itself may have been a bit of show-biz, the sentiment strikes me as one that still rings true.

At Red Letter Marketing, we believe the best creative solutions come from a respectful give-and-take. 

Everyone–clients, creatives, and account directors have unique perspectives that add value to a creative decision. Sound like an agency you’d want to partner with? Let’s talk.