Aka what to do if you get negative feedback.
The best approach if you receive any negative feedback is to use it as an opportunity to make a positive change. This may be in your own expertise or simply in how you manage client relationships. Ultimately both you, as the freelancer, and the client wants the same thing – a great product and a very happy client.
Negative feedback is something that all freelance workers dread and yet, realistically, we are all going to receive varieties of this no matter how good we are at what we do. The longer you work, the more work you do, the more likely you are that somewhere along the line you will come across a client who is not 100% happy with you at the project’s end. If you are working via an online freelance platform negative feedback takes on a new relevance because repeatedly low ratings can affect how often you are viewed and ultimately your business.
Most clients are a real pleasure to work with, and I’ve been super lucky with mine, but when that negative feedback arrives it can be a real slap in the face and can make you doubt why you are even carrying on. It can bring up feelings of imposter syndrome and really make a previously good day into a pretty bad one. The trick is developing some strategies to deal with negative feedback in a positive way.
So the negative feedback arrives in your inbox – what do you do now?
Here are my top tips for dealing with negative feedback:
Question it: Is this negative feedback justified or not?
Our first response is often defensive but instead of reacting instantly it always helps to have a standard response ready. Something along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry you aren’t happy and I want to make it right, bear with me while I check the work and I will get back to you’, works well, but make sure you personalise it – whatever you do don’t send a client a generic response, it is always obvious and it will make them more annoyed than they potentially already are.
If the feedback is justified – make it right. If it isn’t, then the issue gets slightly trickier. Obviously, you don’t want to end up with even more negative feedback but if the criticism is not reasonable you need to ascertain why the client is saying what they are saying.
Check the brief:
The work could be perfect but if you have not read the brief and acted on it the client may well have ended up with something they were neither expecting nor hoping for.
If you didn’t follow the brief to the letter – make it right.
If you did, this makes it a little harder to deal with diplomatically. For example, if someone gives you the incorrect information at the get-go it can be difficult to get this across in a way which doesn’t look like you are saying, ‘actually, this is your fault, I just did as I was told’! A better response is to cut and paste the original information, explain that this is what you had acted upon and then ask how they would like you to proceed. Often they’ll give you more relevant information and you can make it right for them and give them something they are really happy with.
Once you have undertaken these steps most clients are pretty reasonable and the project continues.
But I can’t find anything wrong!
First of all, don’t panic!
It is a sad fact of life that there will always be a tiny minority of clients who will give negative feedback no matter how accommodating you are. These types of clients tend to fall into 2 main groups:
They want a discount/refund: These clients often give super positive initial feedback, want to work with you again soon, will recommend you and so on. Then a few days later you suddenly get an email saying how awful the work was and how their boss/client/whatever found ‘tons of errors’, and before you know it you are on the negative feedback treadmill.
Some clients are never satisfied: As with any walk of life, there are people out there who want to pay as little as possible for as much in return as possible. These clients are best spotted before you enter into the contract (and there will be a blog on this later!), but those who do slip through the net often want endless revisions, add-on work and so on – free of charge, of course.
These clients can be particularly hard to deal with and are often found on the freelance websites where they dangle the threat of negative feedback to get what they want. My personal response to this will vary depending on how justified I feel the complaint is. Even when I feel that it isn’t I will often give a free revision while making it clear that further revisions will be charged for. You are then being reasonable as far as the client is concerned, yet you have made it clear that even if there will be negative feedback you will not be bullied into delivering free work.
Finally always keep in mind that most of your clients will be lovely to work with and appreciate your work – it is those clients who make it all worthwhile – don’t let a few bad apples spoil your day – as Dale Carnegie once said, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’.