How to Deal with Negative Client Feedback

Don't let client criticism or negative feedback get you down.  Learn how to handle it the professional way!

Getting negative feedback from a client is inevitable.  Let's just get that out of the way: you are going to get negative feedback and so is every other interior designer out there.  You're not alone.  But sometimes it feels like you're alone if you hear anything but rave reviews.  It can feel like a giant spotlight is on you.  Or like it is written on your face and everyone knows.  But none of this is true.  

Sadly, negative feedback will probably stick with you much longer than the rave reviews.  At least it does for me.  In a way, I think this is because we don't expect our clients to have criticism.  We expect our clients to love the work we've done for them.  This kind of feedback can make you question your talent and maybe even question why you are in interior design.  

Below I've detailed some things you can do to deal with negative client feedback.  

The most important thing to keep in mind when navigating these waters is to keep calm, cool, and collected.  Don't let the criticism set you off when you can't think clearly or if it does, give yourself time to calm down before dealing. 

Is it true?  

Put on your CEO hat and look at the criticism objectively.  Is there any truth to it?  Without getting pulled into the drama take a look at the core of the statement.  Try to look at the comment as if it wasn't about you or your work.  Attempt to push past the anger or frustration in the way it was said and examine the words and intent of the feedback.  Here is an example: Client says to Designer, "I hate the sofa, the shape is awful, the cushions are uncomfortable, and the fabric is scratchy and is purple!  I know I didn't approve a purple sofa."  Now it is up to the Designer to look at that statement at try to find if there is any truth to the statement.  Essentially the Client didn't get the sofa they were expecting.  Had it been awhile since it had been ordered?  Did the client see and test out the sofa before purchase?  Did they see the fabric in person?  Next to other colors?  In what kind of light?  Could something else in the room be causing the fabric to look different?  In examining the facts behind the negative feedback you will be better equipped to handle the situation.  Alternatively, there may be no truth behind their comments because they may just be lashing out at someone.  

Is it about the work?

Interior design is personal, you are deeply embedded in client's lives and their private space.  Often I see clients take out their frustrations with their spouse, their kids, their mother-in-law or another part of the project out of their designer.  When clients feel like some aspect of their life is out of control, they often go for something they feel like they can control at home - their interior design project.  True story: There was a designer whose client loved everything and signed off on the final installation.  She was raving compliments the whole walk-through.  Then when Monday rolled around, the designer received a huge email detailing everything that was wrong.  Later the designer found out that the client had her friend over and the friend had criticized the design choices, making the client question them.  Grimace.  Sometimes there are outside influences at play.

Create a smile file

I heard about this from another female entrepreneur.  She creates a smile file for when negative feedback happens.  The idea is to create a folder in your email where you put all the happy, thankful feedback you receive.  All the emails that tell you that you're doing a good job.  So when you do receive that inevitable negative feedback you can pour yourself a glass of wine, open your smile file and read through comments of people telling you that you're great.  This helps remind you that there is far more positive feedback than negative.  

Take steps to minimize negative feedback in the future

The best thing you can do is to properly set up client expectations.  I talk about how to do that in this post.  Most issues arise from unmet expectations, there was a disconnect in communication and something turned out differently than what the client had in mind.  Expectations on fabric color, on the timeline, on how quickly you'll respond, for how much clients will pay, and the list can be endless.  There are unspoken expectations and ones just mentioned in passing.  Yes, this makes our job difficult.  If you receive negative feedback, I suggest you take a look at it and see what you can do to prevent it in the future.  Could you create a system?  Maybe update your contract?  Perhaps you make sure to tell a client something in the initial meeting.  You could create a more in-depth new client questionnaire to help identify expectations and know your client better.  Ultimately take a look at the feedback and ask yourself (again with that CEO hat on) What can be done so this doesn't happen again.

Listen and be sympathetic

Sometimes clients just want to know that they are being heard.  The best thing you can do when you receive negative feedback is to acknowledge the way that the client feels (right or wrong this is the way they are feeling at that moment) and be sympathetic to their position.  This doesn't mean that you have to agree with them.  Just listen and be understanding.  Take initiative to fix the issue.  I find that usually a call or in-person meeting is better than an email in these situations.  Emails can be too impersonal and get misconstrued.  Create a plan together to move forward.

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