Sometimes, I see some truly bizarre client feedback.
Like the time a guy gave me no direction whatsoever, read my piece, then came back at me with a list of about 20 lines of what I “should” have included. It’s not bizarre that he gave me no direction; it’s actually quite common as a copywriter to have a client tell me “Write 600 words on X,” because that’s what they’re paying me for.
It’s bizarre that he had a 20-item list in mind and didn’t give it to me.
But the thing is, clients are just people, so you’re going to get some bizarre client feedback. The question isn’t “Will it happen?”
And no, hate yourself while eating an entire pan of brownies is not an option. (Well, one of those things is … but only one!)
First and foremost, you have to be able to recognize when bizarre client feedback hits your inbox.
We’re not talking negative critiques; that’s just a part of life. We’re talking weird feedback, the kind you can’t make head nor tail of. The kind that you sort of stare at, then get up, then sit back down and stare at, then call your mom and cry because – obviously – this is your fault.
Not that your mom will ever tell you that, at least if yours is as cool as mine.
But once you’re done crying and she is done telling you how great you are, it’s time to seriously look at what just happened.
First, let’s weed out the obvious. If you committed any of the following sins, you deserve the critique you got:
Now, here are some examples of bizarre client feedback that is not your fault:
… and yes, all of these have happened to me. Not Michelle specifically, but you’d be surprised.
So again, the question becomes how to handle bizarre feedback from clients. Here’s my system.
First and foremost, I always clarify. A simple “Did you mean … ?” will help you understand whether they did mean what they said, or just weren’t expressing themselves properly.
From there, I politely direct them to their original instructions. If we have a good relationship, I will paraphrase. If they went zero to nasty in less than 60 seconds, I just start quoting them. E.g. “Here are your directions as of November 9th: ‘[insert their directions here]’.”
I try hard to see eye to eye with clients, and often, when they send critiques that seem way out of line, I’ll discover they had a good reason for what they said once I dug deep enough. That doesn’t mean I necessarily did anything wrong; it just means they had purpose. That’s good, because it gives me something to work with.
But it doesn’t mean I have to do free work. If they want a rewrite to incorporate a bunch of material that wasn’t originally asked for, I always agree but point out that I will need to charge for all the new word count.
If they want a completely new piece, same thing.
You don’t work for free. You have rent and dogs and kids and cars and Netflix subscriptions to pay for. Keep that in mind when you tell your client what’s up.
There you go … your bizarre feedback handling system in a nutshell.
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