Client feedback is very important in the areas I’ve worked in, but I’ve found it very stressful when management’s desire to improve feedback results in demands to have two sides of a trade off. For example:

  • customers want to be served quickly but to feel the service is relaxed.
  • students/pupils want to be challenged but want to be sure to pass.
  • clients want to understand a system completely but don’t want technical talk.

What is the best way to deal with this? It feels that whichever I try to adapt to I’ll just lose on the other side.

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    You're asking for a generic answer to a generic question. We do not deal with generics here on StackExchange. Your question has to be an actual single problem that you're having right now (if you don't want your question to be put on hold). For one thing, you could be framing your problem entirely incorrectly, that's why we need the actual original problem. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 26 '19 at 0:22

The way to deal with this - whether it comes from management, account managers, or others - is to get all of the stakeholders to agree on priorities. All reasonable people understand that there are practical limitations on what can be done, and functional organizations agree on priorities for how to deliver what is most important. Some questions that you need the stakeholders to answer relative to the list in your questions:

  • Does your organization want to focus on providing prompt service or being relaxed?
  • Do you want to focus on adequately challenging students or making sure everyone passes?
  • Is it more important for inform the users or to avoid technicalities?

I'll admit that doing this isn't easy. Most of the time, no matter how obvious the conflict is, stakeholders would rather demand all of the above then agree that one is more important than the other (I can remember working with an account manager who wouldn't even agree to prioritize the open tickets for his account). Prior to having this discussion, do your homework. Make sure there is a real conflict that will still exist after making a reasonable compromise between the two, and then push for all of the stakeholders to agree about which value is more important when conflicts happen.

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    On the homework front, it's worth trying to think of a lateral solution which is external to both sides of the demand. For instance, quicker service and more relaxed service could be solved by having more people providing the service. Stating it in those terms may allow the client to realise the cost associated and to change their focus to one or the other (assuming they don't want to commit to paying more). – delinear Nov 26 '19 at 11:03

Specifying these elements precisely will reveal if they really are such opposed goals, and identify how they might be maximally satisfied

I would say that, at a glance, none of these goals are diametrically opposed in the manner the question suggests. For example, I see no reason that service can't be prompt and relaxed from the point of view of a customer. If we imagine four broad combinations for that situation:

  1. Long wait to be served + harried employee = impression of a really busy environment
  2. Long wait to be served + relaxed employee = impression of a lazy employee
  3. Quick service + harried employee = impression of a frantic environment which is running smoothly with a hard working employee
  4. Quick service + relaxed employee = impression of a competent employee and well managed store equipped to handle its workload

If you believe that #4 is legitimately impossible, then it's time to discuss which elements we're each defining as constituting quick service and relaxed environment respectively. Doing so will make any necessary tradeoffs between the two clearer.

I think that the key here is to understand what your clients functionally want, rather than literally interpreting their expressed desires. For another example, a client wanting to understand a system completely without any technical talk is probably using a different definition of "complete understanding" than you are.

I would argue that most people have a fairly complete understanding of their stoves with respect to their anticipated use-cases: they know how to achieve any effect they want (turn on any combination of burners, adjust heat, etc.), but may not be able to describe anything about how the stove actually operates, and might be completely hopeless at trying to repair it if it broke because they don't understand it to that degree. A layperson who wants to learn "everything about their stove" probably means "everything about the operation" of the stove, and may not appreciate or be interested in a technical discussion of what components make the stove work, and how.

If you're having these things asked of you, it is incumbent on you, yourself, to precisely identify what clients are actually asking you for, rather than simply taking anything they say and then moving in a straight line forever. And if both desires cannot be satisfied together, the best way to deal with that situation is to explain that that is the case (and why it's the case, if the client/manager would care) and then outline what outcomes are actually possible.

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