Making mistakes in any business is inevitable. And with interior design, it almost seems even more inevitable. There are just so many moving parts. So many pieces ordered, from so many different vendors, with so many different deliveries, tradespeople, etc. And when you’re doing it all on your own or with only a few employees to help, something going wrong is just an expected part of doing business.
But even though it is just a regular part of doing business, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. That moment you realize something has gone wrong. You take that big gulp, and start quickly picturing your future conversation with your angry client. And think through all of the horrible consequences that could come from this one awful mistake. It’s what keeps you up at night. But the good news is, when you do make a mistake, it doesn’t have to be the end of a great client relationship. If you handle it correctly, it can actually be the moment a client decides, “I’ll never work with anyone else.”
It’s Not My Problem
Long ago I was at Panera and had ordered their incredible mac and cheese. As I rarely give in to that guilty pleasure I was over the moon excited about indulging. But, sadly, my hopes were quickly dashed once I took that first bite. It was ice cold. And old. No creamy, warm, luscious cheese that clings on to the macaroni. Nope, just cold, solidified disappointing mac and coagulated mush.
So when I returned to the employee who originally gave me the cold mac and cheese to ask if he could somehow warm it up, I expected something like, “Sorry about that. Sure.” His answer? “Once we give you the food we can’t take it back. There’s a microwave over there.” Basically, “It’s not my problem. Figure it out yourself.” I couldn’t believe it. They gave me ice cold mac and cheese that I paid more than $6 for and I have to figure out how to warm it up? I didn’t feel like deciphering their microwave buttons so I just sat down and started to eat it. But I was quickly interrupted by the young woman who had initially taken my order. She asked, “The mac and cheese was cold? And he told you to microwave it?” I told her yes, that was what had happened. And she profusely apologized, took my mac and cheese back, and promptly returned with one that was hot, scrumptious, and double in size.
Making it Your Problem Is the Key to Success
I had just been extremely irritated and shocked at their employees’ poor service and the company’s poor policies. And then a young woman, who wasn’t the manager, who didn’t give me the cold food, saw a situation, stepped in, and took care of it. She honestly could have said nothing. And done nothing. It wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t involved in any way. She wasn’t even in the same area as the food pick up. But she didn’t see it like that. A mistake had been made with a customer, that she happened to observe, and she saw it as her duty to fix it. This probably happened to me more than ten years ago. And I still remember it. She turned me from extremely disappointed and irritated to extremely impressed in a matter of minutes.
Now I know fixing an issue on a design project will never be as easy as giving a customer some more warm mac and cheese. And it will probably never be that inexpensive either. But, the way to win over a customer’s heart and loyalty still works the same. The vast majority of customers will forgive you, and even strengthen their respect for you, if you take over a mistake immediately and right it. No matter who caused the problem in the first place. Maybe the couch was upholstered with the fabric on backwards. Or maybe a tradesman accidentally stood up a customer as he confused his schedule. Either way, if you take on that responsibility and say, “I’m so sorry this happened. Let me make it right.” And then you do exactly that as quickly as possible, you’ll have a customer who will brag about you for life. Like I’m doing right now.
Customers Want Help Not Perfection
Often times our greatest customer service stories are not about everything being impeccably right. They’re more about incredible people righting a situation that went wrong, with class, professionalism, and kindness. Especially when it wasn’t even their fault. And although it can be extremely challenging to not play the blame game it’s crucial for your success. Because clients aren’t interested in the fact that it’s not your fault. They’re only interested in who will make it right.
So let your next failure be your shining moment. Take on the responsibility of solving issues that your client encounters while working with you. Even if you didn’t cause them. You’ll be shocked at just how happy a client can actually become, after a huge mistake has been made. Because it’s a test. An unfortunate test, yes. But a test to the relationship. It’s like the first time you’re in a stressful situation with someone you’re dating. You get to see, how do they react? Do they start yelling at you? Blaming everyone around them? Stop thinking logically? Or, do they take it in stride, take a deep breath and say, “We can figure this out.” And when you see how well they handle that stress, you feel comforted, relaxed, and know you don’t want to be with anyone else. Your clients will feel the same for you.
And stay tuned for our post next week where we cover what you should do when you’ve made a mistake, and your client makes unreasonable demands on you to make it right.
If you’d like even more ideas on how to make your customers love you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org find out more!