Alright so continuing to connect the dots here from one week to the next, this week I thought we’d tackle surprising your clients. Now taken at face value anytime you’re purposefully surprising your clients it’s a good thing, right? I mean you’re doing something thoughtful, something kind, and something you know will help them. So they should be elated, right? Well, ….. not quite.
Now if you read through last week’s post about going above and beyond, (which you can find here) we talked through some ideas on how to go about it, bringing coffee to a tired client whose coffeemaker has broken, putting rubber pads on the backs of pictures, or fixing a wobbly table leg. Those all sound pretty awesome, right? You would certainly want someone to do those things for you just out of the goodness of your heart, right? Well, you might, but some people might not. And although I know that may sound a little bit ridiculous, it’s true. Here’s why.
People’s Possessions, and their Condition, have Different Meanings
A client’s home, and the possessions in it, is precious, private, and personal. All kinds of random items have special meaning that to an outsider seem completely mundane and even a problem that you could clearly fix. To you that wobbling table leg is annoying and must make dinners difficult to keep steady, but to that client, maybe that table leg needs to wobble because it’s on her husband’s “honey do” list and she doesn’t want someone else to finish that list for him. Funny but hey, it’s her table and her “honey do” list.
And what about those pictures that are cattywampus? Why shouldn’t we just put those rubber foot pads on them without asking? Well, there might be a variety of reasons. Maybe those pieces are highly valuable and if they’re altered in any way they’ll lose their value. Or, maybe those pieces are from the client’s grandma and she wants to keep them exactly as they had been inherited.
Frustrating and confusing, I know. But the thing is, these pieces are the client’s. They may have reasons that they don’t want an item adjusted or fixed or repaired. And the last thing that you want to do is put in effort and time, and maybe even money, into something that you’re hoping to surprise your client with, and they actually end up disappointed, or even worse, upset.
The Rules for Surprising Clients
So what to do? How do you surprise clients with random acts of kindness? How do you go above and beyond without accidentally upsetting them? Well there are a few simple rules that you’ll want to follow.
- If it’s going to alter an item in any way, ask permission first.
- If you want to maintain the surprise factor, ask permission awhile before the surprise is going to happen so that they’ll forget.
- Don’t throw any client items away even if it obviously seems like trash.
- If you’re bringing something in to surprise the client, you usually won’t need to ask (provided it’s nothing that could hurt the property like an animal, you’ve already asked them about food allergies and dietary restrictions, etc).
So as you can see, the need for permission really comes in when you’re getting involved in something that the client already has possession of. It comes in when you’re going to change or alter something that they already own, and changing it without their permission will potentially upset them.
Fixing those scuffs on the dresser that they wanted to keep in their bedroom may sound like a great way to go above and beyond, but maybe those scuff marks are from their children (who are now grown) and they don’t want the reminders removed. Or maybe they just like the imperfections. Who knows, but you don’t want to find out after you’ve already covered them up.
And what about my mention of trash? Well, the same thing holds true. Let’s say you want to go above and beyond by switching out some light bulbs that are burnt out in the near by space and you have some extra ones handy to switch out. Great!
Before you chuck those light bulbs though, stop yourself. Place them as close to the trash as possible, away from pets or children possibly getting a hold of them, with a note that these are the burnt out light bulbs and labeling which lamp they came from. Again, sounds a bit much and ridiculous, but people assign meaning to the most random things, especially if there’s been a loss in the family. Maybe that light has never been changed because the client’s husband changed it the day before he passed, and it’s been purposefully unchanged since. You just never know. So, in the abundance of caution and respect, don’t throw any client item away, unless they’ve specifically told you that you can or they’re with you at the time.
Surprises Can Still Happen, & Should Happen!
Now, this all sounds pretty deflating I know. What’s the fun in surprising, if you well, don’t get to surprise them? Well, first of all, it is still a surprise. When you reach out to ask for permission, the surprise is actually two fold. The first surprise is the action, and the second surprise is that you’re so respectful of their space that you’ve called to ask for their permission (just make sure that you’re not reaching out to them over and over though).
And like I said above, if you want to surprise them by, let’s say, framing a piece of art that they’ve mentioned that they love but has remain unframed for ages. Well, you ask at the beginning of the project, let time pass, they’ll inevitably forget, and then surprise them later on with the finished piece. That way you’ve gotten permission, but still also managed a surprise.
Or, if you’re adding something to the space that can easily be removed if they don’t like it or if you’re giving the client something (again if you’ve already done your due diligence at the beginning of your relationship to ask about food allergies and dietary restrictions), you also don’t need to ask permission. So in the case of our tired client with the broken coffeemaker, we of course don’t need to ask permission. Or sending a bottle of champagne to celebrate an anniversary, again no need for permission.
Or what if in our above example the piece of unframed art was something that they wanted and had shown you, but didn’t actually have? Of course getting it and framing it for them as a surprise is not something you’d need permission for. It’s just something that you’d surprise them with, and then jointly decide where it should be hung.
Surprises Should Always Be Covered by You
Alright, so we’ve gone through our rules and we know when to, and when not to, surprise our clients with our extra efforts. Great. But before we wrap up, I just want to make sure and cover one last thing. Surprises need to be free. And while that may seem obvious, it really isn’t in the right circumstances.
Let’s take our example from last week where the plumber is already in the house and has finished installing the sink, toilet, and tub, and you remember that the toilet in the guest bathroom needs to be fixed. You call the client to ask if you’d like him to fix it while he’s there. They say “Oh fantastic, yes!” but payment is never discussed. You think they would realize that meant they’d still be paying for it, you’re just helping them out by keeping them from having to call another plumber and rearranging their schedule to accommodate them coming over to fix it. And the client thinks that you meant it was going to be at no cost.
Well, guess how they’re going to react when they see that toilet repair on their bill? Well, certainly surprised, but not in the way you want. So whenever you surprise your clients, make sure it’s always free. And actually, more than that, not only do you want to make sure it’s free, but also make sure you tell your client in cases like this, that it’s free.
Nothing is worse than hearing that someone is doing something kind for you, then hanging up the phone and thinking, wait a minute, did they mean that they were going to cover it too? Or just save me the time by getting it done for me? And then spending the next hour wondering which way it is, and if they should call you back to find out. Leaving them wondering and worrying really takes away from the fun of the surprise. So save the client the grief by letting them know when you’re asking for their permission, that this surprise won’t cost them a thing.
Make Your Surprises Count for Something Good, Rather than Something Disappointing
At the end of the day, the client wants a surprise, and so do you. But you both want it to be a good surprise, not a bad one. And even if it was intended to be good, it doesn’t always mean that’s the result. So save yourself the headache and ask first when you’re going to alter an item or space in some way as a surprise.
You want to respect the client and their space just the same as you would want someone to respect yours. Our homes are so precious to us, as you well know, and so many pieces, placements, and seemingly non-sensical actions are taken for what seems like no reason, when they actually have a very, very meaningful reason.
So use thought and caution, and surprise your clients in a way that ensures they’re going to be over the moon for you, your business, and your efforts whenever you go that extra mile.
Let me know in the comments below, what’s your favorite client surprise story? I’d love to know!
And if you’re for looking for more ways to serve your clients exceptionally well, then take a look at what we’ve got for you here!