A lot of designers believe they just don’t have the funds to provide their clients with a spectacular experience. You think … lavish gifts, 5 star meals, putting clients up at a grand hotel for installation day, these things are just not realistic for my budget. Plus, I work from home so it’s not like I can treat clients to a great experience by bringing them to my office. So, what to do?
Well, a lot actually. Treating your clients to a luxurious experience is certainly wonderful, but it’s not essential to creating a memorable, or enjoyable time. And it’s rarely what will get you referrals. What will get you referrals, actually, is something that’s far more affordable, but sounds a lot less jazzy.
Systems Are More Important Than Spending
And that is, developing a systematic way to take care of your clients. One that’s fully intertwined in your design process. Starting from the first contact, all the way to the very last. Here’s what some of that could look like.
If their very first contact is they call you and receive your voicemail, they hear a very friendly voice thanking them for their call and letting them know within what time frame they can hear back from you. And then, you note when they call and make sure that you get back to them within that time frame. When you call them back, you have a friendly conversation, ask them your screening questions once you’ve chatted a bit, and if they sound like they’re not a fit, you direct them to what you think will be. When they do sound like a good fit, you’re ready to set up a meeting at the end of the call. Rather than, “I don’t have my calendar on me, can I call you back to set up an appointment?” And so it goes.
Keep Your Client in The Know to Keep Them Happy
The way you take care of your clients doesn’t have to be overly complicated. One great way to start is by writing down the steps of your design process (for you) and then writing down the steps that the client has to be involved in. Then sharing both processes with your client.
And even though they won’t be a part of steps like ordering, or the pricing out, it’s good to just let them know what these steps entail (in simple terms). For example, “After you sign the contract, the retainer has been paid, and photos and measurements are taken, I will begin to put together your design and the pricing. This process will take 4-6 weeks. As I’m nearing the design, I will reach out and set up a meeting time for the presentation.” And, “1-2 weeks after you’ve approved the design and paid the deposit, we will begin the ordering process. This usually takes x many weeks.” Clients like to know timelines. It also keeps you on schedule (while also being reasonable by giving a range) and keeps them from hounding you with, “Is it here yet?”
Going through this process also helps you remember what things look like from your client’s perspective. When they call you asking why they haven’t seen the design yet, you think, “I’ve been busily working on this design for weeks, working my butt off to track down a chair that they’re dying to have, and they have the audacity to ask me, where is the design?” But, if you haven’t communicated with them when they’ll see their design, all they think is, “What’s taking so long? Are they pushing my project back because they have other, bigger projects? Was I too pushy? Does she not like me, is that why she’s taking so long? Has she run off with my deposit?”
Too much time without communication makes people crazy. Just think how crazy you got when you didn’t hear from that guy you went out with and really liked. After only 4 days, you convince yourself that he must be unconscious in his apartment and you need to go over to his place and check on him, because why else wouldn’t he have called? Imagine what you’d be thinking if it had been 4 weeks and you’d given him $15,000.
A Great Client Experience Comes From Being Cared For, Not Spent On
So, don’t worry about your small budget. This is what a great experience is about for clients, knowing that you can handle the design, and them. Not the cash you spend on them. Sure it’s nice if you surprise them here and there. If you’re running to Starbucks before you meet them, and you know they love a Grande Iced Coffee with Soy milk, bring them one if you’re feeling generous. But it’s meaningful more because it shows you listen to them, and remember, more than you’re willing to spend money on them. Same thing with a parting gift. If you’ve had a great time working on a project together, and you want to give them a gift, try to give them a gift with meaning. A vase with their favorite flower, a cloche to cover a fragile figurine they received from their mother long ago, an accessory you know they loved but decided against because they didn’t want to spend any more money, etc. Gifts with meaning always win over generic gifts that were expensive.
Remember, clients are just people. They want to know that you are there to listen to, understand, and address their concerns, worries, and even excitements. And they want you to be right there along with them. They want to know that you’ve got your act together, and can handle any unfortunate incidents that will arise along the way. And that you’ll be there fighting for them, not against them.
If you’d like even more help developing a systematic way to make sure your clients love you, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how!