Back when I worked at wealth management firm, Morgan Stanley, there was always a big push towards technology. Have everything e-signed. Have clients look at their accounts online so they don’t have to call in for their balance. Scan and email documents instead of sending them via mail. And although that worked for a lot of clients, and was better for them, for our clients it was actually a huge problem.
Serve Your Clients in the Way That Suits Them
Our clients were mostly in the 70-85 year old range. A lot of them didn’t know how to login to their online account. A lot of them didn’t have the internet. And a lot of them didn’t even have a computer. So, pushing us to use more technology just didn’t work. We had to meet our clients where they were at, using the methods they could easily use and understand, paper, mail, and the phone.
Now, sure, those are all more expensive, and more inefficient, but we needed to understand who our specific clients were. And how to serve them best. They often forgot where we were located, or when they needed to take money out for tax purposes, etc. So, we reminded them. Made it easy for them. Sent them pre-addressed, pre-stamped envelopes for them to use so they didn’t have to look up our office address or search for a stamp or go out and buy one. Or spent I can’t even tell you how many hours trying to walk elderly clients through our online system. Helping them with setting up an account, or finding out why their password wasn’t working, or helping them locate their yearly tax statement. It wasn’t efficient and certainly not profitable. But we needed to accommodate their needs and capabilities, understanding who our clients were, and how we could best help them.
Understand Your Niche So You Can Discover What Makes Their Life Stressful
The same can be with you and your design clients. Maybe your niche is elderly people who need their home to be more functional as they age in place, or maybe your niche is parents who have children with disabilities and need their home to accommodate that, or maybe your niche is simply extremely busy professionals. Whatever it is, take the time to understand what makes working with you challenging for that particular group and then make adaptations to your process to accommodate that.
Maybe for extremely busy people, they have a difficult time meeting. So, what can you do over the phone? Or through video conference? How can you make your process more efficient? Is there any way to have fewer meetings? Think about, and ask, what could make working together easier? I know you’re busy, so what could help. If they don’t have any ideas, you could make suggestions. “Would it be easier for you if I … met you at your office? called you first thing in the morning?” let them know you understand their life styles, its stressors, and are here to help. And as busy professionals become your clients more and more often, you’ll be able to think ahead, plan ahead, and make accommodations that will work for both you, and your clients.
Maybe for elderly people, they have a hard time remembering when your meetings are. So, instead of an email reminder or calling the day before, call the morning of to remind them. Or maybe even an hour before so you don’t get accidentally stood up, and they don’t become embarrassed by their forgetfulness and mistake. And leave them with copies, and keep multiple copies, of anything you share with them. Contracts, floorpans, invoices, etc. even a little after you’ve completed your job. Just in case something gets misplaced. Take a little bit more time and care in explaining the contract. Not in a demeaning way of course, but in an understanding way. Or maybe it’s hard for them to get out of the house, so you pick up their paper on the way in. Or bring them a small treat from the bakery down the street.
If you design for parents of children with disabilities, understand how harried and stressful their life must be. Especially with multiple children. Go to their home rather than asking them to come in to your office as no doubt its challenging to find someone who they feel comfortable leaving their child with. Or maybe over time you realize you don’t even need an office, as you understand that getting a child with a disability into a location that isn’t wheelchair accessible, is not an easy, or low stress task. And ask them, as they are no doubt busy with children, would they prefer for most information to be shared during email and not phone. Or if the children are young, is it best to work around a certain nap time. Or maybe even during the nap time so there is a bit of peace and quiet during the meeting. Work to make things as low stress as possible for them.
Be the Business that Understands, Accommodates, & Helps
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of understanding, and accommodating, clients. I’ve mentioned before that my mother has a rare brain disorder called cerebral amyloid angiopathy and caused her to enter, and permanently stay, at a nursing home at the age of 58. She needed, and still needs, round the clock care. So taking her somewhere is not an easy task. So when she let me know she needed new glasses my mind started to panic. Where do I take her? Who will be understanding? How do I explain her situation to them before we get there? Will they really even get it?
I decided my best plan of action was to call my own eye doctor and explain the situation. The woman on the phone sounded a bit confused and we talked at length, and I just hoped and prayed it would work out. I didn’t know what to expect. Every place receives us, and her, differently. When I walked in, I realized that they had literally shut down the place for us. What is usually an experience where one technician measures your eyes, then you wait, and eventually the doctor comes in became, every single person in that office stopped their usual job to help us.
They helped direct her, measure her eyes, maneuver her walker around corners, help her pick out glasses, everything. They knew to not overwhelm her with a million choices of glasses as she will simply just shut down. They brought in just a few and we picked from those. They helped fix her current glasses that she had bent out of shape, gave her an extra glasses case for her current glasses, and gave her the glasses string so she wouldn’t lose her glasses and could hang them around her neck. All in about a quarter of the time that it usually takes for an appointment. I was overwhelmed and unbelievably grateful for all that they had done to understand us, accommodate us, and make that process as easy, efficient, and fast as possible. They knew that some of their clients might be need more assistance, or more direction, or more help, and they provided it. It was a very welcome reminder that humanity can be extremely good.
Sometimes the client experience isn’t about good business. It’s just about kindness. Doing what you can, to make someone else’s life easier. Understanding what makes their life difficult. Accommodating that. Helping them through that. And maybe it’s not always efficient. Or profitable. But business isn’t always about that anyways. Sometimes it’s just about slowing down to help someone else in need.
If you’d like even more ideas on how to provide the kind of client service that gets you higher fees and profits, visit the Services page to find out more!