Before I get into how to take care of your clients, I want to talk first about how to take care of you. No doubt we’re all filled with a fairly hefty load of anxiety right now about everything – from whether or not you have enough food in your freezer, to how you’re ever going to get anything done with all of your kids home, to how long its going to take your business operations to get back to normal. There are just so many questions right now, and so few answers.
But, if there’s any answers that I can provide you with to help you get through this enormously challenging time, I want to be able to do just that. So next week I’m offering the answers to your most pressing client experience and “how do we handle this with our clients?” types of questions, either in a live webinar or via a pre-recorded video (depending on which gets the most votes). If you’d like to take part, just let me know here and tell me what you need to know and in what format you’d prefer.
And this isn’t just for followers of this blog, it’s for everyone. So feel free to invite your fellow designers as well. I’m more than happy to have anyone who can benefit. Then next week I’ll be back to share what the majority voted for along with either the live webinar link or when and how you’ll receive the pre-recorded video.
There’s So Much That’s Unknown
Now, onto handling your clients. This situation that we’re all in is unparalleled in how far reaching it is – its affected the health of our friends, family, and neighbors, in this country and around the world. It’s affected our healthcare system, our food supply, our schooling systems, our economy, our work, and our day to day lives. And we don’t know when it will get back to normal – and when we do get back to “normal,” “normal” may have an entirely different definition. There are just so many unknowns right now. But what I do know is this – now is the time to lead, and lead with a helping hand.
Now we’ve talked before about how clients look to you for your leadership, especially when things go awry. They not only want you to address the worrisome elephant in the room, they actually need you to. The last thing they want is your silence. So now is your time to shine as the true leader you are.
Call them up, tell them how their project is being affected by the outbreak, ask them if they’d like to move ahead or if they’d like to pause until things are more under control. Don’t just assume that they want to move forward, but also don’t just assume that they want to stop. Take time to really talk to them and discuss all the complexities that the current situation brings and what things may look like going forward, for at least awhile.
Then, depending on whether they’d like to stop or move forward, use the recommendations below.
If Your Projects are Still Moving Forward
If your clients want their project to move forward in some fashion, I would recommend taking these steps:
- If you have an office that they’ll be visiting, let them know any additional measures you’re taking to make sure that your space is clean and that you have hand sanitizer throughout that’s available.
- If you have in person appointments set up, offer alternatives that are not in person such as video calls, phone calls, or just email.
- Let them know that if you or anyone you come in contact with is not feeling well, you will notify them and reschedule the appointment in the abundance of caution and you ask that they do the same.
- Let them know how their project is going to be affected, what you’re doing to keep things on track as much as possible, and share your communication schedule with them for the next few weeks.
- Ask them if they’re comfortable with trades coming into their home, and if they’d like any additional measures taken. Such as having trades immediately sanitize their hands, wash their hands upon entry, put on a mask, take off their shoes, etc. Then make sure you contact your trades and vendors to make sure that they are comfortable entering your clients’ home and if they are, any extra safety measures they need to take. Even consider dropping off hand sanitizer to your clients’ homes beforehand so they don’t have to use their own supply as its so limited right now.
- If your vendors or contractors have stopped work, delayed shipments, etc. make sure to keep clients aware on a regular basis, but don’t overwhelm them. Unless clients need to make a very quick decision, package the “bad news” together, sharing it no more than every day or every other day, and come armed with solutions when possible.
- If you would prefer to stop any work that would require you or someone else to be in your clients’ home, that’s absolutely acceptable. Just reach out and let them know that in order to ensure the health and safety of your team and your clients, you’ll be taking a break. Then share when you’ll be taking a break until, or when you’ll reevaluate the safety of the situation. You don’t want to leave them hanging with an “until further notice” and then reach out randomly three weeks later – as this causes a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Also let them know how stopping for now will affect their project, any work that you’ll be doing even if you’re not in their home, and that they can rest assured that you will do whatever you can to minimize delays.
If Your Projects Have Come to a Complete Halt
- Again, keep in touch. You don’t want to just let the project and client go completely. Reach out to them every few weeks even if they want the project to stop for now.
- Offer different options. If your project was originally going to be completed all at once, offer the option to now complete it in stages. If the client still finds this to be a financial stretch that they’re uncomfortable with, offer the option to have them manage the implementation and you only put together the design plan and shopping list.
- If you don’t already have E-Design or Designer for a Day as service options, consider adding this to your list of services. You don’t need to have a laundry list of services. But if you’re only offering Full Service right now, consider these other options. Then, in a few weeks once things have settled and we as a country have a clearer picture of what we’re dealing with, send a newsletter style email to current and past clients to let them know that you’ve added additional services to your firm in order to adapt to the new environment. And don’t worry that you’re settling or muddling your brand by doing so. Five star restaurants all over the country are turning themselves into burger joints, or carry out/delivery places just to stay alive. In times like these, do what you need to do.
- Look to partner with other designers in your area. Think for a moment, how can you share resources, ideas, meeting space, etc. with other designers in your area? What about starting a virtual mastermind? Do they have any e-design projects that you could assist with for hourly pay or are you able to do that for another designer you know? Do whatever you can to keep each other motivated, successful, and creative.
- Look to partner with small stores in your area. Once stores reopen, are there any local decor or furniture stores that you can partner with by offering your services to their clients? Reach out and see what interest you can drum up. Partnerships are often the way businesses stay alive in times like these.
- Send out videos to clients with weekly DIY ideas. Over these next few weeks clients will be at home all day, everyday. They may want something to do, especially if they don’t have young children in the home. Now you don’t want to be flippant about it as we are in a scary situation right now, but let them know that sometimes having a hands on project can bring a little relaxation to a very tense situation. Things like – organizing their bookcase, rearranging accessories, deciding what furniture they’re ready to part with, or digging out family heirlooms or photos and finding a place for them in their home. Just make sure it’s easy and doesn’t require any extra materials. You could even make it a “here’s what I’m doing this week in my home, won’t you join me?” type of situation. Clients will love relating to you and “doing what a designer does.”
Lead, Even if You Don’t Always Feel Like One
Like I said, right now your clients need you to be a leader. They may need you to keep them up to date with their project if they’d like it to continue, they may need you to help them finish their project in a way that might be different than it was started, or they may just need you to stay in touch so that one day they can hopefully start their project again.
But whatever way they need you, it will always be as a leader with a helping hand. So help clients get what they need, in whatever way they and you can manage right now, and in return you’ll be able to get what you need as well.
We can get through this, together. And remember, whatever answers you don’t have, but need, I’m here for you. Just submit them here and I’ll do whatever I can to get you the help you need as well.
Write in the comments below, how have you worked with your clients or other designers to get through this together? I’d love to hear!
And if you’d like help focusing on the client experience at this difficult time, check out the listing of guides and resources available to you here!