Interior Design by Kelley Proxmire, Photography by Gordon Beall via Traditional Home
Awhile back I went to a design conference hosted by a popular interior designer. She was a large part of why I had come to love interior design as much as I do, and who I learned a great deal of my interior design knowledge from. So finally going to a conference that she was hosting was honestly like a dream come true. The morning of the conference I was excited, dressed up, and ready to learn. I’m always overly eager so I got in the elevator about twenty minutes before we were even supposed to start.
On my ride up, it stopped and I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if she got on? And then, she did! I was so overwhelmed and nervous I didn’t know what to do. It was like meeting a celebrity. I thought, do I say something? Do I not? Would it be weird if I didn’t introduce myself and then she later saw me at the conference? So, I decided to go ahead and introduce myself and profess how overly excited I was to be attending her conference. Unfortunately, to my great disappointment, it wasn’t received well. She didn’t reach out to shake my hand, or smile at me, or seem excited that I was a customer who had paid a lot of money to fly out and see her. She simply said hi, introduced the person with her, and then went quiet. When we arrived at our floor, she turned her back to me, walked away, and never again said a single word to me. I was so overwhelmed with my disappointment and irritation that I couldn’t pay attention for the entire two day conference. On my departure day, I stopped following her blog and purchasing her products.
There is often a stigma around designers and decorators that their personalities are just as intimidating as their designs. On the rare occasion this can be true. Even though the vast majority are not. And, even if they are, like above, they may simply be distracted by problems at work/unaware of how they’re coming off/etc. If I had caught her at a different time, maybe the interaction would have been entirely different. But, because of this stigma, it’s that much more necessary to be careful about our interactions.
Whether from movies, tvs, or hearing one designer horror story, the perception of designers being unfriendly makes interactions more difficult from the beginning. This perception is so prevalent it often keeps people from using a designer. Two of the main reasons I’ve heard for people not using a designer? 1. I can do it myself. 2. I don’t want someone bossing me around telling me how to spend too much money on things I don’t like.
What to do? In everything you do, make the client feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Showing that you’re there to help not to intimidate is essential. Especially in your first impressions. The wording you use on your site, your blog, your contact forms, your frequently asked questions, your meetings with a client or prospect, should all display a welcoming, casual atmosphere rather than one where they need to worry about how they may be judged.
For example, if you have a contact page, it may be a good idea to remove any phrasing about “don’t contact me for …,” or “please look through my FAQ before contacting me about …” In general, this can come off as a little harsh, and may dissuade people from contacting you at all. Although it can mean more time for you answering emails, in the end, it will help. Or, although it sounds silly, smile when you’re talking to a customer on the phone. You really can hear the difference. Another idea? Come right out and tell the customer that you know this can be an overwhelming experience and that you’re there to make them feel comfortable, answer any questions they have along the way, and to make this as fun as possible. Sometimes it’s best to address the elephant they may see in the room, even if you don’t.
Hiring an interior designer, especially for the first time, can be quite an intimidating process for a client no matter how much money they have. They don’t know what to expect from you, from the process, from anything. And if they’re not fully committed to the idea of hiring a designer yet, making the client feel as comfortable as possible is that much more important.
Being known as a welcoming, helpful, resourceful designer whose number one priority is to find a customer the best design/product/source for what they need will work wonders, even if it’s not with you. Remember Miracle on 34th Street? Macy’s became famous because their Santa started telling customers where to find toys, even if they weren’t at Macy’s, or even if they were cheaper somewhere else. And to the great surprise of management, it created customer loyalty towards Macy’s. Macy’s showing of helping the customer even if it cost them, eventually profited them.
So let’s have our designs do the talking, and the intimidating. And we do the welcoming, the explaining, the creating, the comforting, the dreams come true making.