If you didn’t catch last week’s post, we’re talking all about the top 20 Customer Service Skills you need to do a killer job running your design business. You can read the first post here in case you’d like to go back and read 1-10. But now, part II, 11-20. These skills are just as important as the first 10. The first 10 were more of the essentials. These last 10 skills, are more of the, I can’t believe you’re so ah-mazing, ones. The ones that make people say, “I’ve never met anyone like her.” The ones that make people talk about you, in a good way.
The Customer Service Skills Your Business Needs to Succeed
11. Empower Employees – If you have employees, train them on how you want your clients to be treated. Run through common issues and how they should handle them, share past stories of both client service success and failures, teach them all you know about how to treat your clients, discuss it on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and then, back off. Let them handle things.
A quick way to royally irritate a client is to have your assistant or associates handle client issues, but also make them completely incapable of actually solving them. Hearing, “I’ll have to speak with my manager.” Or, “that’s against our company policy.” Or, “sorry, I just can’t do that for you” can quickly become fightin’ words to a client who already has a problem. They want to work with someone who has actual power. So, save yourself some time and train your associates so well that you trust them to resolve client issues on their own. Let them know that they’re able to spend a certain amount of money and/or time on a client without having to speak with you first. Everyone will be happier in the long run.
12. Be Charming – Sometimes, you just need a little charm to get through the day. A little playfulness can get you into and out of a lot of situations. It gets items sold that you know they need but they’re hesitant on, calms people down in a heated situation, and helps to create a connection between you and your client. A cheeky/charming combo is a powerful thing.
13. Desire to Serve – To serve your clients well, you need to actually enjoy it. Don’t let it be drudgery. Your clients will notice. It’s like going to the store, paying for your bread and bananas, and watching the cashier say “Thank you for shopping and have a great day.” that looks like it actually physically pains her to say it. You know what I mean. No one gets bonus points for that. So if you’re not a fan of serving, you’re going to have to learn to. Clients can smell it from a mile away. And people want to work with people, who want to work with them.
14. Love for your Clients – To continue with the desire to serve, you need to really love your clients. Care for them like you would a friend. Let their problems (well, design problems) become your problems. Genuinely take on their burdens and help them find the solutions they need, even if it is slightly out of your usual business realm.
15. Love for your Business – When you can’t love one, some, or any of your clients at a certain point, focus on a love for your business. Sometimes that’s what you need to carry you through. If you want to strangle every complainy, demanding, bossy client you unfortunately have, then just remember you love design. And no matter whose design it is, you’re still creating something beautiful and putting it out into the world. And that matters.
16. Be a Detective – When you see the same issues pop up again and again, start doing a bit of detective work. Analyze what the root issue is. It might not be what you think. Maybe you’ve noticed an influx of urgent emails even though you told clients to call you for emergencies. You think, “why do people always do what’s best for them? No matter what I say? If they need help right away, why would they email? OBVIOUSLY, they should call!” You create this story in your mind about how the whole world sucks other than you, and…. then come to find out, your voicemail box is full. Or your phone system is too confusing so people just hang up and email you. Or their calls aren’t getting picked up between the hours of 9 and 10:30 a.m. because your assistant usually forgets for the first hour and a half of the day to turn the phones on.
And most of the time, clients won’t tell you why they did something. They just find the easiest, fastest work around and go for it. So, do a little detective work and find out the reasoning behind your most common issues.
17. Self Control – It takes a lot of self-control to run a business. To stay calm when a client calls you a raving idiot, to stay calm when a vendor delivers the wrong item AGAIN, to stay calm when the third fabric you chose for that English roll armchair is on backorder. There are A LOT of reasons to lose it in any business. But in the design business, it seems like there are so many more. You have to depend on so many people, so many pieces, so many skills that aren’t your own, to get things done.
But to keep yourself, your business, and your creativity at peak performance, it’s essential to have a great deal of self-control. The madder you are, the less creative you are. And the less sense you make. When most of us are arguing, we just yell non-sense because our brain can’t catch up with our adrenaline rush. But when we calm down and walk away, we come up with that perfect come back. So keep your anger down, and your creativity up.
18. Take Responsibility – If your assistant makes a mistake, take responsibility. You hired her. If a vendor makes a mistake, take responsibility. You chose them. If a tradesperson makes a mistake, take responsibility. You trusted him. Now, you don’t have to say, “It’s all my fault. I’m the worst. Don’t worry about paying me.” But, you do want to take the problem on yourself. From a client’s perspective, anyone that they interact with as a result of working with you, is the same as working with you. So do your absolute best to vet people from the beginning. And when there is a problem, let them know you’re handling it, no matter where the issue originated. And, always remember to apologize. The words “I’m sorry” go a long way.
19. Be adaptable – Just because you’ve always been doing business a certain way, doesn’t mean it should always be done that way. Listen to clients and their needs. Adapt if possible and reasonable. If a client asks for you to design a bathroom and bedroom specifically for their dog, try your best to hold in your laughs. And see if it’s something that you might actually be able to do.
Learn a new skill if you can so you can work with a new kind of client. Elderly clients, clients with special needs children, energy efficient clients. Change with an industry that is constantly evolving. Maybe you always marked up and relied on that profit to keep yourself going. And you’ve fought hard to keep that going still today. But maybe, it’s time to give that up, and change your fee structure. Maybe lean into clients “shopping” you and instead charge them a flat fee. Or some kind of combinational fee. Usually the best way for any business to last and last and last, is to stay constant in your values, but adaptable in how you deliver them.
20. Be a Leader – Regardless of whether you’re a leader in the design industry or ever graced the pages of a shelter magazine, being a leader amongst your own “people” is essential. Clients need to know you’re in control, and so do your employees, vendors, and tradespeople. The more in control you are of your business, your designs, and yourself, the more trusting, cooperative, and comfortable your clients will be. People love to be around a leader (well, a good one). It makes them feel taken care of, understood, and relaxed. So, do your best to confidently lead and your clients will naturally follow.
This is a lot to take in, I know. But these skills really are the ones that can set you apart. No one will have all of these skills all of the time, but you certainly can still be the best in the biz by having most of these, most of the time. Now, how to work on these? Read, practice, learn, practice, read. Or at least that’s the way I try to do it. Now, what to read? There are the classic books like “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “From Good to Great,” “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” or the more obscure ones like “The Dream Manager” or The Service Culture Handbook”. All great picks.
But no matter whether you do or don’t read any of the above, consider what improving your customer service skills could do for your business. The next time you’re wishing clients would just appreciate you more, shower you with a few more complements here and there, or at least just understand how hard you work for them, come back and look through this list. And see if working on one or some of these skills, could make that happen.