The other day while pulling up to Target’s “Drive Up” spot (their term for curbside pickup) to pick up my latest load of colored pencils that’ll quickly be broken, toothpaste that’ll far too quickly be squeezed out by 4 year old hands, and detergent that mysteriously keeps falling off the dryer and spilling all over the floor (seriously, this keeps happening all of a sudden), I noticed a simple, white, home printed, definitely not official but clearly done out of need, sign, “When there is severe weather such as thunder and lightning, our employees will be unable to bring out your order. For questions, please call the store at…”
So I then started to think, “Wait, what?! Who would do that?! Who would push the “I’m here” button to prompt a red-shirted employee to bring out their bag of goodies in the middle of a torrential down pour?” To which I thought, “Well, clearly someone did as they had to post the sign.” To which I then thought, “this needs to be a blog post.”
An Appalling Client, or Are They?
And it needed to be a blog post because this simply printed Target sign actually raises two questions, “Is the customer always right?” and “Who comes first, the employee or the customer?” Now I know in this case it seems appalling that anyone would expect an employee to bring out their purchases in the middle of a thunderstorm. I mean seriously, who would risk having someone else get struck by lightning just so they can get their hands on cute pillows and some toilet paper, which they actually could do anyways, if they just went inside the store themselves?
But, let’s think about it from the customer’s perspective for just a moment. Let’s see what may have happened on their end, why they might have requested their items to be brought out even while trash is flying by them at 50 mph. And while we’re at it, let’s just call this customer Joanne to make this story a little bit more real.
So, let’s say Joanne decides it’s time to go pick up her Target order. It’s full of dinner supplies and she’s thirty minutes away, so she needs to go now before the kids start groaning. While she’s leaving she presses the “I’m on my way” button in her Target app so the employees know that they’ll need to start gathering her bags somewhat soon (just as Target wants you to do). Driving merrily along, not a drop of rain anywhere, nor even a thunder clap in the distance, on she goes assuming that the same weather will be had at her destination. She gets closer, only 10 minutes out, she looks up and not a cloud in the sky. But in those last few minutes, she all of a sudden finds herself in a thunderous rain storm.
It came out of nowhere but she does REALLY need her order, and she drove 30 minutes out to get it. Plus she’ll have to drive 30 minutes the other way to go home, and she’s immuno-compromised so she doesn’t feel comfortable going inside the store. Oh yeah, and she didn’t bring her mask anyways as she didn’t think she would need it.
Who Comes First, the Client or the Employee?
So…. now what? What does she do? And what does Target do? What’s the “right” move here? Should the Target employee still come out? Or should Joanne go inside, maskless? Or should she try again another day and waste an hour long drive and go without the dinner supplies she needs to feed those hungry mouths at home? But wait a minute, isn’t the client experience often about making sure the client isn’t unnecessarily inconvenienced? What if it’s between a client and an employee though, who comes first?
As you can see, this case isn’t as cut and dry as it first seemed. In fact many client experience situations aren’t that way. Sure from one person’s perspective the answer might seem clear and any other options are preposterous, but what about the person on the other side of the coin? They may feel equally justified and right in their own position. And that’s where the crux and complexity of the client experience comes, understanding both sides, and making decisions with both in mind.
Let’s get back to Target though. Did they make the right decision? Now that we’ve considered what at first seemed to be absolutely preposterous for a customer to ask of them, now seems well, kind of understandable. So, did Target do the right thing by denying a customer a service because of the weather?
Yes. I 100% agree that an employee should never be put at risk for the sake of the client. Inconvenienced, certainly, absolutely, of course, in fact, on the regular a great employee not only will be inconvenienced for the sake of the client, but will do it without needing that direction from higher ups. But should their health and safety be put at risk? No way, not for a single darn second.
Care for Your Employees, like You Want Them to Care for Your Clients
Ok, now let’s bring this thing full circle to interior design and how it relates to you. Let’s say in your case, your firm is working on a live-in renovation in a client’s home and one of your designers is the lead. You find out that the client’s husband has been exposed to COVID but they don’t have any symptoms; however, they also haven’t been tested. It’s been a week and he’s still feeling fine so she asks for the project to move ahead. What do you do? Do you still have your designer go over to the house? Do you continue on with the project even though he doesn’t have symptoms, but before it’s been the full recommended 2 weeks of quarantine?
Nope, you certainly don’t. And what about the trades? Do you send them over? What about if they’re ok with it? Nope, no way – and here’s why. As an employer your loyalty goes to your employees first, and your clients second. And while that may come as a surprise coming from a client experience consultant, it’s true. Not only because legally you’re bound to protect your employees’ health and safety, but also because your loyalty and appreciation of them, becomes their loyalty and appreciation of you, which then results in their treatment of clients.
It’s a trickle down effect. Leader appreciates and respects employee, who then appreciates and respects client. An exceptional experience simply cannot happen, without putting your employees first. If your employees see that so much thought, care, and protection is put into the client experience, but not into their own experience as employees, well, then the client experience just can’t be what you want it to be. It has to be the total package. Appreciation, respect, and clear directions for employees first, then clients, making for one big happy family.
Creative Solutions to Complex Problems
But wait, so the answer is just, “sorry client, you’re out of luck because it’s storming?” Well, you know that can’t be the right answer! So what is? Well, getting creative on what you can do to serve the client well, despite some complexities. So let’s come up with some creative solutions for these two quandaries.
So what could Target and its employees do instead of coming all the way out to the parking spot in severe weather? Well, how about this? The sign already says “please call the store at…” So, let’s say Joanne does that. She picks up her phone and calls, and it goes straight to the Service desk where her items are waiting. The employee picks up, lets her know that although they’re unable to come out to the drive up spot, there is a designated “severe weather” shelf that’s just a step inside the first entry door.
He lets her know that if she’d like to get her items from there, she technically wouldn’t even have to step inside. She could just reach in through the door. He asks if she’d like it to be dropped there, or would she prefer to come back another day. She thinks about it and responds with, “I’ll just come and pick it up from the shelf. Thank you so much!” He says, “Great, it’ll be there in less than a minute. You can just pull your car right up to the curb to jump out and get it. Thank you for your understanding and have a great day!”
Now what about that? And how do you think Joanne would have felt about that option? Mad that they wouldn’t come out all the way to the original designated parking spot, or amazed and impressed at their creative client experience solutions and protocols? No doubt, she’d be amazed. And what made it even better? That they gave her a choice. They actively involved her and had her own the solution so she has nothing to fight. She made the choice. And although yes neither are ideal, they are still solutions and she’s the one who picked from them.
Ok, so, how about the client whose husband has been exposed to COVID but wants the designer to come over to the space before the 2 weeks of quarantine has ended? What do you do about that? Well, you focus again on what you CAN do.
So depending on where you are in the design process, the answer might be a few different things. If you’re at the beginning and need photos and measurements, you could let the client know that you can send a video showing them how you measure and photograph a room AND then additionally walk them through it live virtually, or if they’d like to wait for another week to pass, the designer can come and do it all for them. Or, let’s say it’s time for a site visit. You could ask the client if they’d like to virtually walk the designer through the space, or again wait until time has passed and the designer is safely able to do that herself.
They’re creative options that let them know in a friendly, professional way that you won’t put an employee at risk but that you’re also keeping the client’s concerns in mind. Plus you’re giving them power in the situation by allowing them to decide how to move forward. It’s not just a “sorry we can’t do that” it’s a “Sorry we can’t do that, but we can do this or this, which would you prefer?”
The Client Experience Isn’t Just About Clients Actually
In the end, the client experience is about more than just clients really. It’s about creating an environment that values all people involved in the process of making a client’s dream come true. It’s about respecting the firm, the employees, the clients, and yourself as the owner. It’s about looking outside yourself to see what would make a situation easier, more enjoyable, and more exceptional for everyone involved, particularly employees and clients. And although yes that can mean an employee spends more time with a client than was originally planned for, or yes it means that an employee goes out of their way to find a creative solution to a complex problem, it doesn’t mean that the employees are ever put at risk.
So the next time you find yourself in a conundrum about what to prioritize, a client request or an employee’s health or safety, remember who your first priority goes to – your employees. They’re the ones you need to trust to carry out the exceptional client experience, but the only way they can do that, is if they first trust you. And when you let the client know that although one thing can’t be done, there are other options; well, then that just shows how incredibly creative you are not only in design, but also in business.
Let me know in the comments below, have you ever had to protect an employee from a client’s request? If so, how did it go? I’d love to know!
And if you’re for looking for more ways to serve your clients exceptionally well, then take a look at what we’ve got for you here!