When running a firm it’s so easy to worry and wonder to yourself, do other designers have these issues? Do other designers have that client who just can’t be satisfied no matter what I do? Do other designers constantly work so hard to keep clients happy, yet somehow seem to make them unhappy? Do other designers feel like the level of client service and experience they want to deliver, is just never achieved? Well, I’m here to calm your fears and say that, yes they do. No matter how expertly a firm is run, they will always have those feelings. They will always have challenges. They will always have bad days. It may not be all the time, but it certainly is some of the time.
So please don’t beat yourself up thinking that everyone else is flying through life without any bumps in the road and are always aware of what to do, and for some reason you’re destined to a life of hard times and cluelessness. Everyone struggles. Everyone gets overwhelmed. The differences lie in three main factors, the frequency, the severity, and the response.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…. there will always be challenges with your clients. Clients are people, and interacting with people is often times the most challenging thing about any position. Different personalities, different goals, different interests, different ways of communicating, different expectations. All make interacting and working together, that much more difficult.
There will always be those difficult clients, no matter how good your screening process is. Somehow, they’ll sneak past your screening call, they’ll maneuver around your master sleuthing techniques to discover any red flags, and then ta da, four months in to the project you think, what did I get myself into?! Or there will always be that client who you absolutely adore, and then something completely out of your control and absolutely awful happens within the project, and you’re left anxiously terrified about the state of your relationship with them going forward. You’re tossing and turning at night thinking, can it bounce back from this? Will they go from loving me to hating me? Will they still give you a great review at the end of all this mess?
These are understandable, and perfectly normal, reactions to stressful situations like these. And they will never completely go away. But, they can become really, really, really rare. They can go from one out every four projects, to one out of every 100. The goal when working with clients, and working on your client experience, is never to eliminate all of your issues. It’s never to make it perfect as unfortunately that’s not possible. Life, and humans, are full of mistakes, errors, and challenges. But it is possible to make your issues, very, very rare. It is possible to spend enough time, attention, and effort on understanding what causes you and your client’s issues within a project, and then constantly working to proactively prevent those issues in the future, that challenges became the extreme exception to the rule. And that should be your goal, client issues being a real rarity. Not delivering complete perfection.
Another difference is severity. Those well oiled design firm machines that exist, have refined their design process, and their client experience to something that is very planned, very specific, and very well and consistently managed. So when an issue does pop up, it’s less severe. It’s less chaotic, less panic worthy, and less shocking. It’s more manageable, it’s more, “oh, this is pretty easily fixed.”
The more you focus on knowing what your clients want, what your clients need, and what the experience of going through your design process is like, the less severe client and project issues are going to be. If three items were found to have large gouges on installation day even though the receiver inspected every piece thoroughly upon delivery, or if a client’s favorite item is backordered three times, the conversations are not as intense or difficult. Because the correct groundwork has already been laid.
Expectations have been set, and continually managed. The client had been told throughout the process that these things can happen (and not just in the initial consultation or upon signing the LOA), and how they will be handled. The client, while not excited, knows that things are still under control and moving along well. And all’s well that ends well, so, let’s just focus on that. Because all of the preventative work has been done, and that’s the absolute best you can do sometimes.
The last difference is in the response. The more you plan your interactions with your clients, the more you plan out their experience with you from beginning to end, the better you’re going to get when responding to mishaps, large and small. And this is absolutely what those well loved, constantly adored, top level design firms are doing. They’re planning, managing, and training themselves, their employees, and their clients to react calmly even when Schumacher hits the fan.
Because that’s the true sign of a leader. When someone would normally be running around like a chicken with their head cut off yelling “Oh no, what do we do?!!!”, instead they’re asking, “What can we do to make this better?”. They’re thinking through what their options are, they’re strategizing with their team to brain storm the next step, and then, they’re taking action.
Because the calmer you are, the more creative you are. And I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before but it begs to be repeated because it’s just that important. When your brain is mired down in the muckiness and murkiness of negativity, it can’t think straight. It can’t come up with creative solutions because it’s already negating them before they can even manage to come through. But if you can manage to stay calm in the moment (because you’ve already planned out possible reactions to catastrophic moments), your solutions are guaranteed to be ten times better than the ones you come up with when you’re in panic mode. When you’re in panic mode, your brain shuts down, you’re in fight or flight mode, and your solutions are as thoughtful and creative as those a cave man can come up with. And I’m pretty sure that’s not what you want.
It Will Never Be Perfect
So unfortunately, your client experience and your client interactions will never be perfect. You will always have that one difficult client, or that one difficult project, no matter what you do. But they can become so infrequent that when they do arise you think to yourself, “Wow, something like this hasn’t happened in a very, very long time.”
But to get to that place takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of investigating your current client experience, your current design process, and your continual client and project issues. It takes a complete and total dedication to ensuring that problems become the exception not the rule. It takes an extreme focus to always be managing from one step ahead, rather than one step behind. But when you do take the time to do all of that, your bottom line, your employees, your clients, will all be thanking you. But even more so, you’ll be thanking yourself that much more. For being able to spend 95% of your time designing, creating, managing, and connecting with clients, and only 5% putting out fires. Rather than the reverse.
If you’d like even more ideas on how to provide the kind of client experience that gets you higher fees and profits, get on the Wait List for the next session of “The Exceptional Experience”!