Rebecca Deming Rumpf of Custom Interiors By Rebecca made us all smile with her “Paris Field Blogging” adventure, and now has graciously agreed to help us out with an occasional WhyHelser post.
It’s Not You Baby, It’s The Economy! By Rebecca Deming Rumpf:
One of the most valuable questions on my new client questionnaire is “Have you ever worked with a designer in the past? How did that go?” I originally included this question to determine which prospects needed a reality check about what to expect when working with an interior designer (as opposed to the magical fairytale version depicted on HGTV) and to help me identify that tiny percentage of clients who have unreasonable expectations and are impossible to satisfy. However, since I started asking, I’ve been surprised to discover how many of my best new clients over the past year or two have come to me after parting ways with talented designers over basic customer service issues. A few of these clients had voiced their frustrations to their designer before calling it quits, but many more opted to avoid an unpleasant confrontation by crying poverty or simply disappearing off the radar, leaving their designers to assume they had curtailed their decorating plans due to the economy. It’s the sales equivalent of “It’s not you – it’s me!”
Here are some of my favorite “Why I Broke Up With My Designer” responses, along with simple steps each designer could have taken to save the relationship. In most of these situations, the clients were still attracted to the designer’s style but just weren’t willing to be taken for granted anymore. Think about the clients who have stopped calling you over the past year – could any of them be saying these things about you?
- “I could never get him on the phone, and he doesn’t even use email! It’s like he’s working in the Dark Ages!” Solution: Be accessible to your clients and return messages promptly. I can’t imagine why anyone running a serious business would refuse to use email, either – sometimes you don’t have time to get sucked into a long conversation by a really chatty client on the phone, but you can still acknowledge her phone call with a quick email message in a matter of minutes.
- “She didn’t respect our budget. Everything she showed us was beautiful, but it was always two or three times as much as we told her we wanted to spend.” Solution: Duh! Granted, sometimes clients are willing to splurge and spend more than they initially planned if their designer finds something really special, and sometimes clients just don’t know how much certain things will cost in the beginning, but you should always bring in at least one item that fits the budget you all agreed to up front. If their budget isn’t realistic for what they’ve asked you to do, they will respect you more for being honest with them instead of ignoring their budget and playing fast and loose with their pocketbook!
- “We hired him because we really liked what he did for our friends’ home, but then his assistant ended up doing all the work on our project – and we were still charged the same as our friends who got the main designer. We feel like we got the old bait-and-switch!” Solution: If you have an assistant, let your clients know ahead of time which things you will be handling personally and which things your assistant will be doing for them, and explain any differences in billing to avoid misunderstandings.
- “We liked what she did in the first room, but then everything else just started to look the same. She didn’t have any new ideas.” Solution: Get thee to a trade show! Take a couple of seminars! Peruse shelter magazines, or treat yourself to a new design book or two. We all get in a rut from time to time, but you can’t continue to serve up fresh, innovative designs to your client if you’re working with your head in the sand. Make it a point to stay on top of new trends and deliberately seek out inspiration on a regular basis.
- “We liked all the furniture and accessories she picked out, but the cornices for the bay window didn’t fit, and she had to send them back to the workroom three times to be redone. I don’t think she knew what she was doing.” Solution: This designer needs more training and experience with window treatments so she can supply the workroom with accurate information and get it right the first time! The Window Coverings Association of America (WCAA) has a Certified Window Treatment Consultant program that would be a good place to start, and Window Fashions Certified Professionals (WFCP) is another great educational resource. Meanwhile, consider hiring your workroom or installer to verify your measurements prior to fabrication any time you have a tricky window that you don’t feel 100% confident about.
- “The custom chairs she ordered for our living room were made to the wrong dimensions, but when we asked her to have them remade she burst into tears about her personal finances and said she couldn’t afford to eat the mistake.” – She what?!! Solution: Get a grip! Conduct your business professionally and when you make a mistake, take responsibility for it and do whatever it takes to make it right. Work with reputable suppliers who take pride in what they do and share your commitment to outstanding quality and service.
- “He never took any notes, and he didn’t listen to us. We had this whole long meeting about what we wanted for our master bedroom and we told him the only color we really hate is blue – then two weeks later he came back to us with an all-blue design for our bedroom!” Solution: Listen up and take notes! Especially when you’re juggling projects for multiple clients and some time elapses between that initial meeting and when you finally get around to working on the design, you can easily get confused about which client said what. Keeping organized notes will help you get it right the first time, saving you time and preserving your client’s confidence in your ability to meet their needs.
- “We loved her, but she was really busy with a lot of important clients. Our project was dragging on forever and we’d ask for something and then wait months before she had anything for us to see.” Solution: I suspect this designer is just disorganized and may even be one of the part-time-hobbyist designers that workrooms like to call “decorettes,” but if she’s really this busy she needs to either raise her rates, hire an assistant, or else stop taking on new clients until she’s caught up with her current commitments. Each one of your clients is spending “a lot of money” with you (although that phrase means different things to different people) and that gives them all the same tangled up emotions of anxiety/excitement/fear. No one wants to spend a lot of money to be made to feel slighted or unimportant! Show your smallest clients the same attention and concern as you do for your biggest clients.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’d love to hear from anyone out there who has a neat idea for making sure their clients feel loved and appreciated all year long. Do you have a signature thank-you gift for each client at the end of the job? Do you show up with Starbucks for your clients on the morning of their installation? And if you’re a workroom or retailer reading this post, feel free to chime in as well. Happy Valentine’s Day!