Clients Articles

Client Communication and Relationship Management for Interior Designers

Client Communication and Relationship Management for Interior Designers

Happy Clients, Happy Life!

Have you had a conflict with a client? If so, you know that stress and sleepless nights aren’t enjoyable and they are certainly not good for your health or mood. And even worse, you end up focusing on negative thoughts that impact everyone around you.

Your goal is to prevent conflicts, solve problems quickly and complete your relationship with a happy client experience.

10 Common Client Conflicts

  1. Unspoken expectations. It’s important to know how the client will judge whether you’re meeting their expectations.
  2. Miss-set expectations. If you say something will be ready by a certain date and the date passes without delivering the expected information or item, your client will be frustrated or upset. Consistency is key. If you say your time bills are sent by the 15th of each month, then be sure they are.
  3. Runaway time billing. The client has no idea how much time it takes to do the work you do. They hate surprises.
  4. Exceeding budget. If you don’t know how to budget for a project, be sure to attend our free Easy Budget Calculator class. All clients have a limit on what they’re willing to spend– even the wealthiest ones.
  5. Exceeding the agreed timeline. Projects often take longer than expected, and if the client has specific deadlines such as a party, then you must find a way to meet that deadline without fail.
  6. Mistakes. Mistakes happen and are forgiven when addressed quickly. If they happen too often, then your quality control process is faulty.
  7. Avoidance. Communicating by email or text vs. in-person conversations or phone especially when something goes wrong. Emails and texts can be misinterpreted in highly charged situations. It’s better to have a conversation than a “flat” back and forth communication.
  8. Lack of responsiveness. In today’s immediate gratification society, your clients want answers within a few hours, or no more than 24 – 48 hours.
  9. Lack of client decisiveness. It’s often hard to know if a client is decisive until you’re in the thick of a project. Their delays mean higher time bills and frustration for you and your team.
  10. Conflict between partners or spouses. If your clients exhibit any signs of relationship problems, they will spill over to your relationship. Projects with battling spouses rarely go well.

How to Avoid Client Conflicts

Ask more questions during the interview process. For example:

  • What would a great outcome be for you?
  • How will you judge the success of the project?
  • Why is this project important to you?
  • Why are you doing this project now?
  • Why are you hiring a designer now?
  • Have you worked with an interior designer before?
  • If so, what was that experience like? (If they have negative things to say, beware.)
  • Who else is involved in this project? (Builder, architect, etc.)
  • Who will be the point person on this project?
  • Are there any deadlines we should know about?
  • What is likely to frustrate you the most through this process?
  • How do you prefer to be informed of challenges like shipping delays or damage, price changes, products being discontinued, change orders requiring additional billable time or costs?
  • Do you prefer phone calls, emails, Zoom calls or in-person meetings?
  • What are your expectations of what you are willing to invest in the project? (Do not let them avoid this question!) Press them to answer. If they resist, give them a range of what you expect the project to cost and the amount of time it will take to complete the work. Add in a buffer. Share the ranges of what you anticipate the design time to cost.
  • When we present the designs, we need for both of you to be present because there will be financial as well as aesthetic decisions to be made. Will that work for both of you?
  • Who will make the decisions about selections?
  • Who will make the decisions about investments?
  • How decisive are you on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being extremely decisive? (Some people aren’t self-aware, so you can also ask each partner about the other partner.)

Setting Expectations

You have the right to set boundaries for your engagement. Here are a few that are important to discuss:

  • We are not available on weekends because we have family obligations. We are available between 9 AM – 6 PM Monday – Friday.
  • We do not accept communication by text because our team needs to stay fully informed. You may only text us if you are late for a meeting or need to cancel last minute.
  • We schedule our major meetings in advance.
  • We will provide a list of decisions we need from you and by when.
  • We work as a team. Your main point of contact is this specific team member. She will always be the most informed person on our team about your project and will be in charge of sharing information to the team.
  • As the principal designer, I will oversee your projects and see you at these meetings.

Red Flags

Beware of…

  • Non-ideal project scopes.
  • Unrealistic budgets.
  • Unrealistic time frames.
  • Getting lured into a project because it is large and exciting, but red flags are wildly flapping in the breeze.
  • Being desperate for work and taking the wrong clients to pay the bills.
  • A client that wants major revisions on your contract.
  • A client that is late without apology.
  • A client that is rude.
  • A client that doesn’t even offer a glass of water if meeting at their office or home.
  • A client that is more interested in their cell phone than the meeting.
  • A client that continuously takes unimportant phone calls in the meeting.
  • A client that involves everyone from their friend next door, to their kids, to the dog in their decisions.
  • A client that raises their voice to you or others.
  • A client that tells you their red flags, and you still think that you can work with them.

On the last bullet, I had a client that told me that she needed me to “hold her hand” to help her make decisions. She was truthful, and I was miserable!

Be sure to share your experiences with us. We’d love to hear your best practices, too.

Contribute your experience to the survey and see your industry’s results this fall.

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