For interior designers, making dozens of decisions during a project is just business as usual. For clients, though, it can be overwhelming. That can lead to decision paralysis, prompting delays in purchasing and project schedules. Pacing decision points and simplifying the decision-making process can help smooth the path to completing a design project.
Limit client options
Popular interest in interior design and home remodeling has generated an explosion of home products available to consumers. A simple search for any item on the internet or social media will serve up listings for hundreds of brands from all over the globe and at varying levels of cost and quality. Is it any wonder clients feel overwhelmed even before they decide to hire a designer?
Clients are looking to you, the designer, for your expertise to recommend products that are appropriate, reliable, well-made, and within their budget. Giving them too many options places the burden of deciding back on them. Of course, you want to have some options in reserve in case the client rejects your recommendations. But start by presenting your top three. If none of those pass muster, offer two more, keeping the options limited as you gain more insight into the client’s preferences.
Another way to simplify the decision-making process and prevent overwhelming clients is to group options together. For example, present the client with two different groups of all the appliances for the kitchen based on price range instead of asking them to choose one appliance at a time. Or, present them with two or three bundles of textiles, wall coverings and window treatments for a living room that offer a choice of styles or color schemes. Much like a designer might create a preset bundle of services or a fashion expert would design an outfit with all of the components in place, you can set up convenient packages to consider.
Determine the client’s decision-making process
In your first meetings with the client, try to get a feel for how they go about making decisions. Ask some simple questions that require them to make a simple decision and see how they respond. In general, for instance, extroverts tend to make decisions more quickly, while introverts want more time to consider their options. Some people rely on facts and details while others rely more on their feelings and intuitions. Knowing what kind of decision-maker your client is will help you prepare for how you present options to them and how soon you can expect a response.
If the client is feeling unsure about the project, they likely will be hesitant to make timely decisions. Probe a bit to determine if the client is really committed to the project, if they have the resources to fund the project, and if they can make decisions or need to confer with or get the approval of a third party. Any of those factors will impede the decision-making process.
Focus on the outcome
Designers love the details. Too many details, however, can overwhelm clients. Unless you know the client wants to be involved in selecting the details, only involve clients in higher-level decisions. During the programming and planning phases of the project, determine and reaffirm what the client’s vision and desired outcomes are for the project. Confer with the client when decisions need to be made that will impact the outcome. Avoid as much as possible checking in with them with detailed questions.
Most clients don’t want to micromanage the project. That’s why they hired you. Assuming you’re both on the same page to begin with, trust them to trust you through the decision-making process.
Establish guidelines and schedules
Showing that you are organized and professional can help alleviate anxiety about making decisions and prevent clients from feeling overwhelmed. Before you start work on the project, discuss with the client who will make what decisions and how they will be made. Develop some rules of thumb around what type and/or level of decision must involve the client and what decisions need not involve the client.
Also, determine when you need to meet in person with the client to make decisions and when decisions can be made by other means, such as phone calls, emails or texts, or videoconference. Whatever the means, always document decisions in writing and get acknowledgment from the client as to what was decided.
Agree on what is a reasonable amount of time for the client to respond and/or finalize a decision. Build decision-making checkpoints or milestones into the project schedule. Space out decision points so clients are not being asked to make too many decisions at one time. This will help to reduce some of the stress that can come from having to make a decision, especially if it involves a big expense or change in their environment.
Assess the client’s attitude
Be aware that clients can self-induce anxiety about the decision-making process. This is especially true if they are overly concerned about making the “right” choice. To keep clients from feeling overwhelmed, minimize the pressure they might feel about making the decision.
When presenting the client with a choice or decision point, display a positive attitude and focus on the benefits of the choices presented. Make it clear that there is no perfect or “right” choice. Rather, within the overall context of the project, some choices will be better than others, and some will be just a matter of taste or preference.
Most clients are not accustomed to making so many decisions about their environment in such a compressed time period. At some point they are likely to feel overwhelmed and experience decision fatigue or paralysis. Careful upfront preparation and establishing an agreed-upon decision-making process can help to minimize client anxiety and stress. It will pay off with better and more timely decisions and higher levels of client satisfaction.