Tammy Hart, I.D.D.P, is a graduate and Tutor of Q.C. Design School. She is the Sr. Designer and Manager, Operations overseeing the Residential Division of B.I.G Renovations & Design and LEV2 and sits as a Director on the National Board for DDA (formerly CDECA). She is a sought-after speaker, speaking at venues like IIDEXCanada and Heart of Networking. She’s been featured as a guest spot on Daytime Durham, Rogers TV and works to empower young women to become successful future leaders.
I have enjoyed numerous careers since I began working at the age of 14 years old. The common thread between all of them has been servicing the customer/client. Whether it was in a fast food restaurant in my teens, working security in my early twenties, as an executive administrative assistant, as a manager overseeing a venue or now, in my current role as a designer and manager – it all comes back to customer service.
Customer service or valuing the customer is of utmost importance to me. I strive to deliver excellence in customer service in all of my interactions with my clients. That’s not to say that there aren’t times I don’t get it right, but I try very hard, and when I find out I haven’t gotten it right, I try to fix it immediately.
Here’s my thought: companies are failing dismally to even attempt to provide customer service, let alone excellence in it.
John Ragsdale says,
“As industries mature and companies can no longer differentiate themselves by attributes such as products or pricing, CUSTOMER SERVICE becomes a CRITICAL ADVANTAGE.”
I’m a firm believer that customer service is going to set your business apart from other businesses and when done correctly, will help your business revenue increase.
So how do you do it? How do you deliver on customer service excellence while meeting and exceeding client expectations? Below are my hints and tips…
#1 Who is your Customer?
It’s important to define who your customers are. This is going to vary based on your work situation but usually this is applicable:
- Staff in other functional departments
- People who buy or use our products and services
- Vendors, Suppliers, Contractors
- AND, every person you touch who is currently not a client
In short, I truly consider every person I interact with to be customer/client and treat them as such as you never know when that interaction could lead to a sale or a referral of business.
#2 What Do They Want?
If you think of yourself as a client for a moment, consider what your expectations are when receiving customer service. From there, it’ll be easy to understand your deliverables to meet your customer expectations.
Every customer, to some degree, wants to feel valued – to know that you value them and appreciate their business because they didn’t have to choose you. They want to know you are competent and know you have expertise in your area of decorating or design. This is why taking the Interior Decorating Course from QC Design School is an asset. They also want you to be dependable and organized which includes: showing up to consultations on time and having the proper tools on hand (ie. color wheels, quotes, contracts, measuring tape, etc.)
#3 How Do You Deliver Excellence in Customer Service?
Now that you know who your customers/clients are and their expectations, here are some ideas on how to deliver customer service excellence in the design and decorating industry:
Smiling friendly faces and a warm demeanor are positive traits to help your clients feel appreciated. Welcome the opportunity to engage in conversation with individuals. 60% of a designer’s or decorator’s role is selling, whether it’s a design concept or a contractor, and being approachable will assist with that.
Whether by PHONE, EMAIL, SOCIAL MEDIA – how long is your response time to clients? Normally, I have a response time of 24 hours or shorter. I’d like to think this is a reasonable expectation. When I’m going to have a jammed schedule, I tend to inform my clients that my response time or availability may not be as quick or as flexible as normal.
It’s important to be true to your style and your brand, but at the same time be professional. For example, I have a potty mouth but when I’m in front of clients, that doesn’t come out UNLESS my clients and I have that personal relationship. It’s important to know your audience.
It’s also important to dress the role that suits your brand BUT ensure you are dressing professionally. Normally, designers/decorators are stylish by nature and we luckily work in an industry where we can pull off jeans and a blazer with a hot set of heels or dress shoes.
Know your products, have supplier relationships, and know your design expertise. For example, I would never have talked about construction prior to working for a construction firm because I had no knowledge and would never want to steer my customers wrong. If you don’t know an answer to a question, don’t fake it. This isn’t the right time for that. Be up front and let your client know that you don’t have the answer but will happily get it for them.
Renovations and decorating does not come naturally to everyone (surprise! I know…) so be understanding and show patience when your client asks questions or becomes overwhelmed or stressed with the design process.
My final pieces of advice on how to deliver customer service excellence are:
- Little things count – remembering your client’s birthday and sending a card is a nice touch.
- Don’t tell your client you’ll call by 5pm and not call. Even if you’re waiting on a response from a supplier, give a courtesy call to let your client know you’re waiting on an answer. Or if you get your answer sooner, call sooner and EXCEED their expectations. This also goes for delivering the project. Set reasonable project deliverance expectations. Sometimes your deadlines will be pushed but communication with your client is imperative.
#4 When to Deliver?
There are obvious times to deliver customer service excellence, like at the initial consultation. However, there are not so obvious times to deliver and these are definitely important opportunities you’re not going to want to miss:
- Time of inquiries
- Time of order/payment
- Delivery of product/service
- Handling of a complaint/problem
- Repairs/Maintenance/Warranty work
- After sales follow-up
- End of a project
#5 I screwed up – Now what?
There have been times in my career where I have screwed up. Times that I haven’t successfully delivered on my customer service expectations not only disappointing my client, but myself – whether it was not getting back to them in a timely manner which made them feel undervalued, or having to push a deadline because I couldn’t get a product in the time I hoped I could.
It will happen and that’s OK. It’s how you handle the situation that’s important. Take ownership of the mistake – first and foremost. Then, determine a plan to rectify it. Communicate that plan to your client, and follow through. Mistakes will happen but it’s all about your recovery – so recover gracefully.
Remember: you can’t please everyone. There will be times that you can’t make a client happy and either side will sever the relationship. Take a moment to analyze what happened and use that as a learning opportunity.
That being said, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Sending out a customer satisfaction survey after a project will provide you with insight into your client’s satisfaction level and give you tools to better your business and customer service skills. It’s scary, I know! But getting this feedback will help you grow both personally and professionally.
Ultimately, by delivering customer service excellence, you will increase your bottom line as your clients will be more likely to hire you for additional projects, refer you to friends, contractors will want to partner with you more often, suppliers will give you bigger discounts as you’re bringing them more work and when you pair that with your ability – bigger opportunities may abound.
Happy designing & decorating!