Tammy Hart, I.D.D.P, CAPS is a graduate and Tutor of Q.C. Design School and is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist from the National Association of Home Builders. She is the Senior Designer for the Designer Chick Co. (www.dznrchik.com) and is the Past Director on the National Board for DDA (formerly CDECA). She is a professional 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 and supports ocean clean-up efforts.
QC Design School’s Interior Decorating course teaches students in Unit A that there are key questions to ask your potential client during the initial consultation to help you, as the designer/decorator, to understand your client’s needs. Some of these questions include:
- What do you LOVE about this space?
- What challenges are you having with this space?
- What is your budget?
- When would you like this project to be started/completed?
- What do you think is your design style?
As important as it is to understand the full scope of your potential client’s desired outcome, it’s just as important to ensure you and your client are a good fit. You may spend as little as a week together or as much as a year with them depending on the size and scope of the project. Regardless of the amount of time spent with your interior decorator clients, you want to keep your first-time customer coming back as repeat clients. They’ll become your company’s cheerleaders, spreading the word of your fabulous work!
The first step to creating this valuable relationship is to ensure a good client-designer fit. Between the first phone conversation and the initial consultation, there are five vital questions you should be asking to gauge the future of this relationship.
1. Who have they been with?
Yes! Just like we were taught in health class, it’s very important to ask who you’re client has been with – design-wise that is. Curiously ask, “Have you worked with another designer/decorator in the past?” You want to know the answer to this for a couple of reasons.
If they’ve never worked with a designer/decorator in the past, it allows you the opportunity to provide some insight into the decorating consultation experience and drive expectations. It also provides you with insight into their past relationships with other designers. If the client answers “Yes” to this question follow it up with, “Why are you choosing to work with a new designer?” I find probing through this helps to gauge why they aren’t working with the same decorator and provides some insight into their expectations.
I once had a client who told me she had worked with another designer. When asked, she said she felt that after working with them, the two weren’t on the same page. Fair enough. Later on, in our working relationship, I found out why she was really no longer with the designer. So, I learned to ask probing questions when I get a “Yes” to this question.
2. Relationships take Work
Like any relationship, the client/designer relationship requires building trust and collaboration. We do this by setting expectations, meeting deadlines, effectively communicating, and following through as promised. As stated earlier, we want our first-time customers to become repeat clients and our cheerleaders.
To do this, we need to have a good relationship with our client. I like to ask clients, “What do you think makes the client-designer relationship successful?” Understanding what your client thinks will help make your relationship successful is vital to growing a happy client-decorator relationship.
Expect them to respond with the following requirements:
- Shared Knowledge and Expertise
- Feeling Valued
- Being Heard
Like personal relationships, sometimes our business ones don’t work out as we hoped. But understanding what the client’s expectations are upfront can help create a successful relationship.
3. Are you on the same page?
From the outset of your relationship, it’s important to understand the client’s expectations. A question to ask your client is, “How will you measure the success of this project?” By asking this, you are immediately able to develop your customized tangible and measurable goals (SMART GOALS) to ensure you are meeting AND exceeding the client’s expectations.
It’s also important to share how you intend to define the success of the project. Often, we make the mistake of assuming that our design will make the client happy because it’s what we think is good – even if they have signed off on the design. But, as we know, there’s so much more that goes into the success of the project, for instance: communication. Which leads me into my next question…
4. Communication is Key
As designers/decorators, communication is extremely important to the success of our projects. We need to be excellent communicators with our teams, our partners (ie. trades and suppliers), and of course, our clients.
Communicating occurs in verbal and written forms and everyone has their own preference of how they like to receive communications. Your key question to ask is, “What type of communication (phone, email, text, etc.) works best for you?” This allows you to find out the best method of communication for your client. And your follow-up to this is, “What is your typical response time for returning calls and responding to emails?” which helps you understand why you might not hear from them for a day or two.
You’ll definitely want to tailor this to help your client understand that you value their time and the importance of communication in the relationship. It’s at this point in the conversation that I make it very clear that I have a 24 hour response time to any form of communication. After 7pm I’ll respond the next day and my business is closed on Sundays for well-deserved family time. However, I will reach out to my clients every day to check I, even if just for 5 minutes.
Defining your communication preferences is important from the beginning of your relationship to establish realistic expectations for the client. As an aside, when writing emails or texts, use proper spelling and grammar. We are detail-oriented individuals and it speaks volumes to professionalism when we don’t pay attention to those details.
5. Where did you meet?
Many designers and decorators forget to track where their clients are coming from and how much each client costs to get. Asking the question, “How did you hear about my services?” will help you track how clients are finding you and where best to allot your advertising dollars. To help you remember to ask this question, add it as a field in your initial consultation form and then track it on a spreadsheet.
Asking these questions helps ensure successful collaboration with your client. They will help ensure you and your client have reasonable and similar expectations and create another successful project for your portfolio with results that your client is delighted with!