Your clients come to you because they are in need of an expert. But thanks to popular TV shows like HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” and “House Hunters”, everyone thinks they’ve got what it takes to be a DIY interior designer. (Even the beloved “Trading Spaces” is returning to TLC in 2018!) When it comes to designing kitchen or bath cabinets, there’s a lot more to know that what a TV show can neatly wrap up into a 30-minute package. However, you want to work together with your client. It’s their space—and their money—after all. How can you make sure you see eye-to-eye? Is there a “secret” to creating a happy, harmonious relationship with your customers?
According to today’s top kitchen and bath designers, there are a few things that you can do to help cultivate a successful partnership. Taking these four steps will go a very long way in building a solid relationship based on mutual respect.
Some of the best project results happen when designers and their clients trust one another. But how do you build trust? First of all, meet in person as early in the process as possible. Sure, it’s easier to email or send a text, but face-to-face meetings are essential to building solid relationships. You’ll both learn a lot more about each other when you meet in person. This goes double when it’s time to discuss fees and costs. You’ll get a better understanding of how they really feel based on their body language and they won’t feel like you’re hiding behind your iPhone. Always be as specific and honest as you can be. This will go a long way in creating an atmosphere of trust.
Of course you have very strong opinions; you’re the expert. And there are going to be plenty of things that you and your client don’t agree on. The best way to handle this is the “United Nations” way. Be as diplomatic as you can. Do your best to be flexible with your design choices, but if you strongly disagree, be sure to offer a “plan B” with your expression of disagreement. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree, but you may be able to negotiate the perfect solution. If you strongly disagree with a client’s choice, be straightforward. Tell them why something won’t work rather than just telling them it’s a bad idea. You can use phrases such as “In my professional opinion…” Honesty is always the best policy. Remember, you are the professional. They hired you because they trust your judgment and expertise.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Be open and honest when discussing cost and fees. Be prepared to discuss rates and pricing when the client asks. Ideally, you don’t want to talk dollars and cents when you first meet, but a client may ask. They’ll want to know how you work, if you’re billing by the hour, what mark-ups you include, etc. Your best bet is to answer their questions about cost as honestly and directly as you can. You don’t want them to feel “tricked” by skipping over fees that might not be obvious to them. This is especially true if it’s a first time remodel and your clients aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of custom construction. If this is the first time that your client is working with a custom woodworker, they genuinely may not know all of the details about what you do. Don’t be afraid to talk in detail about everything that goes into their finished product. Explain your process. Give examples. They may not know what goes into selecting a wood species, color, or a finish. They likely have no idea about the amount of behind-the-scenes time you put into each project. Let them know!
What clients want most is predictability and a sense that they are “in control” of the project. A willingness to share ideas and take risks can make a huge difference in a designer-client relationship. For example, some clients might be timid when it comes to color. You might suggest a bold accent color in a kitchen design project. Your client likes the overall design, but fears adding such a bold color to their home. They may need some guidance. Try collaborating with idea books to see how a color will work in the space. Solicit their opinions when choosing details. Do your best to educate them during the process. Don’t rely on the “abstract.” Provide samples whenever possible. Let them “live” with the samples to get a feel for a certain color or material. Remember that everyone’s taste is different. If you feel that your client genuinely isn’t “feeling” the vibe of your suggestion, be willing to see their side of it and help them work to include as many of their selections as possible without compromising the quality of the design.
Taking the time to address these four key actions will help avoid some misunderstandings and conflict. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your client’s happiness and a good referral that you want. Be down-to-earth and approachable. Collaborate, don’t dictate and both of you will come through the project with a positive experience.