Of course you focus on quality. You cross every “T” and dot every “I” when you design for your clients. But do you take the time to cultivate a positive working relationship? Building a trusting partnership with your customers also builds up your reputation. Your work speaks for itself, but when your clients speak about you to their friends and family, do they do so with a glowing recommendation?
There are six relationship “rules” you can follow that help you cultivate a successful partnership with your customers:
Rule #1: Earn your client’s trust.
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.
Rule #2: Remember that 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 at your initial meeting, 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. 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. Let them know!
Rule #3: Be as specific as possible.
Don’t rely on hand gestures or online images. Many details can get lost in translation if you are not careful. Don’t rely on the “abstract.” Provide drawing, samples, and anything that will help show your clients exactly what you’re talking about when discussing ideas. Let them “live” with the samples to get a feel for a certain color or material, especially if it might be a bit out of their comfort zone.
Rule #4: Make clients feel like part of the process.
What clients want most is predictability and a sense that they are “in control” of the project. A willingness to share ideas can make a huge difference in a designer-client relationship. Solicit their opinions whenever it makes sense to do so. Do your best to educate them during the process as well.
Rule #5: Be flexible.
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.
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.
Rule #6: Stick to your guns…and your fees.
After you explain your rates to a client, it’s important to stand by them. Negotiation is dangerous territory. Going back on your word with fees can harm your credibility. And once word gets around that you changed fees for one client, they’ll all expect you to do the same. Show that you value your reputation and that you stand behind the quality of your work by taking a hard line on fees. It may be tempting to lower your rate just to land the job, but know that doing so might just make you seem desperate. Also, don’t apologize if a client seems shocked by your fees. They wouldn’t think to question a doctor’s rate, so why should they question yours?
Following these six “rules” won’t guarantee a harmonious relationship with your customers. But it will help establish you as a trustworthy and reliable resource in your areas of expertise. Remember that in such a highly competitive field, your reputation is well worth a little bit of TLC.