Client Management for Interior Designers
How people live and work in their homes has fundamentally changed, and it appears that these changes are going to last for a while. Pressure from pandemic-related work-from-home mandates, plus an increase in the number of people educating from home has produced different needs in all types of dwelling spaces. More than ever before, people now need their living areas to be truly multi-functional – serving a variety of purposes from relaxation to focus to play. To make their homes more accommodating, people are redesigning, remodeling, and redecorating their homes in huge volumes.
The rise of e-design has also made interior design services more accessible to a much larger market of potential clients. While this emerging service industry can be a windfall for enterprising entrepreneurs, it’s not without significant challenges. Managing client relationships and general business management requires more than just technical design proficiency. To keep clients happy and ensure a successful outcome, you need to understand their challenges and preemptively plan to address potential issues.
In this article, we will review ten of the most common client management challenges interior design businesses face, and ten ways you can neutralize these potential pitfalls, leaping over them into a more successful client relationship for years to come!
Image Credit: Sandhata
Top 10 Challenges Interior Designers Face With Clients
1. The Over Communicator
Over-communication from an interior design, client can be frustrating. To a small business owner, each inquiry or request feels equally important. However, the harsh truth is that each email, phone call, or text after the initial consultation does not deserve to be treated equally.
Since design is often the first step in a longer process of remodeling or redecorating (or both) someone’s home, it is understandable that clients want to be continually apprised of the project’s status. But many design professionals know that typical boundaries around work hours and expectations for responsiveness can go out the window at any time.
2. The Non-Committal Client
Some prospective clients are eager to get started, they have the budget, they’re ready to hire you but they just can’t commit to the project specifics offered during the initial presentation. Whether it’s difficulty defining their style, a chronic inability to settle on a timeline, or simply spouses who can’t see eye to eye, shifting opinions and second-guessing can make a designer’s life more than difficult.
The failure to ascertain preferences and set client expectations from the outset can lead to delayed project timelines and unmet client expectations. After all, how can a client say that you delivered what they want when they couldn’t even tell you what they wanted?
3. Too Many Cooks
Multiple decision-makers can muddle any project that otherwise seems easy. If the client has more than one person involved with a project, you may be left wondering who will be responsible for making the ultimate decision and bear the responsibility?
More so, your interior design firm’s ultimate deliverable to the client might knock it out of the park for one person and completely fail for another. That’s just not a fair relationship, nor one in which you can succeed and have healthy time management.
4. My Way or the Highway
Every designer knows the sinking feeling when you realize that a client is intractably stubborn and refuses to take your advice, particularly if that client has any experience in your industry. It can be extremely difficult to work with a client that has just enough experience to be dangerous, but not enough to know when they’re wrong. If not properly managed, the client that’s always right can be a bad client for life.
5. Unclear Expectations
Any ambiguity around your pricing and which work is eligible for billing can cause confusion, frustration, and even terminated contracts. Clients could feel surprised, overwhelmed, and disappointed if they receive an invoice for hours of meetings that they thought were part of the original agreement. While some clients might accept the extra fees, budget-conscious buyers likely won’t stay on long if they feel “nickel and dimed.”
Read also – Interior Design Fees
6. Needy, Needy Needy
No matter how much time you invest with a particular client, they can still feel that they don’t receive enough attention from you or your team. Some clients are just too, well…needy. They want input on every little decision or they want to review every part of the project.
The constant need for updates, affirmation, or clarification can leave you flat-out drained. Even worse, the constant pinging for your attention is likely going to distract you from working on other client projects that are essential to your business.
7. ASAP Turnaround
The only thing worse than trying to manage totally unrealistic timelines is promising to do so because you really want to win the business. One of the biggest challenges facing full-service interior designers today is that so many items are on back-order and it’s almost impossible to tell when they’ll be available.
This industry-wide issue might not hold back delivery of your initial designs, but it will inevitably slow down sourcing and procurement, construction timelines and other key stages.
8. Big Dreams, Little Budget
Some clients have essentially no idea how much it will cost to hire an interior designer, or they might think e-design services are heavily discounted. If the client feels from the very outset that they are paying too much, they probably don’t value your time and expertise and you might wind up fighting an uphill battle throughout the relationship.
9. The Under-Communicator
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes clients can just “go dark,” seemingly vanishing into the night. As you attempt to move the project forward this lack of communication can be a huge roadblock, especially if the client’s reply is filled with edits or unclear when they finally do touch base. Regular intervals of communication are key for any project’s success.
10. What Particular Tastes You Have
For every client that can’t quite put their finger on what they want, there’s a client who has highly unique tastes. In fact, these tastes might be so avant-garde or eclectic that they become unpredictable and unmanageable.
Rather than not being able to define what they want, they have an enormous amount of trouble finding someone who can provide what they want, even if it can be defined precisely. We call these clients the “art critics” because they are more like collectors looking for the rare inspiration of genius that’s almost impossible to recreate.
Image Credit: LinkedIn
10 Ways Designers Can Manage Client Expectations
1. Use a Client Questionnaire
Have all new clients fill out a questionnaire that forces them to answer key questions in their own words. We use the word “force” because it’s important for clients to be able to articulate their own needs, goals, and ultimate vision.
Questionnaires are remarkably helpful tools because they give the clients time to consider each question carefully and can take the place of lengthy meetings where you would just be running them through the same questions. It’s completely acceptable to ask the client to do some pre-work before starting a design project.
2. Write a Scope of Work
There’s an old saying that “clear is kind,” and that sentiment rings true in business. Set clear boundaries in a scope of work and make sure that your client clearly acknowledges that they understand and accept these terms. When established at the beginning of a relationship, this is your best opportunity to prevent “scope creep,” which is what many professional service providers call expanded or additional requests that can easily be piled on after starting a project.
3. Set Communication Boundaries
Be careful with how frequently you respond to inquiries as it might set a bad precedent. If you start a project by replying within a few minutes every time someone emails, then they’ll develop the expectation that you’re always at your desk or have your phone nearby.
Conversely, when things are off-track (whether it’s your fault or not), it’s always a good idea to err on the side of over-communication. Your clients don’t want to go 3-weeks without an update, even if the update is simply that you’re still working on the issue(s).
4. Agree to Exact Goals
Set clear goals from day one, and make sure to ask if they will consider the project to be successful if those goals are met. If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?
Clear goals will allow you to know exactly when the project ends, and your client will be able to envision a specific end-result – this can be highly motivating if the project hits a snag or they become uncommunicative. Lastly, clear goals will allow you to set precise steps (milestones) to track and report on your progress.
5. Exercise Empathy
Work on developing or heightening your emotional intelligence. After all, your clients may be coming across as difficult for reasons that are entirely unrelated to their project. Being able to understand body language and tone can provide a signal that your client is getting frustrated.
Even if you haven’t contributed directly to their frustration, being able to read people will make you more enjoyable to work with, and clients will appreciate your sensitivity and ability to navigate emotional situations.
6. Know Your Limits
Be firm and direct about what types of clients you work with – the client also should agree to act decently in the design process and not continuously change their mind or ask for other options based on design trends. Let your clients know that you need to have clear direction, goals, and one final decision-maker.
If they can’t agree on who will be responsible for those areas you may have to walk away from the prospect. There will always be opportunities to get new business, even if it feels slow at times, and sometimes the best solution for managing a problematic client is to avoid getting involved in the first place.
7. Don’t Do Work for Free
If clients continually try to increase the scope of a project, refer them back to your pricing. It’s usually a safe bet to make sure that clients know you’d be happy to show them another option, but it will cost more money.
This will require tactful use of your pricing (in the contract) and your scope of work as a protective mechanism. Then, if the client does want additional work done, you’ll be able to add it to the total project billing. Additionally, clients might be more than willing to pay extra, helping you increase your earnings without significantly changing your workflow.
8. Agree to a Budget
Establish a firm budget with your client so you know how to set their expectations of what’s possible, you can plan how much you will make, and the client can accurately anticipate the expenditures. Just like your pricing, the client budget likely doesn’t have much wiggle room, if any. Employ the rigidity of their budget to your advantage if the client is having trouble sticking to the original plan.
Read also – Taxation Tips for Interior Designers
9. Get Sign-Off on Key Project Milestones
Frequently touch base with your clients as their project progresses and have them review your renderings at critical stages. These sequential approvals will substantially reduce the risk of you needing to redo portions of the project on your own time due to a misunderstanding or mistake.
10. Know Who’s Boss
Confirm who needs to be included in the decision-making process and include them in all relevant meetings or communications. For commercial projects, this might include contractors, interior design project management professionals, interior decorators, and other team members from the client. If you have buy-in from the key project participants, it will be much easier to get approval on other elements.
The less time you have to spend fiddling with poor technology and performing routine administration, the more time you’ll have to focus on setting and managing client expectations. Instead of waiting for technology to catch up to your capacity, you should be delivering cutting-edge service to your clients and staying miles ahead of the competition.
Foyr Neo is the preferred interior design software platform for thousands of designers precisely because it was built with designers in mind. Simple navigation, powerful tools, photorealistic rendering and thousands of preloaded items will help you produce stunning customized plans for satisfied client after satisfied client.