The customer’s always right. The customer’s always right. The customer’s always right.
If you find yourself frantically repeating this inside your head during fraught times, you know that, no, the customer is not always right. The customer should always come first; the customer should always be satisfied at the end of the day (and at every step in the process). But always right? No.
You are the creator, the maker, the fixer, the builder, the supplier, the designer. You are the expert. While your job is to, in fact, create, make, fix, build, supply, or design, it is also to educate and inform. Managing client expectations is an integral aspect of our industry. And one that especially hits home given the nature of what we’re really dealing with here – home.
Next time you’re at a cocktail party, trivia night, or casual backyard BBQ, you can drop this piece of historical knowledge: the “customer is always right” theory was born in the early 1900s. Until then, the prevailing wisdom was caveat emptor – or let the buyer beware. There was a marked shift when retailers realized that their businesses depended on happy customers. The phrase meant that the customer should always be treated with respect and dignity. They should always be valued.
Remember, this was an age when pharmacies sold “magic tonics” with hefty doses of morphine and cocaine to teething babies. When they hawked “miracle cures” for headaches, pain, and “female complaints” that were nothing but mineral oil, turpentine, and beef fat. The fact that some intrepid businesspeople believed consumers should be told the truth was nothing short of revolutionary.
Rest assured… We do have a point!
“The customer is always right” didn’t originate to mean that if they said the sky was green, we had to agree, or that if they were adamant that the sun rose at night, we had to acquiesce. It meant that they were first, they were valued – and, above all, they deserved truth and transparency.
This all falls under the heading of “managing client expectations.” It doesn’t mean they’re always right, it doesn’t mean that what they want or demand is always feasible or sustainable in the long-term.
It doesn’t mean that we treat them with anything less than dignity and respect or provide them with anything less than our experience, experience, guidance, advice, and creative solutions.
The customer’s always valued. The customer’s always informed. The customer’s always educated.
This is a far more pertinent mantra, philosophy, and business model for professionals in our industry. The fundamentals are more simple than you may think:
Managing client expectations begins (and ends… and travels all the way through) with honesty and transparency. These are the foundations of trust, and again, for professionals in the home industry, this is critical. The pandemic offered a masterclass in this. Supplies and products that used to take a month to get in, now took eight.
As Stacy Stater, founder and lead designer of Home & Willow Design, says, “It’s a different kind of expectation. There’s no demanding, ‘Have my furniture or else!’ There’s none of that. Beyonce is not getting her furniture quickly! Thankfully, the public has been patient; we’ve all learned patience. The home we’re spending time in, and building relationships in, just can’t be thrown together.”
As Stater found, people were understanding – and willing to wait for what they really wanted – when she and her team were completely upfront with the situation. This. Do this. Be clear. Don’t hide from reality, no matter how challenging. Whether it’s a global supply issue or a matter of your company’s ability to deliver, make sure to set those expectations from the get-go and lead with honesty.
2. Prioritize Clear Communication
You cannot over communicate when it comes to client interactions. Keep them informed and up to date. This is a trust-building strategy that leaves the client feeling valued, heard, and informed. Regular check-ins and calls/texts/etc. regarding emergent issues (e.g. the windows are delayed by the manufacturer, the couch they want is out of stock, the weather is preventing exterior work for the next few days…) is essential.
Many home industry professionals use a web-based tool to help with this. With Buildertrend, for example, clients can access their building schedule, see the current project status, receive reminders of important dates and upcoming events, view and share photos of progress, track your spending, access important documents, view and approve change orders, and message their builder anytime. This makes aspects such as managing expectations related to scheduling and budget much more seamless.
3. Be Realistic
We mentioned honesty and transparency – it plays a role here too. Have a conversation (or many!) about your clients’ goals and their expectations of you. If they believe they can build a custom home in six months, for example, you must clarify from the outset that it takes X amount of time to procure supplies, Y amount of time to design, Z amount of time to build and do finish work, etc. If it’ll take 12 months, don’t promise six. It is better to under promise and overdeliver. If you can get it done faster, great. If not, they need to be aware of this right from the start.
It’s also important to manage your own expectations! You may want to get a project done in a certain amount of time – but is it feasible given supply chain issues? Do you have the staff to make it happen? How does the rest of your schedule look? A client will be much happier if you say, “I can get to this in a month, and then it will take six weeks” than, “I’ll try to get it done as soon as possible.”
This is what it all comes down to: The client should always feel valued, heard, and respected. Misunderstandings, lack of transparency, and unrealistic goals and timelines erode trust, and this is highly damaging to your reputation. Effectively managing client expectations depends on our ability to educate, inform, communicate, and put ourselves into their shoes. They’re not always right – but they’re always the priority!
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