Years ago I worked with the kind of real estate agent that one can only dream of. She was unbelievably knowledgeable about the process, incredibly accommodating, and shockingly resourceful. It was the kind of client experience you wish for no matter what you’re doing, but almost never get. She was a true talent. So at the end of the project I gave her a rave review, and a recommendation, to consider selling luxury homes.
Now why would I say such a thing, especially when she was greatly successful in her current category? Well because she was working so incredibly hard in so many ways, working so far beyond what would be expected of her in that price range, that it almost seemed like a mismatch. It seemed as if somehow I was almost cheating her for not having a million + dollar home to sell. I actually felt bad when she was continually going above and beyond, because I knew her commission at the end was not going to match the effort she put in to providing an exceptional client experience. And it just didn’t seem right.
And it didn’t seem right because it wasn’t. Her efforts and her client experience weren’t matching up as they should. She was delivering high priced experiences, but making a lower priced commission. And that’s really not what you want to be going for in business. For big fees, you need a big client experience. For smaller fees, you need a smaller client experience. Client fees and client experience should be fit to one another, rather than a one size fits all, or even worse, wearing a child’s size, when what you really needed was the adult.
And although it may be hard to believe at times, the client wants to feel like they’re paying you a fair price for the work and effort you’ve made. You both want to come away thinking “that was a good deal.” You both want to come away thinking, “I’d be happy to do that again.”
That can’t happen though when there’s a fee/experience mismatch. That can’t happen when the fees you’re paid are low, but your efforts and experience are high. It also can’t happen when the fees you’re paid are high, but your efforts and experience are low. Just as most things in life, it needs to be the right fit.
What is the right fit though? How do you know if the experience you’re providing is a fit for the fees you’re charging? Well, just like any business, you look at your competition. You see what they’re doing. You ask yourself, what’s common in my category when it comes to the client experience? Then you work to be consistently ahead of that, but just a step or two.
Let’s say other designers are doing full installs, but not offering styling. Then you offer styling. Or let’s say other designers are calling their clients in the middle of the procurement phase to check in with them, but not seeing them in person. Then you see them in person and take them out to lunch.
See, just one step ahead. Not four steps ahead, just one or two. You don’t need to send them to a luxury hotel because you made a mistake, when other people are only sending apology cards or emails. Nope, just do an exceptional job of following the problem through from start to finish, then send an apology card and a beautiful bouquet of flowers. That’s more than enough.
There’s no need to exhaust yourself, or your bank account, to make clients happy. No, you just need to do a bit more than most. You just need to surprise them with how you’re willing to take that extra step, each time. You need to wow them with your ability to know what’s just enough, and what’s too much.
What do you do if you don’t know what your competition is doing though? What guidelines do you follow? Well, depending on your client budget, you rely on just one or up to all three of the three e’s of an exceptional client experience. First you focus on the essentials, then you focus on making it easy, and lastly, you focus on making it enjoyable.
So if you’re working with smaller budgets, your concern should be really knocking it out of the park on just the essentials. So that means always be on time, speak professionally, dress professionally, be organized, be dependable, be reachable, and communicate with clients before you make changes or major decisions, consistently. You do a stellar job of that, and you’ll honestly be doing better than about 95% of businesses, in any category.
Then, for mid range budgets, you want to do a stellar job of handling all of the essentials we just talked about, and then add on making everything easy for your clients. Think about what you can do to make the process less stressful than it might be otherwise. Maybe you go to the client rather than the client coming to you. Or maybe you offer late night hours one night a week. Or maybe you simply give your clients a typical meeting schedule at the beginning of every project to give them an idea of how much time they’ll need to take off of work. Just think of what it would take for clients to think, “well that was easy” and then make it happen. You want to focus on becoming the Walgreens of your category, a little expensive, but a lot easier than going to WalMart.
Now, what if you’re in the luxury category? What do you do? Well, then, you not only do a killer job of focusing on the essentials, and making everything easy for clients, but you also then add in a bit of magic. You focus on making the experience, well, an experience.
You become the Disney of your category where you’re wowing clients by pulling out all the stops, but also charging quite a premium for it. You might invite them to an all expenses paid evening with a famous chef, or treat them to a night at a luxury hotel during installation and then surprise them with a free spa package as well.
You customize, you personalize, and you adapt around who they are, what they want, and what will wow them. The luxury level is what above and beyond is all about, and it has few limits. And that’s why the premium on it is so high.
The fact of the matter is, your client experience and your fees need to fit. They need to match. Anything less than that is going to feel off to either yourself, or the client, or maybe even both. You don’t want the client or you to walk away at the end feeling cheated.
No, you want to ensure that you both had an exceptional time. And that’s what so often we forget, that the client experience isn’t just ensuring that the client has a good time, it’s also ensuring that you are as well.
So take a look at your fees, and take a look at your client experience. Are they a match? Or are you exhausting yourself trying to force a luxury experience into a mid range fee? Or, worse yet, are your clients secretly wishing the experience they’re paying for was a bit more magical? If so, it might be time to go and find a better fit.
Ashley Uhl is the principal owner of Ashley Uhl Consulting, and the only client experience consultant exclusively focused on working with interior designers. Through her work she teaches designers a step by step approach to delivering an exceptional client experience, one that results in higher fees, increased efficiency, and turning clients into raving fans. You can learn more about the exceptional client experience by visiting her weekly blog at ashleyuhlconsulting.com.