Client handling includes elements of professionalism, technical knowledge, customer service and requires us to pay attention to a myriad of tiny details relating to how we run our practice. Individually, these details may seem trivial or unimportant, and for that reason it can so often be tempting to ignore them or just not bother. However, when added together, these details send the message loud and clear to your clients that you are an organized, dedicated professional, who has their interests and well-being at the centre of everything you do. Great client handling skills plus a fantastically effective design is definitely a recipe for success that guarantees you many clients who will be loyal for years to come, and who will also send you numerous word-of-mouth referrals, as well.
Why are client handling skills so important?
Customer (or client) service is an important feature of client handling. We are not just in the design industry, we are also in the service industry. As design has become more mainstream over the last 5-10 years, and clients have become more sophisticated consumers, they have come to expect excellent customer service as well as a great design service. If clients don't like what we do, or how we do it, they will go elsewhere to find a designer who does give them what they are looking for.
In a very competitive marketplace, the extra mile that you go to provide outstanding client service may well be the thing that sets you apart from other designers- and be the deciding factor when it comes to clients rebooking with you.
Exemplary customer service is an attitude - it's not what we do, but how we do it; we can't just pretend to care, we genuinely have to care - both about our clients, and about our own standards of excellence. A genuinely caring attitude will make clients feel looked after, respected, and, above all, valued. A client who feels valued becomes a repeat client.
Great client care is one of the easiest and cheapest of ways to build a devoted following of loyal clients. If you have worked hard on your marketing activities to get new clients it makes no sense whatsoever not to work equally hard to keep them.
What are the keys client handling skills?
A client-centred attitude: your clients should feel that they are getting 100% of your attention and interest, and are at the centre of everything you do, from the moment they walk in through the door, to the second they walk out again. To achieve this requires you to:
• be meticulously prepared and organized: yourself, your office and all your equipment should be prepared for your client's arrival, so that once they arrive all your attention will be on them and their needs
• find out exactly what the client needs/wants from the process
• to be attentive and tuned in to the clients needs throughout the design process
• to respect that this is the client's time, and not your own
Putting the client at the center of everything we do makes them feel cared for and valued - and they will value us and what we do for them in return.
Excellent communication skills are at the heart of good client handling. They are involved at every stage of our client interactions: before meeting a client (this could be a telephone or email enquiry); meeting and greeting the client for the first time; during the design process; during the post-design chat; when taking payment and rebooking; during follow-up contact by phone or email.
First - and last - impressions are critical to the client forming a favourable opinion of you, so make sure you give these interactions the attention they merit. Once the design process is under way, explaining what you are doing and why, and letting clients know in advance how the session will proceed will put clients at ease, build their confidence and trust in your expertise and abilities, and generally ensure that they have the best possible experience.
Attention to Detail:
There is no one big "secret", no "one" thing that will guarantee success. A great client experience relies, rather, on you paying attention to numerous tiny details; fantastic customer service is unobtrusive and unfussy, but makes the client feel that their needs have been anticipated and effortlessly met.
Paying attention to these details will establish your reputation for quality and excellence. Once established, it's important to work hard to maintain these standards, and demonstrate your commitment to the highest levels of service.
Individualize Your Service:
One way to make good service great is to treat your clients as the unique people that they are, and to make sure that you are doing all that you can to tailor your time with them to their own individual requirements. Making notes of their preferences will enable you to give them personalized service which they will truly appreciate and value.
Things like making sure they get their favorite appointment time, or sending an article that will be of interest or benefit to them are also examples of how we can demonstrate to our clients that we see them as individuals and value them as clients.
Go the Extra Mile:
Always under-promise and over-deliver. Don't just meet expectations - always strive to exceed them; surprise and delight clients with extra touches that cost no more than a little time and effort, but demonstrate your commitment to quality and excellence.
Put things right quickly and gracefully:
"A criticism is a gift" (although it seldom feels that way at the time!). If something hasn't gone well for some reason, then offer some recompense. You could always ignore the problem and take the money and run, but that would result in an unhappy, dissatisfied client who probably won't come back, and will tell all their friends about their experience. If you offer recompense, they will feel that they have been heard, and their views respected, and you (very probably) will have kept a valuable client. Things always go wrong from time to time - it's how we deal with these situations that's important.
That said, there will always be people whom we can never please, regardless of what we do, and also do bear in mind that good customer service doesn't mean ignoring professional boundaries. Unreasonable and inappropriate behaviour has no part in a healthy designer-client relationship and should be addressed accordingly.
To Sum Up
Good client handling costs you nothing except a little time, effort and energy. Exemplary customer service is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to differentiate yourself from other designers. Making the effort to pay attention to the details, and continually and consistently apply the highest standards to all aspects of your client care will reward you with satisfied clients and many repeat bookings.
By Helen Hunter
Photography by Doncut