Episode 053: The Client Experience Throughout the Interior Design Process
What kind of experience do you give your clients? While yes, you are hired to create beautiful, functional spaces, as a luxury provider, you are also providing a luxury experience for your clients.
In this episode, I am sharing what we call our ML Experience. This is what we use to lead our clients through the entire process with authority so they know they can trust us. It shows we are confident, professional, and well-prepared, and we care about them and their project. I’m also sharing a few tips you can use to elevate the experience for your clients.
Michelle Lynne began her interior design career after spending more than two decades working in Corporate America. She began in the home staging arena and has since built a successful, award-winning, full-service interior design firm, employing talented designers and serving clients across the country.
In the summer of 2018, Michelle began focusing on a big gap she saw missing in the interior design industry: teaching interior designers how to run the business of an interior design business. She now engages in private coaching and leads an in-depth, 12-month group coaching program, both options focus on teaching designers profitable processes, systems, strategies and mindset needed to run a streamlined, profitable interior design firm.
Her motto is simple: we rise by lifting others.
Connect with Michelle
You can follow Michelle on Instagram or join her Free Facebook Community! You can learn more about Michelle's program, Designed for the Creative Mind right here. You can also learn more about Michelle's Interior Design Firm here.
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Hey, y'all, I hope you're having a wonderful afternoon. This is Michelle Lynne, and I am here solo today to walk you through the interior design process from the clients point of view, okay. And it's along the lines of giving them an experience.
So our goal, I'm just going to dive right in here. Our goal as interior designers is not just to make the space really, really pretty. Of course, that's the end result outcome that we all dream of, of course, it needs to be functional. But I'm not here to talk about your spaces. I'm here to talk about the actual experience you give your client.
It should be a fun experience, it should be a relatively painless experience. Now, I know that some things are always out of our control. So we're going to talk a little bit about that too. But my point is, you're not just hired. Well, you are hired to create beautiful spaces that are functional, and blah, blah, blah. Interior design is a luxury. It's not something that anybody or everybody can afford and that's okay. But when somebody hires us as interior designers, and this could be, you know, y'all, you could be a decorator with a $5,000 budget, or you can be a high end design build, decorate firm that has, you know, budgets of millions of dollars. Either way, the client is getting a luxury service.
If you buy a Mercedes Benz car, the service level that you get, just when you take your car in for an oil change, is that of luxury. There's jazz piped into the overhead music, you have comfy chairs in which to sit, sometimes you'll have your own little cozy corner that you can set up your laptop in and get work done while you're waiting. While you're there, they have premium coffee, they have fresh apples fresh but bananas, sodas, bubble water, you know, all of the cool stuff. You go and you get a a, I don't know a Kia, I'm not bagging on Kias, but you go in and you probably have some, you know, K cups, Folgers or whatever, and then just a standard waiting area that doesn't have the necessarily comfy spots and smells like tires.
So it's just a different level of experience. Or, you know, Mercedes will also loan you a car or drop you off, if you're not going to wait. Just imagine, there's different levels of luxury hotels versus, you know, the the Motel Six. So our goal is going to be creating that level of luxury, where and when we can throughout the throughout the process.
Now, if you've been around at all, you know that I love processes. I believe that every project is different, but the process should be the same. So at my design firm, we have the ML experience for Michelle Lynne. And that's what it started as the ML experience. And we also lovingly refer to it as the 16 steps of sanity. This is something that we have typed out and we actually share it with a client in our first meeting.
So as we are going through the four phases of interior design: research, development, procurement, and installation.
Let's talk about the research phase. The research phase, is where you are walking the client through a quick qualifying call to make sure that they have their deadlines and their budget in line with their expectations.
The virtual meet and greet is the next step. And in that respect, what you're doing there is you are leading the client through the process and you are managing expectations. So in that qualifying call, you're going to tell them the next step is going to be a meet and greet, then we're going to do an initial visit, and then a scope of work preparation and presentation and then the contract signature.
So with that, Mr. or Miss client, you know we're looking at not even being able to start for a few weeks. So you're just setting those expectations, you're telling them what your process is. The client experience, on the other hand is that of Hmm, this person knows what they're doing. Hmm, I like their organization. Hmm, they're very professional. So their experience is that of starting to trust you as the trusted authority to manage their project.
That's if they're an ideal client. If they're one of those clients who likes to do it all themselves, well, then they might not like it, and that's okay. But you're telling them what your process is, okay? Their experience is going to be that of a professional when they see you on Zoom for your virtual meet and greet.
When you go to the initial visit, you're going to be well prepared because you would have already received their questionnaire. So you have all of the information that you need on hand to ask the pertinent questions, to know the name of their dogs, okay, those types of details. So you're going to show up at that initial visit, and you're going to tell them, here's the agenda, this is what we're doing today. That's going to be a repeat from previous conversations when you've told them what to expect, or even when they made their appointment.
So the client experience is that of being led through your process. You're leading with authority because you have a process and because you can tell them every project is different, but my process is the same.
Then from that initial visit, their experience is going to be that you're there for getting information. They are not experiencing any sort of feedback, or any sort of design guidelines at that point, any sorts of ideas. Instead, their experiences is that you're going to get as much information extracted from them that you're going to be able to price your project efficiently and effectively.
So then when you leave that initial visit, and you have all the information that you're going to need to create a scope of work, you're going to tell them, hey, I'm going to put the scope of work together. We already have your appointment made for whatever day, and then you're going to remind them at that point, that's when you're going to tell them what the scope of work is going to be and how much your fees are. Okay, and any sort of other expectations of financials that that need to be discussed at that point.
So they're getting their expectation set, you are giving them the experience of a professional. Professionals are the ones that hire us. They have a level of expectation, whether they're in the workforce now, or if they if their workforce is at home with their kids, they have a level of expectation that you're going to show up and lead.
So from there, when that scope of work presentation comes along, the experience should be whether you're meeting them at a showroom and using one of their conference spaces, or if you have a brick and mortar, or you bring them over to your house, or you meet them at their house, you need to have some tangibles.
And what I mean by that is you're going to want to have some samples that you're going to share with them, not necessarily they're going to be for their home. But so they can understand that they get a sample of a fabric sample for every pillow that you're going to suggest to make. Okay, so you can show them that. You can give them a sample of a curtain rod metal color, or the faucet metal color.
Okay, so there's that you're going to be prepared with that. And you're going to say this is not for you, but I want to share with you this is what you get that specific towards your style and design, blah, blah, blah, when I do your design presentation. For now, this is just a sample.
Then they're also going to be looking at that understanding that they're not going to have any fear of what if they don't like it. Because if they don't like that fabric on the computer when you're giving that presentation later, but they see it in person and they love it, they're going to have those concerns removed, even before they see the price.
They're easing into already hiring you in their mind. They're seeing that you bring a level of professionalism that they feel comfortable and confident with. They see that you're going to be approachable and you're going to listen to their feedback if they don't like that pillow fabric for their own project.
Now part of their experience when they are going to be presented with a scope of work, should also be some sort of food, beverage, and flowers. You don't have to go out of your way. I did have one of the girls in The Bakery other day said she had clients over and in addition to her charcuterie board or something that she made some homemade muffins for him. And I just thought that was so very sweet. And the clients did too.
So you don't have to, I mean, I usually get like vanilla scones from Starbucks. But part of it is also in your questionnaire, asking your clients those types of questions. What's your favorite coffee drink? What's your favorite alcoholic drink? What's your favorite sweet treat? What's your lab blah, blah, blah? And then you show up with it on the scope of work and they're like, oh, my gosh, how did you know I love the vanilla bean scones from Starbucks?
Same thing with flowers, it doesn't need to be anything significant, but you can just get a little mason jar full of their favorite, you know, peonies, or whatever they love, and then send that home with them when you send home the scope of work that you're going to ask a lot of money for.
So they're experiencing this give and take, and it's not just them, giving you money, giving you money and giving you money in exchange for your services. We're here, this is this is fair trade market, you know, money for services, that's it. But if you can just add some of these little inexpensive touch points, the client experience is going to be elevated. So that's what they should be experiencing.
Then you're going to walk them through your entire contract. Walk them through your contract, so that there's no surprises, and then you hand them a pen and tell them to go ahead and sign it. So their experiences is that you have this professional expectation of moving forward. You might be scared shitless to do that. Sometimes it's really scary, because it's a big chunk of change for your design fee. But your money stories are not their money stories. So don't make that part of their experience. Hand them the pen, expect them to sign.
So moving on. That's your sales process. That's research. Okay. Yeah, it's in a nutshell. Do I teach this in like a bucket of detail through the Interior Design Business Bakery? Oh, heck to the Yeah. Even to the point where we charge for that initial visit where we don't get any information about their design? What? Yep, you heard me right.
But my point is, is that now you've got a signature, this is where the fun begins because you're going to want to give your clients a hell of an experience in a good way. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where you get referrals, or not. Okay, so you're going to set the expectation with your client, here's what's next. Thank you for signing the contract, thank you for giving me your deposit or your retainer or however you do it. And then there are they're super excited, they're nervous. Your client is going to be nervous, more likely, it could be masked as excitement. You're going to share with them what's next. Okay, here's what's next.
We are going to start on or before such and such date as per the contract. Before then, I'm going to be in touch with you to get this that and the other. Okay. And then we're going to put a date on the calendar for blah, blah, blah. And then what we're going to do is go through the overall expectations. And then I'm going to schedule a follow up and I might just scheduled at the same time. And this is what you can expect.
It's important that your clients don't have any surprises outside of how awesome you are, and how awesome your design is. Okay. So you're going to set that expectation with them. In fact, this is what you're going to do the entire way, all the way through the final installation and the last pillow fluffed at their house. You have to set the expectations in advance.
Their experience is going to reflect that. Nobody likes to be taken by surprise. If you've ever gone through any sort of renovation and you don't know if the contractors are going to show up that day, or not, or what they're going to be doing, or when it's going to be done, or in what order it goes. I'm in the middle of a kitchen renovation personally as I'm recording this. And it's imperative that I know if the contractors are going to be here. Are they gonna be here Saturday? I need to know these things so that I can organize my life, and my child, and my husband, and my dogs all around this.
It's the same thing with your client. Now you might not be in their house or not showing up that Thursday and Friday because we're waiting on the painter before we can move forward, but you're going to walk them through what the next steps are. Here's your homework in the meantime.
So then they're finding that they are able to give you feedback, because you're setting times specifically for giving feedback. You're going to be talking to them, Hey, this is kind of the direction I'm going, what do you think, and everybody has a different process, but you're connecting with them. You don't just disappear for 3 or 4 weeks or months, you don't disappear, you stay in touch with them, you give them status updates, okay?
Their experience is going to be that they're included in the process if they want to be. In my experience, most clients don't necessarily want to be included in the shopping and all the decision makings. But they want to have status updates so that they can kind of see what's going on. Y'all, it's not going to ruin your big reveal. If you're the designer who does a big reveal, that's not going to ruin it that they see all these pieces. Because that's all they are, they're just pieces, they're little ingredients.
So like, if you see the brown sugar, and the butter and the flour and the oatmeal, and regular sugar, and cinnamon, it's not an oatmeal cookie already. You're just seeing the components that go into it. I just made myself hungry. So it's gonna be the same thing with your clients, don't be afraid to show them the couch that you're going in this direction. Or, hey, there's three rugs that I'm looking between, you know, do you hate any of them. So however you want to go about doing that is up to you and your style.
They're going to go along on this journey with you. So their experience is going to be that of excitement, then they're seeing these pieces coming together, and maybe you start sending them emails a couple of weeks prior to their design presentation saying how excited you're getting, and here's a little teaser, and maybe you just send them a snapshot of the design board that you created for blah, blah, blah or whatever. Okay, so you want to get them excited. So their experience should be that of extreme anticipation. Like a four year old before Christmas, like when are we gonna see Santa Claus? Oh, when are we gonna see our design?
So in fact, that kind of reminds me it's the same thing as my daughter, Genevieve, who's three and a half going on 14.What we have found works really well with her is we have a checklist in the morning for her to get ready, and so it's like brush your hair, brush your teeth, pick up your room, you know, get your backpack together, get dressed, like all the things that go into getting ready in the morning.
When she has that, she's calm and it's not a surprise. There's no surprises that throw her out of her prefrontal cortex. Okay, prefrontal cortex is where you have your reactions and your anticipation and stuff like that, I believe don't maybe don't quote me on that. I know that the prefrontal cortex that's still developing. Anyway, that's neither here nor there.
But if I say oh, by the way, we've got to do something different,enter anything, in the morning, it sends her into a tailspin, but if she knows exactly what needs to be done, we can get through it without any tantrums, okay?
It's the same thing with clients. They're going to throw a tantrum if they didn't know that they were going to get an invoice for procurement. They're gonna throw a tantrum if they got get an invoice they didn't know about for freight, okay? And I say tantrum, they're not gonna throw theirselves on the ground and stomp their hands and their feet, hopefully not anyway.
But if you prepare them and share with them, here's what's coming down the pipeline, here's all the fees that you can expect, okay, back in your sales process or research phase, then they're going to agree to it or they're not. If they don't, you've dodged a bullet. If they do, then there's not going to be any surprises because you're going to remind them, okay, great. So now you've approved this design, we've made as many revisions as are allowed or whatever your policy is, you're going to give them the knowledge that once we start ordering, you have to pay me completely in advance. Okay, it's not the Bank of Michelle.
There's not going to be any surprises. They already knew that, because you've told them a couple times throughout the process. But now it's coming and it's much closer on the horizon, so you're going to remind them. Repeat yourself, be a broken record. It's all good.
So let's go back to the design presentation. When you're getting them excited, and you show up. Again, you should show up and not be empty handed. First of all, you're going to have all of their samples and anything you can put in their hands so that they can approve as much as possible as quickly as possible. Look, this pillow that I chose for your sofa, it's so soft and it's so napable, here, rub it on your cheek. They're getting this experience of touching what they're going to own soon to test drive almost okay?
And then you're going to tell them, Okay, remember, you have a few revisions, however your revision processes. They're going to experience comfort that they don't have to like everything that you're presenting that day. So you can remind them, hey, if there's anything that you see, don't forget, per your contract, we have x number of revisions.
Okay, so you're being a broken record, because you already told him about revisions, multiple times along the way. But you also remind them that you have a policy or a process for those said revisions. You're not going to go into a tailspin trying to please them as a personal shopper with what else is there, what else is there? So their experience is going to be that of comfort, knowing that they don't have to love everything. It's also going to give them the permission to tell you if they don't love something.
So many clients feel bad because they've come to know you and like you throughout this process. They're gonna feel bad telling you hey, you know, Michelle, I really just don't like that pillow. I know you said it's silky soft on my cheek, but it's just not and I can't stand the color. And it reminds me of my aunt Hilda, who was so mean to me. And then I had chicken and peas in her house that made me sick that night. That pillow just really brings all sorts of memories. Okay, gotcha. No problem.
But seriously, like, we don't know why people don't like things. That's okay. So you can ask them. Okay, tell me a little bit why why you don't. So find something else. It just gives them that permission to have their own opinion, y'all. This is their house. I can't tell you in the last two, three, maybe last three years, we have picked up projects that other designers failed on because they forced clients or the clients felt forced to keep what they didn't want.I just think that that is such a shame. So that's not the experience that we want to give to our clients.
So there's the design presentation, you're showing up with their samples, you're giving them permission, you're also bringing an experience. So if it's a lot, depending on if it's appropriate, you might bring a bottle of champagne. You guys want to crack it now while we're going through all of these amazing things that we're looking at? Do you want to take it home with you? Actually, I brought two bottles. Let's open one now.
Okay, so whatever works, but they're feeling pampered. And it might not be booze, y'all. I happen to like wine and Prosecco and all of those fun things. So I do I bring the party. But if that's not appropriate, or if it's not the case for you, if it's not in line with your brand, then do you want flat or sparkling water? Make it fancy. Would you like a lemon with that? Whatever works for you. It's also going to be in line with the overall project size. Hell, we've done Bloody Mary bars and Mimosa bars when it's a big project. Other times it's like here, here's one of those little splits. Yeah, you get that little itty bitty bottle of Prosecco that fills up your glass, maybe one and a half times. That's all this project is worth.
Okay, but it doesn't matter as long as they're still feeling treated special. Again, their favorite flowers, and then maybe give them a candle that's branded and you send it home with them. You want to shower them. They're gonna spend a bucket of money with you, the least you can do is you know, send them home with a little welcome gift.
So they're feeling pampered, they understand what the next steps are, because you just told him Okay, great, I'm going to come by we're going to talk about the details. You can tell me what you think about all the selections. And then we're going to go from there. And then we start procurement.
But that's how we do it at ML Interiors Group, not every designer does it. We make sure that they have the pricing in hand the day of their design presentation. Some designers get everything approved and then they go get pricing. Just you know, knowing that it all works out in the budget. So however you do that is up to you. They have that expectation. Then you're going to remind them again, when you sign on the dotted line approving this proposal, payment is due, so then you remind them by sending them an invoice.
So then, you're keeping them updated of what's going on after the design. We're going to be ordering everything and we're getting things in. If there's any problems with anything, I'm going to remedy it, you won't even know about it unless, you know, unless we can get a discount for that scratch that's on the back of your nightstand or whatever. So you're letting them know that the wallpaper guy is going to come over. And then we're going to do the curtains.
And so set their expectations and then check in with them on a regular basis, even if it is a 16 week lag time for a lot of your furniture these days. Let them know it's going to be 16 weeks, just a reminder. Set their expectations. Your client is experiencing incredible excitement to have their home transformed, because now they've seen what the potential is. They probably go home and they're like, Oh, I can't wait, this is terrible.
But you're setting that enthusiasm, but you're also letting them know, yeah, I'm sorry, pal, it's gonna be four or five months. And I know we just spent four or five months designing it. This is a whole year. But remember, when we very first met, I told you it could be anywhere between nine and 12 months, we're right on track. Okay, so you're just reminding them, you're giving them confidence, you're giving them the excitement and the enthusiasm. Because who knows, it might have been difficult. At this point, I'm just saying that everything's peaches and rosy, but half the time, there's always something that goes wrong.
Okay, you're even going to tell them that. So let's back up, they're like when they sign the contract, you might remind them, hey, something's bound to go wrong. Remember, we're not curing cancer, nobody is going to die in the operating room, we're cool, we'll figure it out. Let them know that you have it handled that this happens on a regular basis. Okay, and then give yourself that permission, give yourself that permission. Nobody's going to die on your shift doing a design.
It's okay, when something does go wrong, because you've already prepped them for it. Whether something goes wrong, you know, their favorite pieces out of stock, like holy cow, it was available two days ago and it's out of stock now and they're never gonna replace it. I have to find something else. It happens. You just have to continue to prepare for the worst hope for the best. Mentally prepare. Prepare yourself to deliver the best.
So you're procuring, things are coming in little by little, even at this point, they're there looking forward to hearing from you on a regular basis, even if it is everything's arriving on schedule, look forward to seeing you on such and such date when we install. Or it could be, hey, it looks like things are coming in in in two waves. I'll deliver this on such and such date and we'll wait for the rest and set another date. You're setting their expectations.
And then when the time comes for installation, whether it is you know, the whole house, the whole room, pieces all at once the whole project, whatever that project was, if it comes in at once, or if it comes in in pieces, then you're just going to make sure that you show up to your clients professional, you let them be aware of when you're going to be there. If you can, bring them that favorite latte you know they like, or ask them if they want you to stop at Starbucks. I'm going to get some coffee, do you want your chai tea latte?
So from their, their experience, even when things have spun out of control in the process, you have prepared them, you've educated them, and you've handled it like a professional. Their experience is going to be that of being pampered a little bit, had their hands held while you lead them through the process, advised them on where they should spend their money and where they should save their money, and advise them on investing in performance fabric.
All of this is going to be a positive experience if you continue to stay proactive and you don't avoid the difficult conversations by telling somebody that something is bound to go wrong all the time with a project of this size. You're also going to be kind of sussing out their behavior, for lack of a better term. Maybe that's one of your qualifying questions in advance is to find out what their reaction is like when you tell them something's gonna go wrong.
Because when you have this many moving parts, you can't control all of them. No matter how hard you try, no matter how badass you are. Not and enjoy life. It's not like you're making the furniture, okay? So just remind your client of that. So especially these days with lead times, and stock, and just all of the shippings nightmare.
So during reveal, okay, so let's say you do a big reveal. Or let's say you do a good big partial reveal, or whatever the case may be, if at all possible, make it special. Make it so it is HGTV ish, where you let him in the door, and you're recording how cool it is. I mean, you get some really badass content for Instagram, right? Is it always possible? No. Give yourself the grace to know that sometimes you just have to deliver their furniture and set it up while they're at work. And then you've got to go pick up the kid go home and have dinner on the table. And you can't be there when they come home from work or they can't leave work early to be there while you're there.
So all of these things happen. Figure it out. Tell them what to expect. Tell them it would be awesome if you could be home at four o'clock instead of at five. So that we can do this fun big reveal. Put some lipstick on before I put you on camera. Yeah, ladies, you do have to mention that to other women, right? We're gonna be filming this. So you might want to put some extra lipstick on. Maybe that's just me.
So they have their reveal. They have all this excitement. What they can expect from you next is going to be a sincere thank you. Okay, I'm asking for a referral asking for a testimonial. You should be giving them any sort of documentation that you have on their items. Now I'm not talking about receipts, y'all. I am not talking about receipts. But if you have the appliance owner's manual, put it in a cute little binder and hand it to them. Okay, if you have cleaning products for the rug from Basie, make sure they get that, put it all in a cute little package and maybe put a bottle of Prosecco or something in there. Again, whatever is appropriate.
And then, what can they expect after? Like, how do you stay in touch with your clients? Here's some things to think about. And then I'm going to wrap up because I respect your time, and I think I've probably talked quite a bit. Some things that you can do, you know, send them holiday cards. It doesn't have to be Christmas, doesn't have to be at the end of the year. Maybe you send them Valentine's Day cards. I loved working with you. I'd love referrals or whatever.
Maybe do like realtors do and send them something for every holiday that's just little. Realtors are the best at that. Or maybe you send them a birthday card, or send their children something for graduation. It depends on the client. It depends on you, y'all. In all honesty, like part of the reason why I don't lead the designs at ML Interiors Group anymore is because I'm not that great at relationships in the long run.
But it's important as a designer that you find what works for you. See, I'm just an introvert. That's why I love podcasts. I guess I'm talking to myself or just one other person. But don't let that fool you. We can fake it till we make it.
The point is, is that you want to go ahead and continue relationship with them. It's not like you want to be a stalker and respond to every single Instagram post that they have. But you don't want them to forget you when somebody at a cocktail party is saying, oh my gosh, my house is a wreck bla bla bla bla bla. You don't want them to think Oh, I know. But mine is so nice. You want them to think oh my gosh, you need to call Michelle. She'll fix it for you. Okay, that's what you want them to do. That's what you want your clients to experience after you're complete.
So you want them to experience the sheer pleasure of tooting your horn to their friends and family. Because you made it such a delight from that initial qualifying call all the way through installation and beyond.
Oh, that was a lot. That was a lot. Let's see. If you guys are not already. Come on over to the Interior Designers Business Launchpad on Facebook. Yeah, I know. It's Facebook. It's not my favorite platform either. But I'm just there for business. So come on over to the Interior Designers Business Launchpad. I go live once a week and have little snippets of training. And the community itself is badass. I'm really, really encouraged by how much are our group lifts each other up.
And finally, if you're looking for a paid program, Interior Design Business Bakery is my one year long program. And we go into the nuts and bolts of how to run your interior design business. So we talk about this entire process from the designers perspective. Okay, not just the client experience, but a lot of the nuggets that I gave you, we really dive down into, and unpack them and provide this experience for your clients.
It keeps you organized, it keeps your projects organized. It keeps your clients organized and raving reviews for you. There's amazing community of supportive designers in The Bakery as well. I call it The Bakery because it's the recipe for your business. So if you want more information, it's over on my website designedforthecreativemind.com, and it's called The Bakery.
So I'd love to see you in the Launchpad or in The Bakery. Also, I would love a review wherever you're listening to this podcast. It really does help to boost our ratings. So thank you in advance, and I will be back soon. And look forward to connecting with you. Say hello wherever you see me.