Reality Check: The Best Interior Designers Study Customer Experience

by CASUDI (Caroline) Di Diego

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Home can be a very emotional place for many of us.

So residential design can be a challenge. If you have an interior designer help you design your home, then that person carries quite a bit of responsibility!

I know many interior designers who execute really cool designs for home and office…. But too many times I hear what an unhappy experience it was – from start to end – for both designer and client! It’s not always about the end product. It’s high time for the total customer experience to be included in interior design educational curriculum.

Like I said in my last post: How the Best Web Designers Pass the Customer Experience Exam, the best designers deliver the complete package.

My second career track has long time been in architectural design. So I’ll share three key but basic questions I ask myself when designing a home that allows me to provide a positive customer experience for my clients. The design project should be a fun collaborative experience! We want the result to be a home designed for a successful lifestyle for both play and work, and to delight the homeowner for as long as they live there.

1. Do I understand the “lifestyle” of my client?

I hear designers say: “these clients have no clue what they want or need, and there is no reality between what the client wants and what their budget is!” (Budget to be covered in #3)

This is what I start with: I profile my customer’s lifestyle by doing a “day in the life of”, with a similar mindset as to how I profile a customer who visits a website I design. If the home is for a family I’ll do this with each member, and maybe include both work and play flow diagrams as to how the house will be used over a period of years (children grow!).

Example: One client perfectly outlined every activity for all the family members and beautifully described room by room on the house plan. I later found out that this was the “fantasy” lifestyle she dreamed about, and had no resemblance to her daily reality!

Best Interior Designers
My kitchen was designed for several things, including “team cooking” which is why I have extra space between the sink and island.

Fortunately, by continuing to dig, I caught this in time and we designed a home that works for the family’s actual living style.

Everyone knows that a house has a dining room and a living room, but what if the family never dines together and instead opts to eat around the kitchen center island? What if the traditional living room never gets used? What if one shifts gears and creates a “computer lifestyle room” where the family that computes together stays together?

Just because “it’s always been designed that way” doesn’t mean it fits the new Apple / Tesla lifestyle 2013. (So don’t forget the charging stations, including in the garage!)

2. Does my client understand the different players on the project team?

Whether designing a house or a company, your team ultimately makes you successful. In some projects there can be as many as 15 or 20 subcontractors or trades such as structural engineers, acousticians, electricians, plumbers, framers, roofers, finish carpenters, painters, and those who deliver and assemble the furnishings, art and accessories.

Example: A client we took over part way through a project was expecting completion by Christmas. The contractor had not explained the complexity and number of players (perhaps did not understand this himself), so the client’s expectation was totally unrealistic.

I quickly laid out a simple spreadsheet to show who does what, when….which indicated (by my computation) completion realistically by Christmas……..a year later! And we came in on time.

Understanding the scope of work allows the client to follow along (I have seen some interior designers who manage their own projects and who may not like this, as it shows the client when things go off track!) I enjoy the collaborative aspect of sharing the process, although many of our clients are too busy, and happy to leave the project management totally in our hands. But having everything taken care of seamlessly in the client absence is also a wonderful experience – just be honest with the client.

3. Does my client understand what they want has a corresponding budget?

This is the issue I hear about almost the most. Budgets.

Example:  “But if I’m clear about the real costs, I might lose my client before we even get started!” That’s a recipe for problems and unhappiness on both sides, even before the project reaches a conclusion.

So what does it take to get on the same page with your client on all aspects of the budget, as well as trying to anticipate changes before or as and when they occur? And remain on the same page even when an architectural & interior design project is well over six figures?

First: Clarifying the design at the get-go. Look, review, change and approve. We use (and have for years) SketchUp (quick and easily read 3D drawings), or photoshop (before/proposed/after) to show the client what everything will look like, so there will be fewer surprises with the final result. The design is approved and signed off before the project starts. This saves money and time and disputes later and equates to a great customer experience.

Include the design fees and the team: Are the design fees hidden in the markup of subcontractors, trades, or billed as a separate item (retainer or billed by the hour in additional to the materials?) Explain who does what and when (as in #2 above) and disclose the actual costs of the subcontractors with an agreed markup.

Bottom line? Allow no assumption about cost on either side and make changes in budget clear immediately when they occur especially during the larger, very customized projects.

Collaborating, learning, understanding the lifestyle and having fun doing it, is winning the customer experience game.

Every time your client walks into their home, they will love it!

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CASUDI (Caroline) Di Diego

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