I had the opportunity to work with a remodeling company’s design staff a while ago. The company was very busy, and as a result the designers were being pulled between the company’s desire to have them do more work and clients who required more time to make decisions.

How could the designers feel more in control and be more likely to have solid successes with these clients? How could designer use their  time more effectively? How could their stress be reduced? How could the designers become more efficient and productive?

Here are some of the suggestions I offered:

  • Establish rules clearly and up front about the working relationship with the client. It is best to do this referencing all the problems that the designer has encountered in the past, saying when doing so, “I’m not saying this is what will happen when we work together but …” and filling in whatever is of concern that the designer wants to avoid.
  • Set clear expectations about how to communicate. Address with the client the preferred method of communicating, be it email or phone or text.
  • Agree a schedule for meetings and the client’s availability in general. Doing this early in the relationship enables all involved to feel better served as they work together.
  • The designer should establish clear boundaries with the client regarding her availability for meetings and for responding to communications. Here is what it might sound like: “Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. I will be totally focused on my design responsibilities. After 5 p.m. I will be refreshing myself so that I can be available for you the next day. So, if you leave me a message/send an email in the evening and don’t hear back from me right away, be assured I will get back to you the next day.”
  • Have a clear handoff of responsibility from the salesperson to the designer. Set a procedure for doing this. Use that procedure for any department-to-department transfer of information and responsibility. And ALWAYS follow the procedure.
  • Train the client to communicate more efficiently by having the designer bring the client’s printed-out emails to each meeting. This showing clients we are addressing their concerns. Check off things in the emails as they have been dealt with. Having the printed emails on the table also helps clients see how many emails/text messages they sent. They will more likely try to restrain themselves after this if they see a huge pile of pages.
  • Address with the salesperson how the client’s personality might affect the amount of time that would likely be needed for the project. Any preliminary budget offered to the client must include the cost of the time that this specific client will need for decision-making and hand-holding during the design and construction processes.

Thanks to Greg Harth of Harth Builders for asking me to spend some time on the phone with his designers. And thanks to Ellen Wise and Cindy Aman, Harth’s designers, who prepared the notes which I used as the basis for this article.  

By adopting these pretty simple steps the designers were able to feel better about the work they are doing and to provide their clients with a more predictable process. Don’t the people working at your company deserve the same?