“Customer service, yadda, yadda, yadda”. We hear this over and over again, to the point where, frankly, we’re tired of it. It’s all just words until you EXPERIENCE it! It’s not just a myth; it actually exists. You get it by hiring design professionals.
Customer v. Client
First, I would like to make a distinction between customer and client. There are many, many discussions on this topic but here is my take-away: A customer is a person who is purchasing either a service or a product that is already made, or ready-to-go without the opportunity to engage or change too much. When you walk into a restaurant, you order from a menu. You don’t order a meal they have never made before. When you buy a shirt, you select from the existing options. You don’t get to customize the fabric and style and fit.
A client, on the other hand, engages the services of a professional in order to fulfill their unique and particular wants and needs. It really is a special arrangement and can include an on-going engagement involving all of the professional artists, woodworkers, flooring, contractors etc.that the designer or architect has in their crayon box.
When a client hires us, they are hiring a complete and highly experienced team, a design history that we can share with our new client in the present. We have created countless proposals, sat in endless meetings, frequented trade shows and attended industry professional seminars. Most of us did not get the luxury of being paid to do those events. We did them for our own education so our clients can engage us in making their ideas into the best environment anyone could possibly imagine. Our clients get the benefit of hundreds of thousands of hours of sweat, drawings, meetings, installations, change orders, custom color samples, and the passion and drive most of us possess. Having said that, I am a firm believer that a great client is not qualified to know what they want or need (qualified is the key word here). Our job is not to carry out their orders, but to listen and interpret their thoughts, likes, dislikes, dreams and passions into their dream environment. Otherwise they may as well shop at the box stores. We help them think and live outside the big box (stores).
In the end whether you call them a customer, a client or something else, what we design professionals dream of are people who care and know what it is to be treated with a special experience and respect. So I say let’s seek out clients, and try to convert customers to clients by any means. This is our industry and we are responsible for how we appear to the community.
Years ago I had the distinct privilege to answer an RFP (Request for Proposal) and went to a boutique hotel in California to install a sample hotel room. Without going in to too much detail, it was being built to accommodate the traveling business customer on extended stays. Our client wanted the utmost in look and feel in Arts and Crafts without too much added cost. It was a Craftsman-style look with clean lines and flat frame and panel doors. We were competing against the top players, and we were the smallest one trying to break into the industry.
During the install of the sample room there was to be an entourage of 15 executives from corporate headquarters to inspect. We were to explain our installations, and show the samples to them. I told my crew that since we were in the hospitality industry, everyone was a potential client and to treat them accordingly. We were unloading the truck, blocking traffic, running fast and using their elevators. During that time, an older man in grey jogging sweats wanted to get on the elevator. He was unshaven, sweaty and dirty, and appeared to be homeless. My men stepped aside, pullied back their furniture dollies, pushed the up button for the gentleman, and on his way he went. Then we did our thing and installed our room. A few hours later I met the executive team in their board room. To my surprise, the man at the end of the conference table was the man in the gray sweats. He was also the man who owned not just this hotel, but several major hotel chains. As soon as he saw me and saw our work, he said to his entire entourage of architects, attorneys, hospitality executives, purchasing CFO’s, FFE executives, “Give those fellas the contract.”
Gerry Lamanski is an internationally known professional woodworker, cabinetmaker, inventor holding numerous patents and artist. In his 30 years in the design community he has designed and built residential, commercial and hotel furniture and fixtures. His most unique projects included a secret, hidden room in a Southwest art collector’s office, professional magician’s props and the interior of Willie Nelson’s private tour bus. Renowned for his Arizona Ranch Style designs he was named one of Phoenix Home and Garden’s “Master of the Southwest” for 2014. Working from his studio in Tempe, Arizona, Gerry continues to delight and surprise the design community with his innovative and timeless designs. In his spare time he serves on an advisory committee for a non profit helping veterans and fosters for a local dog rescue group. Should you have a challenging project you can reach him through his website www.arizonaranch.com.
You have given me a new outlook on customer service. I am not a mindreader so I need to ask more questions and interview my clients to a greater extent. Thanks Gerry!