The Kitchen Industry is going through an unprecedented time.
Demand is higher than ever, and as an industry we are dealing with extended lead times, increasing prices, delays, and back orders on almost everything.
When I scroll the online professional design groups this is a top conversation in many threads.
The thing missing though, is how to deal with it from a customer service point of view.
Read on to see how you can do your part to turn the dropping level of customer service in our industry around.
I think we all agree that it is difficult to maneuver through this “new reality”.
What our businesses looked like 2 years ago is very different from what they look like today.
For most of us, it is hard to keep up with the demand and keep all the balls in the air.
For our clients, things are also very different now than they were pre-COVID.
They may have tackled a renovation or a new build in the past but things are very different today.
I really started thinking about this when I helped out in a local showroom of one of my corporate clients.
I hadn’t “worked” a showroom for a few years and was looking forward to talking with these consumers.
By the third walk-in, I started noticing something common between all the prospects.
They were all slightly agitated!
I knew this had nothing to do with the showroom, but at the time could not put my finger on it.
That evening I reflected on my day and I feel I know what was happening.
This agitation or stress was do to the “industry environment”.
My notes from my showroom day included words such as:
- Long lead times
- Too busy
- Too late
- Next year
- Not available
These were the consumers words not mine.
They were arriving at the Kitchen Showroom already feeling defeated.
This was too bad, since designing and choosing products for a Kitchen should be a highlight of a client’s project.
Based on this I feel there are things the Kitchen Designer can do to make the process more enjoyable for their client.
Yes, you need to let prospects know that the industry is busy and that we are experiencing delays, but you also need to let them know you will do everything you can to make their experience as painless as possible.
This may mean that you need to have more conversations with your suppliers to understand what is happening behind the scenes.
You also need to be honest with your clients when they want to specify something that you know could cause an issue.
A good example of this is designing grain matched wood across a long run of cabinetry. In the past you may have had unlimited supply, but today that may not be the case. Limited supply of natural veneer may make grain (and color) matching impossible.
Another thing that you can do to have your projects run smoothly is to
Keep Your Clients Informed
As stated above, there are a lot of delays and backups occurring in the industry.
Your clients however may not be aware of this.
If you know some of the hardware has been back ordered, let the client know.
I had a design client a few months ago where hardware was missing and the supplier didn’t communicate that to them.
I popped by the site to see how things were going and they mentioned several times about missing hardware. They were concerned that the hardware had been lost or stolen from the site, and that they would be responsible for replacing it.
The installer knew nothing and the cabinet supplier had not said anything.
It turned out that they had been back ordered not stolen, but it was one more thing for the client to stress over.
A simple email to the client would have alleviated this unnecessary stress point.
Remember, most clients only do this once or twice in a lifetime, and do not know what is going on behind the scene.
Take the time to inform them.
Communication is your best friend!
Along this same theme,
Follow Up with Your Clients
When it gets busy many designers tend to let Follow Up fall by the wayside.
Add in the industry chaos at the moment, it can really fall off.
This is the worst thing you can do for you and your client’s stress levels.
The designers and firms that are going to come out of the “COVID era” on top, are going to be the ones that followed up constantly with their clients.
Even though it is tough to do, it is the most important thing you can do to keep stress levels in check.
When a client emails, texts or calls you, it usually is something that is stressing them.
You need to have a process to follow up with them.
For some it can be to respond immediately even if it is to say “I don’t know exactly but I will get back to you”.
For others it can be to have an automatic response on your devices saying “I am unavailable at the moment but will return your call/text/message by the end of the day”.
Another approach is to “end” your work day early so you have time to scroll through your emails, phone messages and texts from the day and respond to them.
Again, if you do not have the answer that’s OK. Just acknowledge that you have received your client’s message and you are on it.
If you don’t respond the client starts to imagine your are ignoring them or wonder if you even got the message.
Get into a habit of never leaving correspondence from your client unanswered at the end of the day.
Leaving them to obsess about things overnight can make it worse the next morning or days later when you finally have the answer and get back to them.
I am not advocating being available 24/7.
Set your work boundaries with your client at the beginning of the project, but if it happens within those boundaries let them know you are on it.
The goal is to keep everyone’s stress levels low!
Based on my interactions with consumers and designers in the past several months I believe the best thing the industry can do is follow these three recommendations:
- Be Empathic to what your client is going through
- Keep them informed on things that are impacting their project
- Follow up with them constantly
The industry will change again and if you get in the habit of doing this now during this crazy busy time you will be set up to excel with your future clients.
Do you have some hints on how to make the client’s experience more enjoyable? Let me know in the comments.
Jan Rutgers has been designing kitchens and products for over 25 years and is a recipient of Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Top Innovators in 2020 for the Kitchen & Bath Industry. She has designed more than 1000 kitchens learning valuable skills with each one! Her experience in Kitchen Design, Millwork Manufacturing and Product Development has led her to create VESTABUL SCHOOL OF DESIGN where she educates and mentors people passionate about the Kitchen Design Industry.