A recent remodeling project of mine was located in a historic district. Therefore, all exterior changes to the house had to be approved by a local historic commission which consisted of volunteer members, some of whom were architects, history lovers and others not in the remodeling or building industry. It was not the first time I had presented before an approving body, so I had little trepidation about presenting our minor changes. In fact, I have always been told that my 3-D computer-generated presentations and accompanying documentation are very clear and help facilitate decision making.
I was sure they would let us replace 1960s casement windows with historically accurate double-hung versions. I was wrong. I received my punishment when the board denied our request. That night I went home grumbling to my wife about “those people.” Give them a little authority and they’ll run roughshod over you.
About a week went by and I saw one of the members of the historic board visiting the house for which I had done the plans. I approached him and we started chatting. He informed me that he was doing a site visit to check on the status of the project. He did not recognize me from the planning meeting and proceeded to tell me that “some guy” (me) had made an electronic presentation about the project that was too confusing for him. Huh? How could that be? I thought the presentation was perfectly clear to everyone in attendance. I lost them because I assumed that because I understand and prefer electronic presentations, everyone does. I was Wrong.
I am not going to abandon my electronic tools because some people prefer old-fashioned paper and ink drawings. However, I am going to think twice about my audience and present to them in the best medium available. Now that I think about it, I’ve always had an easy time with clients who work in the high-tech sector or those in telecommunications. I guess we were on the same page.
But the real problem with my presentation was not the medium I chose. After all, the board members are living in the 21st century just like me. They have seen and used computers before. The real problem was that I did not prepare the audience for what they were about to view. I didn’t explain why I was using the methodology I chose for my presentation. Furthermore, I didn’t ask permission to present in that format. I assumed they would understand and embrace the technology.
Often design/builders fall into this same trap. We’ve been doing business this way for years, so we forget that the client may not understand why we are conducting business in a particular way. Because they are unfamiliar with the process, they may shut down and make no decision, or worse yet, terminate the relationship. But if we provide a clear road map of the process, we are setting up clear expectations for the client. Therefore, they are prepared for what is going to happen to them, their home and their bank account.
It’s not easy educating new clients on our systems. We have plenty to do without that extra obligation. But if we start the educational process from the very first contact with the client, they will gladly follow our system. It provides them with comfort, control and peace of mind. If someone is entrusting you with their most valuable asset — their home — they want to know what you are doing, why you are doing it and how it affects them. So go ahead and tell them. You’ll be glad you did.