Communication, Compromise Key to Pleasing Clients

I live in a new development that was featured in last year's Parade of Homes. The kitchens and baths are all "tricked out" with some of the latest products, and many of the homes were sold on impulse during the Parade.

One of my neighbors bought her house not even a year ago, so I had to ask "why" when she came over recently and told me she was redoing her kitchen. Her reason? What she thought she wanted was really what she didn't want. The sink and range weren't in the right place. She wanted a different type of vent, and didn't like the wine cooler and bar, etc. I said, "But you knew that when you bought it." Her reply was – and remember this, it's important – "I didn't know what I wanted."

This illustrates that communication is the most important thing in customer satisfaction. And, here, this lady is telling people about a kitchen she hates, instead of something she loves.

As dealers and designers, you should know having satisfied customers is crucial to any successful marketing plan. This begins with listening to what clients want, what they believe they want and what they hate, figuring out what they really need based on their answers and melding it all into one design that meets clients' needs and wants.

Listening to clients will go a long way in satisfying them, creating good word-of-mouth marketing, obtaining referrals from them, and maybe even getting them to write testimonials for your marketing materials or act as references for other potential clients.

Listen First

Ever watch HGTV? It has a show called Designer's Challenge. Occasionally the show will select a home that needs a new kitchen, and, per the format, three different designers present ideas to the owners. They then choose one idea and have the kitchen installed.

I watched a recent episode where a couple had a 1960s kitchen. The couple wanted it to be more contemporary, in keeping with the style of the house where some renovation had already been done. The couple also wanted kitchen cabinetry with see-through fronts and a hardwood floor to blend with the room adjacent to the kitchen.

Two of the designers encouraged the couple to consider something other than hardwood floors because of their small children and the possibility of spills. Additionally, they suggested solid fronts, pointing out the fact that glasses and dishes wouldn't always have to be neatly stacked.

Those two designers' plans had either tile or another type of resistant material for the floor and either solid fronts or opaque glass. The third designer laid out a hardwood floor and put in see-through cabinet doors. Guess which designer the couple picked?

The couple picked the designer with the plans for a hardwood floor, and expressed how thrilling it was to have something they'd dreamed about become a reality. Then they went to pick out materials.

The first thing the designer did was talk to them about flooring. She already had the job, but told them that, although hardwood would match the other floor, they'd be better off with another type. She suggested cork, and the couple agreed. Then she suggested opaque glass for the cabinets. She took the owners to see samples, and they loved it. So, although the finished product was not completely like the initial design, the customers were thoroughly satisfied.

Customer Communication

In other words, sometimes customers don't always tell us what they really want or need. I think if dealers and designers found out a little more about their customers first, they could give themselves a better marketing edge, and, ultimately, create more business. I stressed this in my program at this year's K/BIS.

If a couple comes in to talk to you about a new kitchen, they'll tell you about other cabinets, countertops and appliances. Follow up by asking what they've seen that they truly liked. Then, just say: "Wow, that's great. Why haven't you gotten it?" And, if you wait for your clients to respond, they'll tell you what you must do to sell them a new kitchen.

If an objection comes up, think twice before trying to answer. Responding with "Oh?" or "Why's that?" will get them talking more freely, and they might start describing actual likes and dislikes.

In the end, this approach will afford you clients who are satisfied, and who get a warm, fuzzy feeling when they look at their new kitchen or bath. The warm, fuzzy feelings of satisfaction will then translate into invaluable marketing tools when clients begin to talk about you to friends and family in relation to their new kitchen or bath.

Getting back to K/BIS, I don't know if I ran into you in Las Vegas, but I must say the show was something else this year. Vegas was certainly a different venue from Chicago or Orlando. Long lines seemed to be everywhere, getting a taxi could be a really trying experience, and the traffic was simply awful at times. But the show itself was terrific.

I have to apologize for the NKBA for the lack of communication regarding the program I did during the show. After writing about the program in a few previous columns, they put "Looking Inside Your Customer's Brain" on Wednesday morning on the HGTV Pro center stage instead of the educational sessions. This was done without noting the change in the directory or show programs, and it was difficult, at best, for people to find the area, including myself.

Because of the set-up, I presented in front of a working kitchen, although I don't cook. I do, however, have a heck of a kitchen in my home. So, I talked about how I purchased it, and about other kitchens I've purchased when remodeling homes for resale, and how selling to people like me can be very easy – if, once again, listening is made top priority, with the intent of creating satisfied customers that become marketing mouthpieces for your work.

I'm sorry if I missed you in Las Vegas. My thanks to all of the people I saw in the aisles, and to those who came to my session.

And, remember, listening to clients is crucial to successful marketing!

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