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Ensuring Client Satisfaction During the Outdoor Design Process
There are many different aspects of the outdoor design process that give the client confidence in the ability to receive the outdoor design of their dreams and exceed their expectations when the work is complete. Each step of the outdoor design process keeps the client involved and informed which allows for the use of the designer’s expertise to create the vision the client created. At DeShayes Residential Resort Design we feel good customer service starts and ends with communication. Getting to know your clients, keeping them involved, and always keeping their best interest in mind will almost always lead to a beautifully done project and a completely satisfied customer.
Here are some key fundamental concepts to ensure your client is engaged and satisfied in the end without any surprises.
Listening & Note Taking - Most customers will voice their needs and concerns about their upcoming outdoor design project, so be sure to listen and take extensive notes at your first meeting and to review those notes when you get back to your office. Try to note additional items they may have spoken of that you didn’t get a chance to write down. It also helps to think of additional items that previous clients had or asked about when you worked on similar projects.
Value Assessment and Spatial Relationships - From the notes, a list of items and spaces can be compiled in spread sheet form. Each item (i.e. master plans, outdoor kitchen, custom pool, playset, driveway or backyard basketball court, gazebo, fences or gates, custom putting green, custom tennis court, landscape design, etc. ) will have a minimum and maximum budget assessed to it. For example, a gazebo could be a minimum of $3,000 and a maximum of $30,000. Some clients may say “I didn’t think it would cost $3,000!” and decide that the value isn’t there. Others may say, “I love gazebos and I would be willing to spend $30,000 or more.” In addition to the client items, other items with budgets that would need to be done with those items will be added to the spreadsheet. For example, an outdoor kitchen with an inset grill and a sink would require a gas line, water line, electric line, and sewer line; these additional items would have minimum and maximum budgets as well. Additional items would be added to the list that other clients with similar projects have requested, like music or mood lighting. Finally, the last item would be 20% of the total of the budget numbers for owner adds and changes, this adds a good buffer for new ideas or changes without going way off budget. Now the client can see the budgeted cost for all items and options involved in their project and asses their own value to those items to decide what will be part of the design and what will be omitted. This process forms the overall budget for the project to be designed. Ultimately, the client determines their own budget.
It is important to note that each element of an outdoor design requires a certain amount of space. These areas can be arranged in many ways on a property and each relate to the other in different ways. Keeping the client involved in the layout is detrimental in creating their vision. They could have all of the items they want, but if they aren’t set up the way that they were envisioning, it will seem like the designer does not have their best interest in mind. So, to determine the general layout, several different spatial relationship drawings are presented to the client to define optimal arrangements of the spaces for the development & presentation of several conceptual designs in 3D.
Conceptual Design – Thus far, the client has been completely involved and guided through the budget process and basic general layout of the project. They have determined a budget they are comfortable with and the general arrangement of the spaces that they would like to have designed. Two or three conceptual designs in 3D are now created and presented for client review. For us, a virtual tour on a large 50” screen allows the client to virtually walk through their design and see it at multiple different angles and times of day - even at night. An explanation of design principles used is given so the client can make sound design decisions guaranteeing a proper design that incorporates their personal preference and tastes.
Final Design & Costs – Notes taken from the presentation of the conceptual are used to formulate a final design. The final design is presented in 3D along with a plant list complete with plant pictures. The project is broken into components and costs are given. At this point, the client knows exactly what things will look like and exactly what they will cost. The only decision now is to get the work done all at the same time or in phases, all the while knowing just what it will look like. This helps to avoid dreaded “I didn’t know it would look like that!” moment.
Complete & Transparent Information/Schedule & Weekly Updates – This is where you stand out in the process!
When the outdoor design process moves to construction, all of the drawings, pictures, material & labor lists given to the client are also on hand at the office for project management and given to the job foreman for his on-site job records. This way, everyone is on the same page and the vision of the client is an ensured outcome. The client is also given a job schedule and completion date. Weekly updates are supplied while the job is in progress. The updates outline what has already been done, what will be done that week, and what is going to be done the following week, along with any special instructions for the client like keeping their cars out of the driveway or not walking on the grass. In addition, any changes to the schedule due to the weather or change orders are immediately e-mailed to the client. Each client has the designers cell phone number giving them 24/7 access to for any questions or concerns that may arise in the duration of the project.
These key elements to our outdoor design process help to create complete customer satisfaction, in our case, were developed over our 35 years in business. These elements have evolved and have been tweaked the entire time to meet the growing client demands and technologies of the time. For successful outdoor design projects as a designer and builder, your process should factor in components of this workflow and continue to evolve with the advent of new and better technology with the goal to continue to improve the process to guarantee that the clients always see their vision come to life. As previously stated, good customer service begins and ends with communication, so always remember the three “I’s”- keep them involved, keep them informed, and always keep their best interest in mind.
© 2016 DeShayes Residential Resort Design