I didn't plan on writing about this topic, I haven't thought about it much at all recently. I don't currently have any conflicts with clients, all is quiet on the eastern front. To set the scene even more oddly, I was out in the quiet early morning taking pictures of my incredible delphiniums in the garden with just the birds as my companions, when these thoughts started creeping into my head. Truthfully, it's an issue I've cared very much about for years.
So, I got to thinking out in the garden about conflicts between clients and their kitchen designers this morning. And, this will not be about how kitchen designers are so wonderful and well, misunderstood. I won't go down that biased and defensive road. Objectivity is my goal.
I'm going to go backwards, take the negative feeling and try to offer up ways out of it.
The one thing I will say is that what makes a kitchen and bath designer, "professional", besides our experience and expertise, is the way we handle stress, find solutions for problems, and so forth, to a point. It's not about the problem, it's how the problem is handled!
And, as always, I will be speaking very frankly, below...(oh no, they groan, not AGAIN, please, for all that is sacred...) I will be speaking to clients and to kitchen designers, my peers.
Clients - Be prepared for annoyances. You cannot do a remodeling project without being annoyed at something, or someone, sometime. At least I don't think it's possible. Annoyances here and there are ok. The alternative, nightmares, make annoyances seem like a walk in the park. After a nightmare, you'll be looking under rocks for annoyances! Keep that in perspective and do not make an annoyance more than it is. Speak of the annoyance if it could potentially grate on your last nerve? Absolutely. You must. Annoyances? They come and go, not a biggie.
Kitchen Designers - are allowed to be annoyed, it's a human emotion. Being a professional, however, means keeping annoyances in perspective, dealing with them, and stress, quickly, or overlooking them where appropriate. This includes clients, suppliers, coworkers, whoever, with annoying habits. I have had clients where every conversation, even about something quick and small, can be 20 minutes, as the client goes on tangent after tangent. A needless disruption in my day when I got the point immediately? No doubt. Am I very happy that the client feels comfortable with me to go on and on? I really and truly am. Find the good. It's there. Look at the bigger picture. Are you annoying? Ask your coworkers. You need to know.
Clients - If your kitchen designer is a human being, there is a real possibility that a mistake will be made somewhere. Doesn't mean it will happen. But figure it might and you're prepared. Gauge how serious the mistake is to determine your response, if any. Stop, think, evaluate and then reevaluate a response. Are you in any way responsible? If so, take whole or partial responsibility! What you want is peace and harmony, not conflict. If you're in constant blame/paranoia mode, your remodeling experience will be misery. Be aware of mood swings and your ability to handle stress. Self awareness will get you through the entire process. There are tough times in the best of projects! Oh, and let me also say this. It is absolutely not unusual that a mistake makes for a better solution than was originally planned. That has a funny way of happening sometimes, so please be open to solutions and you just may be rewarded with something better than expected!
Kitchen Designers - Again, there are many people on a project who can make a mistake including yourself/myself. Deal with it professionally and quickly and move on. Speed is everything and is often where we fall short. Mistakes should be handled as an urgent matter to resolve. People's lives are disrupted enough in this process. They want and deserve progress in a timely manner. Get tools such as a camera, voice recorder, software, plain daytimer, etc. to have an organized way to note details. It's all about details and documenting those details, and then, getting things done!
Clients - Understand that, although you may have a fairly close, enjoyable relationship with your kitchen designer, the designer has other clients and other obligations and cannot always respond to your request immediately. The contract you sign should be for specific materials and services. If you desire more services and materials, please be prepared to pay for same. Sometimes, in fact, often, in a spirit of goodwill, a designer will go above and beyond what is written on the contract or invoices, but this should not be assumed. Abide by a company's policies and what you have agreed to on paper. Anything that happens beyond that is good fortune for you, but is not to be expected.
Kitchen Designers - We cannot control everything. Our clients have their own agendas and short of factory deadlines, our job is to cater to their agendas and timing, as they arise, not ours. We serve their needs, not vice versa. It means that we need to take seriously what their needs, desires, and issues are. Our clients are entitled to good service, end of story regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, sex, age, physical disabilities and yes, even difficult behavioral issues.
Clients - I had a client not too long ago who gave disrespect a new name. This client was arrogant, difficult, miserable, well, I won't go on. Another was purely sexist. Be careful about that. The response of the professional you hired will most likely be that they will shut down emotionally (yes, we care deeply about our projects more than you will ever know!) and honor their contract in its most minimal way to hurridly get out of the bad karma abode. When I had these clients, I went into "self satisfaction" mode. I wanted the kitchen to be done the right way, so I disregarded this (continual) abuse and sort of worked on the kitchen for ME...and I did go above and beyond, as noted above, but for my personal satisfaction. That worked for me, but I'm not sure how common this approach is. Don't be disrespectful. Just don't. If you have a spouse who is, please speak to them about it. You're really doing yourself more harm than good. If there is a real issue, talk about it.
Kitchen Designers - Designers' preoccupation with our clients' socioeconomic status, judgments on how they live and ensuing (dis)respect can be intertwined and confused and has no place in the design service business. Satisfaction is there in abundance for any designer working with smaller budgets, whose kitchens mean the world to their clients and for bigger budgets where design satisfaction is equally attractive. People have needs to be met, and they trust us to put aside our "issues" to help them achieve their goals. By us accepting their money, they deserve our respect and attention.
Clients - Are your kitchen designer's prices too high? Compared to who? In truth, there really is no easy way to compare a business's operating costs, or their own perception of value, vs. what region of the country they are in, how much time is involved behind the scenes, quality control steps, who else is involved in the transaction, office workers or sub contractors, handmade vs. manufactured, and on and on. And, on. So many factors go into setting pricing, including, interestingly, confidence, or lack thereof. Likewise, industry experience, and lack thereof. And, let's not forget the level of risk involved in various methods of executing a purchase that the client is unaware of. Someone may take two times longer to delve into a greater level of detail surrounding a purchase than someone else. Do not assume the worst because the price you get is not what you think it "should" be. Accept it and either take it or do not take it, leaving judgment behind.
Kitchen Designers - Know your costs, your risks, and other factors, to evaluate the least costly way possible to deliver a product to a client. Be consistent, speak frankly about costs and above all, document all costs including estimates. Never order an item without written consent, otherwise your clients are not responsible if they changed their mind midstream, but you didn't "hear" it or they neglected to tell you. Badger your clients with details and documentation if necessary.
The Blame Game - It's Your Fault!
Clients - This is really tricky. You blame the kitchen designer. The kitchen designer blames the installer who blames the contractor who blames the architect, and on and on. This is a tough one. Some professionals refuse to play this game. That doesn't mean that they are accepting the blame, it just means that they don't play. Take everything you hear from everyone with a mountain of salt, even your most trusted tradespeople, and focus instead on how to solve the problem at hand. Unless you, the client, are a remodeling professional and were at the scene of the crime at the moment it happened, you really don't know what happened and why. I cannot overstate this advice to move to more productive and positive territory as quickly as possible. Who needs the aggravation? Keep your wits and your head about you. But, beware that job dynamics are always at play for various reasons. Stay above the fray.
Kitchen Designers - Do the right thing, take the time to go through the job with all of the appropriate people, and all should go smoothly. Do not allow room for misunderstandings, as the devil is in the details and the client deserves to have input on their investment. Be objective. Accept responsibility where necessary. Take the high road even if you suspect you are being blamed on occasion or continually. Are you the outsider on the project? Just do your job in a professional manner and do not go down this negative road for any reason.
Much of the above is about communication and interpretation. Our past experiences, our family and business culture can surely cause us to speak to one another in different ways, ways that each assumes the other understands. There are project "dynamics" present in every project swirling about, usually unnoticed or misunderstood. So, the saying "What we have here is a lack of communication" is probably one of the issues at hand when a conflict arises. So, what to do?
Here are five suggestions for both clients and kitchen designers:
Communicate clearly, ask questions were necessary
See the other side
Accept responsibility partially or wholly
Be motivated to get along
Respect your designer/client
Do not allow your project "culture" to deteriorate, work toward a positive experience with all concerned, you will be glad you did. Find the good.
I hope this has helped bring further understanding to what absolutely can be a truly enjoyable experience. I guarantee it!