Ask for a referral. A lot of people never even ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get it. Be sure to ask for a referral.
As part of my series about the five things a business should do to create a Wow! customer experience, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pamela Durkin. Pamela has been a professional interior designer for more than 25 years. She is located in one of the wealthiest parts of the country, Naples, FL, which also has the highest concentration of interior designers per square mile. Pamela’s success is built on creating a memorable, personable and high touch customer experience for her clients. In an effort to share her knowledge, she has written a book, Elevate! Take Your Design Business From the Ground Floor to the Penthouse and started a coaching program to bring these techniques to other designers all across the country.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Believe it or not, I was raised on a horse farm growing up. The value of hard work, ethics, showing up on time, doing what you say you are going to do, attention to detail, the power of please and thank you and the notion that you always leave something better than you found it is ingrained in everything I do. Now, I am in the high-touch, luxury business of interior design in one of the wealthiest parts of the country. Naples, FL also has the highest concentration of interior designers per square mile. We are literally, “a dime a dozen”. With so many choices, standing out and creating customer experiences are vital to thriving in this demographic.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Well, I wouldn’t call this “funny” but this is certainly a lesson that has stuck with me, even to this day. When I was working on my first commercial office job in New York City, I learned the Unions require all the electrical be a separate part of the furniture, so they can claim this work and take these items off the truck. For that reason, the office cubicles we supplied had to have the electrical parts shipped separately. Unfortunately, I forget to order any of the electrical! All the cubicles arrived without any power. It’s really hard to work in an office without a place to plug in. That was about a 10K dollars oops on my part. I was mortified. I thought I would lose my job. Fortunately, my company was understanding enough that I got to keep my job and the situation was rectified quickly.
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that? My biggest take away was that some of the best lessons you learn are from mistakes you have personally made. Even though that was a hard situation for me to be in, I never made that mistake again. When you make a mistake in your business, there can be a silver lining, if you learn from it and make adjustments.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Honestly, I have to attribute my success to my husband, Bryan. He has been studying different marketing and customer service techniques for over 15 years. He was constantly trying to get me to think like a marketer and a salesperson, which I denied (I’m not a marketer or a salesperson, I am a designer!) for a long time. I finally realized that these were the skills I needed to take my business to a whole new level. Once I decided to become a student of these techniques, my business soared. So, to my dear husband Bryan, thank you, thank you for pushing me, teaching me, and believing in my abilities to create amazing experiences and spaces for my clients! 💗
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. This might be intuitive, but I think it’s helpful to specifically articulate it. In your words, can you share a few reasons why great customer service and a great customer experience is essential for success in business?
We’ve entered an age of de-personalization. We can order everything and anything from Amazon, we prefer to text rather than talk and we like to be behind our computers instead of out and about. I understand why — the world is a cranky place right now and honestly, you need to insulate yourself from a lot of the crap or else it will eat you up. BUT, people still want to feel heard, want to feel significant, and want to feel appreciated. That can be realized through amazing customer service with high touchpoints.
We have all had times either in a store, or online, when we’ve had a very poor experience as a customer or user. If the importance of a good customer experience is so intuitive, and apparent, where is the disconnect? How is it that so many companies do not make this a priority?
Many companies are a little caught up in what’s in it for them. They are so anxious and excited to “tell” a client about their product and why it’s so amazing, they fail to listen to what the client actually needs. If the listen carefully, they can tailor their response and approach and address how their product or service will help solve that problem.
Do you think that more competition helps force companies to improve the customer experience they offer?
Yes, when there are more choices for customers in your market, you need to work harder to stand out.
Are there other external pressures that can force a company to improve the customer experience?
I think the state of the economy forces companies to improve their customer service. When times are good, there is less focus on creating this experience because the influx of new customers is steady.
Can you share with us a story from your experience about a customer who was “Wowed” by the experience you provided?
I was hired to design a home for a client whom I had meant once. My process is to have a Q&A session after being hired to delve deeper into more specifics on what a client likes and how they want their home to support them. My questions are designed to get the client to open up. We spoke for about 45 minutes and then she planned to come into town a few weeks later. When she arrived at a local showroom, I had pulled a series of materials together for her based on our call. It was a physical representation of the overall look and feel for the project. She walked in the door and immediately looked at the concept for her home. She was blown away and loved everything. She remarked how intuitive I had been in choosing materials that truly reflected her in every way. We literally hit the ground running and approved materials to be used in her home that day. For my “Ideal Client”, a wealthy, busy entrepreneur, this is a golden service — time is money and they know it and appreciate others who feel this way, too. So, you’ve got to know your client and then meet them where they are at and then give them what they really need.
Did that Wow! experience have any long-term ripple effects?
Absolutely! She went onto to completely renovate her home, increasing the scope as the project went on. Her trust in me was absolute. Since then, she has referred to many other clients to me. When a client refers you to one of their good friends, there is no better way to create a quick and natural trust than that! From that experience, the builder realized what an asset it was to have a designer come in who could quickly and accurately assess a client and a project.
Can you share the story?
I have received many referrals from the client and at least (10) referrals and gotten (7) large jobs from that builder. I am a big believer in putting your valuable time and efforts into high payoff activities. Leveraging vendor partners is a great way to get a steady stream of client referrals with just a few contacts that you get to know really well.
Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience. Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Be approachable and accessible. I am very real and down to earth when working with my clients. Design is a magical and intimidating field to a lot of consumers. Even captains of the industry often feel a little bit out of their element when talking about creative endeavors. We create the spaces together and I’ve found they really appreciate that.
Example: We break down our projects into chunks so that it is an extremely efficient use of time, is manageable and enjoyable for the client. Each phase is clearly defined in our onboarding documents so that the client knows upfront, before they hire us, what to expect and when. We take a high-level approach in the beginning and then start dialing in the details as we go. Clients are fully part of the process and buy into each phase with an approval. It makes the whole experience fun as opposed to stressful.
2. Affluent clients do not like to feel like they are being taken advantage of financially. I take the time to explain the pros and cons of our choices so they can make the best decision for them. I don’t take their final decision personally; I know I have given them the information they need and they are smart enough to choose what works for them.
Example: Not every item in a space needs to be elaborate or expensive. I think projects should have ‘Wow’ details strategically placed to move your eye throughout a home. Each space will have some high-end and mid-range price point elements. This combination creates some magical memory points which make a space exciting. I always advocate that clients spend the money in places where they will get the most enjoyment!
3. You can never listen or communicate too much. It sounds simple enough but it is amazing how many companies have forgotten this basic concept. The spaces I work on are deeply personal to my clients and making them feel heard and keeping in touch with them all the steps of the way creates a bond like no other!
Example: We have a regular communication schedule with our existing clients and reach out once a week, regardless of whether or not there is something to report. They appreciate hearing from us before they feel the need to contact us for an update. We demonstrate that they are important and that we are on top of their project. This gives them a lot of peace of mind, which is huge.
4. Meet them where they are at. You cannot expect a potential client to understand your business, why it is valuable, or even why they need you. It is your job as a business owner to educate and assess a client throughout the process. It is so helpful to understand what they really need, why they need it now, and how you can deliver that product/service the best way.
Example: We use a series of questions when first contacted by a potential client. It tells us where their education level is in terms of the design process (Have they ever hired a designer before?), what their thoughts are on the timing and complexity of a project (Generally, they think their project is always a quick timeframe and easy execution) and how to best communicate with them (From 50,000 feet — big ideas/less on details? Or Ground level — lots of details). This helps us provide the information in a way that makes them extremely comfortable.
5. Keep in touch. Out of sight should not mean out of mind. How much business could you get from a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th project from an existing client? What about the power of referrals?
Example: We routinely stay in contact with our past clients. Once a month, there is an email sent or phone call made just to see how they are doing. We catch up on their lives and ask about their kids, grandkids, and where they have travelled. We keep notes on all these updates so we are in the know on their news! It makes them feel extremely special and that we were not just there for the sale, but for a long-term relationship. I cannot tell you how many times clients have commented on how well we take care of them. You can be sure they are telling their friends as well. Nothing goes farther than a raving fan client who is chatting you up to their friends and family.
Are there a few things that can be done so that when a customer or client has a Wow! experience, they inspire others to reach out to you as well?
I use a three-step approach for referrals and testimonials, which is a huge contributor to my business pipeline.
1. Ask for a referral. A lot of people never even ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get it. Be sure to ask for a referral.
2. Give them the tools to provide testimonials and refer you to others. Make it easy for them! We will often reach out asking for a testimonial and also write it for them — taking quotes from things they said during the project. Also, you can literally provide a package for referrals. Then all they have to do is hand it to a friend. Then you are in control of the message and content that you are providing. Clients love to help you but they are busy, too. Give them some tools so they can still do this for you but the process is easy.
3. Thank them for their confidence and kind words! We always keep them in the loop when they refer a friend. An email letting them know we have reached out to their friend lets them know everything is in good hands. We also thank them right away and then follow up with a handwritten note of thanks as well. If awarded the job, we like to send a little gift of appreciation.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Honestly, I would just love your clients. Show them and tell them how much their business means to you. They will see it, they will feel it and that will have a huge ripple effect. I also think you need to surround yourself with great vendors who have the same philosophy about customer service that you do. It makes for an amazing experience all around, behind the scenes as well as in front of the clients. We need to send more good vibes out into the world and I believe that makes all the difference!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I can be found on Facebook at: Pamela Durkin Designs and on Instagram & LinkedIn as Pamela Durkin.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
It was my pleasure, thank you!