Prince drives our Customer First philosophy that is at the heart of our core values. His passion lies in finding the right solutions for customers – friends he calls them – and spending time on the shop floor egging his team to do even better.
Before I expand on Customer First, I’ve an interesting anecdote about our first customer.
The First Customer…almost
Way back in 2003, when I had just established InnerSpace Interior Design, I landed a potential client who was extremely influential and obviously rolling in the stuff. We quickly build a jolly business rapport, and I began dreaming of my first one million plus project for the fledgling company. I was rubbing my hands in glee on the day we were scheduled to sign the contract…yet something kept tugging at me. When I began to pull together my subconscious cues, I saw a pattern and had a hunch this client meant trouble. I felt I’d have hassles collecting payments. And despite not having a single tangible proof, I declined the juicy opportunity citing operational reasons. I felt devastated and the client was understandably livid.
As it turned out, the poor contractor who did take on the project got paid just a fraction and it was a complete disaster.
Obviously, I learnt a few lessons from this. Always trusting your instincts is one. Always being ready to walk away from a deal, however attractive, became another. I’ve walked away from quite a few since that first, and barring a couple, I haven’t regretted those decisions.
But above and beyond, I’ve understood the value, not just of time, but also our value-add and our expertise. That client would’ve sucked our time and energy and would’ve wrecked our internal value chain – the time and effort we could’ve spend on other clients who would’ve appreciated our role, our expertise and our work. Probably erased our very existence.
Even today, at Inner Space, we believe it’s more important to choose your clients as much as the client chooses you. We choose those with whom we can make the maximum impact as a design and fit-out firm.
And now to Customer First
Every business has their own philosophy around building and managing customer relationships, keeping them engaged and invested in your business for the long-term.
Yet, the universal truth is that every business exists to serve customers. Customers are the only reason we are and continue to be. If customers are such a big part of our existential equation, they’re naturally our number one priority (although you could argue it’s not above the safety and security of our stakeholders).
Far too often, people lose sight of this.
As an architect, designer or project manager you are in a position to weave magic and have a powerful impact on brands, customers, employees and the larger community. Show the customer the realm of designs and possibilities, craft solutions for their pressing problems, beat down obstacles with your supplier networks and negotiation skills. Transform their spaces and inspire performance.
Your customer may not know the latest trend or jargon or design logic, but that’s not their job, it’s what YOU are paid to do. And as long as you do your job and become their partner and consultant, their time and money will be well spent.
Will you ever revisit that restaurant with a maitre d’ who has his eyebrows permanently stuck in his hairline, who looks down from his superior height and snaps at you on how to pronounce foie gras or how to cut your steak?
Customers, partners or friends?
In our industry, our customers’ thoughts and emotions are critical to our project – they are at the heart of the metrics by which we judge its success. ‘OMG, THIS IS FABULOUS’ is what we’re aiming for, rather than just a cold, dry handshake and a cheque.
And so, it’s important that we get to know our clients better – their dreams, aspirations, fears, concerns, challenges, values. Not just of the individuals that make decisions on behalf of the organization, but also what the brand truly stands for. But can you imagine getting to know this gamut of emotions and thoughts just by sitting across a conference room table?
This is why it’s important to develop deep and collaborative relationships with our clients. Become their partners and friends. Think beyond gypsum boards and cubicle walls.
This is what we set out to do through our discovery phase with every customer, even before we draw a single line to design or lift a spanner to deliver their transformed spaces.
Are customers kings?
I don’t subscribe to that old adage at all. First, that’s just non-inclusive from every point of view. Also, if you will only ever serve royalty, then your customer base is pretty thin.
But jesting apart, you’re not paid to be obsequious and obedient, just as you’re not paid to be arrogant and condescending. You are a consultant, an artist, an expert in your field. You need to find that balance – and that’s that sweet spot where your customer becomes a partner.
Think: will you ever revisit a retail outlet where you’re served by a super oily salesperson? Creepy.
Customer First is a many-layered onion and the more you unpeel, the more you will uncover truths about your clients, about your business and yourself. And in the process flavour and perfect many successful projects.
We’ll keep peeling more in later posts.