Managing Client Expectations for an Authentic Luxury Experience

Published: June 14, 2024

Embarking on a residential design and construction project can be a stressful and expensive endeavor for most homeowners, which can require a lot of empathy and patience from a designer. The client-designer relationship throughout these projects can become blurred, as the designer may take on a variety of responsibilities (think therapist and even marriage counselor).

Some designers accommodate unrealistic requests and even amend their standard business practices to go above and beyond for any given client to make and keep them happy. To avoid this, designers must set client expectations and establish boundaries for a project from the beginning to develop trust and control the narratives on a job site. This sets the groundwork for establishing authority and articulating your processes through every stage. It also alleviates some of the stressors associated with a design and construction project. Let’s review four key points in setting expectations for a luxury experience.

Building Rapport

When setting and managing client expectations, the first step is to shift your mindset to not just focusing on the project scope and design but also about the client experience and your professional development. This starts by creating a relationship with a client based on trust. The more informed they are, the more a client feels heard and reciprocates with trust. This allows you, as the designer, to have more control over the design portion of the project, without a client second guessing your decisions. Understanding thoroughly a client’s wants and needs through various questions and extensive communication helps manage their expectations throughout a project. Your goal is to minimize surprises and be as transparent as possible.

Articulate Your Process & Set Boundaries

When a client feels confident in your design abilities, the next step is to articulate your design process in a tangible way. This may include collateral material in your welcome packet, listed on your website or included in your design contract. We all know clients tend to glaze over or get easily distracted when we are sharing the “un-fun” details about our business model and practices. They want to talk about materials and lighting and cabinet finishes. Having a tangible deliverable a client can reference later is important to avoid surprises, especially related to time frames and financial responsibilities.

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In that design process handout, you should also be establishing boundaries with your clients to set their expectations on how to best communicate with you. For example, include the days and hours you work during the week, unless it’s an emergency. Determine the best form of communication for your client, which may be email, text or phone calls. Include who the homeowner should be communicating with as their main point of contact. Setting the expectation upfront that a client should not be communicating with trades directly because of X, Y and Z garners the control of how communication is dealt with.

Establishing Goals for Each Project

Goal setting and project planning is a roadmap for a project, providing a client with a resource that holds all parties accountable. It removes a client’s inherent expectations and solidifies reality by designating responsibilities and eliminating unknowns. Establishing goals will allow you to control the narrative and set expectations from the beginning by procuring client buy-in through contract signing and verbal agreements.

You also want to clearly identify milestones, whether they be financial, construction related or client related to avoid a client’s surprise billing or potential lack of information regarding their responsibilities, which can hold up a project. When a client can see that you share similar goals and you are actively invested in their project, they will become more invested in you and trust your process.

Commit to Communication

Committing to communication, whether its weekly jobsite visits or a jobsite logbook, can have a huge impact on your client’s perception of the project and its success. Every project is different with varying responsibilities and obligations, but setting the expectation for the client that you will be onsite every week or every other week at a specific time alleviates yet another worry a client may have associated with their project.

Providing a construction schedule highlighting the sequence of events of the project or investing in project management software is another way a client will feel informed, and the designated process is in place for a reason. When we commit to communication through various forms of dialogue, clients tend to develop a sense of confidence in the process and confidence in all of those who are involved.

Setting and managing client expectations from the beginning and throughout a project will allow you as the designer to control the client experience and the success of the project. This results in more referrals and great reviews.

By Elizabeth P. Lord, CMKBD, CLIPP, Principal Designer of Elizabeth P. Lord Residential Design LLC

Photo credit: goodluz/Adobe Stock


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