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Smart Talk

(January 2017) posted on Tue Jan 17, 2017

What your clients aren’t telling you (but really want you to know)


By Howard Wolff

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On behalf of those providing hospitality design services, I asked 20 clients what they want designers to know that they aren’t telling them directly. Six big themes emerged.

1. “I’ve got a pretty good bullsh-t detector.”

At the marketing stage, don’t show too much un-built work; clients know that anyone can produce an impressive rendering. They want to see built work and relevant projects.

Several clients mentioned that they have seen the same project in multiple presentations … with credit taken by the firm of record, by the lead designer who worked on the job (and since started his/her own company), and by the project manager who now works for a competitor. Explain your role precisely and honestly.

Your reputation as a firm founder and/or design leader may have gotten you to the shortlist, but don’t tell clients you’re going to be intimately involved in their project when you’re not.



Ted Brumleve, responsible for Wyndham Hotels & Resorts’ managed brands, advises, “Bring the ‘kids’ [from the staff] and/or let me know when I can meet them. I want the opportunity to build rapport with the people who will be doing the actual work on my project.”

2. “Don’t suck up. Speak up.”

Despite the adage that the customer is always right, clients want you to tell them when they’re veering off course, according to Raul Leal, ceo at Virgin Hotels. “My advice to designers, when they don’t agree with where we we’re headed: They should say, ‘We’ll do what you want us to do, but we think you’re on the wrong track and here’s why.’ Then, document that conversation.”

And Brumleve adds this observation and advice. “Don’t try to hide bad news, and don’t let it fester. Bad news does not improve with age. Tell us if something is wrong and get it out on the table early; otherwise, it will only get worse.”

Adherence to schedules is also a priority for your clients. Be honest and upfront about what’s possible. As Shawn McGowan, senior director of global food and beverage brand dervices at Hilton Worldwide, notes, “My concern is about meeting deadlines. If it’s going to take longer, tell me. I’d rather get it right than have to go back and fix things later.”

3. “Show me.”


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