Creating pools and spas carries us onto the properties and into the private lives of our clients, and it does so to such a personal, even intimate, level that I see the value and importance of getting to know them to the best of my ability. Invariably, that means asking the right questions and knowing how to listen and interpret the answers.
This is a topic I have covered in some of my live seminars around the world. I have had several inquiries from attendees to delve further into this topic.
Inquiring minds know that the ability to communicate with clients is an essential building block of success in designing and building water environments and in any other endeavor where making clients happy is important. What they’re after from me is some mortar to hold a few of those blocks together.
Often, there is value in doing a little research on your clients via the Internet before meeting face to face. It can be very enlightening. I have used “Google” on more than one occasion to find out what I can about the business and personal lives of people I’m about to meet for the first time. Another helpful website service is Intelius. They offer a lot of information for small fees.
This is a vast topic, of course, and it comes easily to some and only with difficulty to other people. If you’re paying attention to the way you do things, it’s also something you’ll see evolving as time passes. But, regardless of who or where you are, I find that early client communication – that is, the process of interviewing them to discover all you can about them – is something that requires forethought, care and close, ongoing attention.
Through the years, I’ve developed a number of ways to jump into this topic in teaching classes and conversing with individuals and one of my favorites is to start by pointing out that one of the first skills one needs to be an effective interviewer is knowledge of the art of keeping your mouth shut and your ears open. To be an effective interviewer, in other words, you must be an effective listener.
That may seem obvious, but I bring it up because I know for a fact that many of us are really bad at it. In fact, it’s part of human nature to want to impress others with the things we say, so instead of actively listening, we spend the time in which clients are answering our questions thinking of how we’ll react and respond to what’s being said. It’s as if our own silence makes us uncomfortable.
So what I tell people is that, no matter what, you must learn to listen. Perhaps you’ll have to bite your lip (literally or figuratively) or run through some mental exercise to remind yourself to actually listen to what your clients are saying. Whatever works for you, it’s absolutely necessary to find a way.
And never forget that a big part of listening is actually retaining what your clients say. When you listen carefully, much of what they tell you will stick on some level, but personally, I need to take notes as they speak to remind myself of what was said, what they emphasized and how they phrased things – and keep those notes in a file. I’ve known some people who record these conversations, and others who take notes and make recordings as well. Again, whatever works: However you do it, you must have some method for registering the content of your clients’ comments.
The last listening-related point that needs emphasis is this: When you conduct client interviews, you must be tangibly and completely there with them. This means turning off or at least ignoring your cell phone, removing the Bluetooth device from your ear and stepping away from your world and moving physically into theirs. It shows that you respect your clients’ time and are focused entirely on their needs and desires.