By Brian Van Bower
Creating pools and spas carries us onto the properties and into the private lives of clients, often on a personal, intimate level. As such, getting to know clients to the best of one’s ability is of great importance. Invariably, this means asking the right questions and knowing how to listen to and interpret their answers.
Of course, this is a vast topic, one that comes easily to some but is far more difficult for others to master. However, regardless of your position, personality or locale, early client communication—the process of interviewing them to discover all you can about them—is something that requires forethought, care and close ongoing attention.
This topic, which was covered in a short seminar at last year’s Canadian Pool & Spa Conference & Expo and other conferences around the world, has generated several inquiries from attendees looking to delve into it further. Inquiring minds know the ability to communicate with clients is an essential building block of success in designing and building water environments—or, for that matter, in any endeavour for which making clients happy is the ultimate goal. What many professionals need is some mortar to hold a few of those blocks together.
A two-way street
One of the first skills anyone needs to master to be an effective interviewer is the art of keeping your mouth shut and ears open. In other words, to be an effective interviewer, you must be an effective listener. While this may seem obvious, many of us are actually quite bad at listening properly.
It is human nature to want to impress others with the things we say. Instead of actively listening while clients answer questions, many professionals spend too much time thinking about how they will react and respond to what’s being said. It’s as if our silence makes us uncomfortable.
No matter what, you must resist this impulse and learn to listen. Perhaps you’ll have to bite your lip (literally or figuratively) or run through some mental exercises to remind yourself to actually listen to what your clients are saying. Whatever method you choose, it’s absolutely necessary.
Also, you must never forget that a big part of listening is actually retaining what your clients say. When listening carefully, it is easier to retain the information on some level; however, it is wise to take notes as the client is speaking. These can then be kept on file as a reminder of what was said, what words or ideas were emphasized and how certain things were phrased. Some designers record these conversations; others take notes and make recordings. Again, you must find a method that works for you.
Finally, when you conduct client interviews, you must be completely present. This means turning off (or at least ignoring) your cell phone, removing the Bluetooth device from your ear and stepping away from the rest of the world. This shows clients that you respect their time and are focused entirely on their needs and desires.
This mental preparation and commitment will set your interviews up to be as productive as possible. This is a constantly evolving process. Try different methods and listen to other designers and contractors, adopting elements of their approach that appeal to you. Once you’ve established your own basic approach, you can focus on the interview itself.