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How to Handle Indecisive Clients

Even the best-laid plans to complete projects on time and within budget can go awry. Here’s how to keep jobs on track when working with indecisive clients.

Reassure Nervous Clients
When Paul Sullivan, CAPS, CGR, CGP, encounters clients who are indecisive about materials, it’s often related to tile and paint.

During a previous kitchen remodel, Sullivan, president of The Sullivan Company Inc., a remodeling company based in Newton, Massachusetts, and the 2014 chairman of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Remodelers, could tell his client was overwhelmed by the number of tile options available. “I sensed some indecisiveness, so I put together a palette based on our meeting and what she said she liked,” he says. “I procured samples [to show her] for the backsplash. I gave her limited choices.”

In the end, the client was so impressed with his decisiveness—and with the finished product—that she recently asked Sullivan to do a master bathroom project. And this time, “she doesn’t want to look at samples,” he says. “She asked me to just show up with a palette.”

Building trust with a client will keep indecisiveness from creeping into a project, he says. “Show them examples of successful projects similar to theirs. Explain the process of how the job went so they understand how you handle surprises, and set their expectations really carefully.”

Set Realistic Expectations
Darrell and Kirsten Becker, who run Becker Studios and Becker Construction Corporation in Santa Barbara, California, are no strangers to high client expectations. “A homeowner might start with an inspirational image from a TV show, magazine or home they’ve seen, but translating that image into a realistic vision requires consulting with a pro,” Kirsten says.

“In almost every project, we have clients who have an unrealistic expectation, either by budget or timeline,” Darrell says. “We have years of experience but we have to remind ourselves that even though a client says they’ve remodeled before, they aren’t on the same professional level we are.”

For Leslie Saul, president and owner of Leslie Saul & Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the best way to set client expectations is to be direct. “We make clients fill out a priority check list,” she says. “I’d rather see the client keep things modest and then do one big splurge with high impact.”

Put Parameters in Writing
Sometimes indecision arises because clients don’t realize what they’ve already signed off on, says Ken Combs, CEO of Custom Quality Carpentry in Durham, North Carolina. When a client once pointed out where she wanted to have a second skylight put in, he recalled that the statement of work for the job included only one skylight.

“I was able to pull up the document and show we had only signed off on one skylight,” says Combs, who was named one of Professional Remodeler magazine’s 40 under 40 for 2014. Maintaining good records in a project management system will ensure everyone is on the same page and that all change orders are properly logged for future reference.

Be Honest
Just because a client likes a product’s look doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for the job. “One of our clients knows a designer so everything we suggest is run by the acquaintance,” says Robert Criner, GMR, GMB, CAPS, CGP. “But the other designer might then take out a magazine and show ideas that can’t be found in our local market.”

Be clear about what materials are available in your area and what restrictions there are on using third-party products. “Today, it’s difficult because there are 3,000 choices people will show you on their iPad while you’re talking to them, saying, ‘Oh look, it’s on Amazon,’” says Criner, who owns Criner Remodeling in Newport News, Virginia. “But if they want to supply the product, I can’t warrant it, and I can’t guarantee that it will be available.”

Criner uses 3-D imaging software to help clients visualize solutions based on products that are available. “Customers don’t like to be pressured, but you can create a sense of urgency for them,” he says. “Explain the steps involved in the process, and how those steps need to be accomplished to keep the project done for their due dates.”


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