Hopefully, having explored different options on how to present a garden design or landscaping brand to our target audience, we have now received some enquiries!
The second stage of the design process involves handling these enquiries: this is especially important for designers because it will be the first active communicative response to our potential client, and we need to demonstrate our professionalism as well as our creative basis in order to keep the momentum going forward from the initial impression made by the marketing campaign.
There are a few obvious tasks that need to be accomplished during the enquiry response stage:
I have tried various methods of accepting enquiries and have concluded the following:
We currently do not answer calls to our main phone-line directly; it is used as a voicemail inbox, and new enquiries are prompted directly to our online enquiry form. Once on the website enquiry form, we ask for the client’s details and prompt them to read about our project structure so that they are aware that we charge consultation fees for call-outs. This process streamlines the time required for administration – we get the right answers to the right questions without missing anything vital and also make the client aware that we will likely charge for our visit. Applying a fee up front works for us because it filters out time-wasters from genuine opportunities whilst importantly setting a precedent with the client that our time and advice is of considerable value: this establishes mutual respect and earns you the client's full engagement during consultation – vital for the coming steps in the process.
We use Microsoft Outlook as our email client and Microsoft Excel as our combined CRM, Pricing and Project Management software. The benefit of using Microsoft Office suite is the ability to easily use Macro programming to automate interaction between programmes. For example; we use Outlook to receive our email enquiry from the website and this is immediately flagged upon receipt for “Follow-up”: we then review the enquiry and click our macro button “New Enquiry” in Outlook: this opens up our blank Client Database file (an excel workbook we have pre-created as a template) and automatically inputs the data from the email enquiry.
Our Client Database files contain all of our email templates to be used throughout the project, our projected schedule for design deadlines, measurement input and pricing data, quotations and Gantt data for projects, all in one workbook that is unique to each new client.
Once we have our client file set up and saved, we review our calendar in Outlook for the next available appointment (at present we limit consultations to two per week, and also set the time rigidly to 2:15pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Saturday morning appointments offered as special dispensation); we can then set the date in our Client Database file and click “Set Up Consultation”: this automates an email to be sent directly to the client including the appointment time and associated fee, as well as other engaging information and prompts; the button also creates the appointment within our Outlook Calendar, including the ‘drive to’ and ‘drive from’ times – crucial for my personal ability to keep time!
We always start our email with a “Hi” and use the client’s first name because at this stage we want to set the tone for all future conversation and discussion; overly formal language does not work for us and will ultimately render us simply as a ‘service-provider’ and therefore distance us from the client, when in fact we want to engage in a collaborative process that requires a more personal relationship.
[EDIT - inserted paragraph 4-10-11] By keeping the original enquiry form short and simple we do not get all of the information we would like beyond what would be deemed 'absolutely necessary', this is the compromise to allowing clients to make enquiries quickly without being asked questions they might know the answer to (budget, thematic ideas etc - never give them a prompt to leave the enquiry form to consult a partner or to research - this can all be done later when the risk of losing the enquiry isn't so prevalent!). We assume however that once they have made their enquiry that they anticipate a response, and through this anticipation we assume that they are engaged with us in an information transaction: we use this assumption of engagement to include a questionnaire with our email response, and express in the email that the return of the questionnaire (electronically) constitues acceptance of our appointment proposal and nominated fee. This works to our benefit in several ways: by minimising the number of 'no-show' clients; by prompting the client to think deeper about what they want to achieve; which in turn motivates the client to enthusastic engagement during the consultation; which in turn makes the consultation far more concentrated - good quality discussion, less hmm-ing and haa-ing, less dead-time on site, and so on; and by ensuring payment as expected for our time - no surprises or awkward prompting.
We also use pre-written email templates throughout the whole design process: this saves an enormous amount of time in writing individual emails and also ensures consistency of information flow and brand message – no rushed or over-elaborate communications. Keeping the message to fewer than 300 words will also help the client focus on any key points of information we want them to understand.
Essentially all of this means that by removing initial phone conversations, streamlining the access point of enquiry, and by using macro-programming and pre-formatting, we can click 2 buttons to respond to enquiries fully and comprehensively; what’s more this only takes us 30 seconds and we think this saves us around 44 minutes and 30 seconds per enquiry response (compared to traditional methods involving phone calls, email drafting, manual data entry, file creation and appointment creation etc).
How does this compare with your initial enquiry response? What do you do differently? Do you have any tips to offer?
Next week: The Consultation
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