Hi, this is The Interior Collective, a podcast for the business of beautiful living presented by IDCO Studio and I'm Anastasia Casey.
Today's episode is all about how to maintain the quality of your client services as your team grows. This is a very personal topic to me. It's something that I have worked on over the years, struggled with, made big mistakes and have since learned from. Today's guest, Clara Jung was my first interior design client and really the catalyst to making IDCO what it is today. She was, and still is, my dream client and I grew so much through working with her. If you fast forward a few years, Clara came back to work with us on some website updates and a few client communication documents. In full candor, I let the refresh project slip through the cracks during her updates because we weren't following our established client process that we provide for our full service clients.
She totally called me out on it, super graciously, and she reminded me that while growing has pains, client experience should always come first. I've learned so much from Clara over the years. She was the obvious choice to discuss growing your team while maintaining the quality of your client services.
Clara's journey to interior design, like so many of us, was unconventional. Clara left her career in corporate law to start Banner Day Interiors when she realized that legal research and courtroom appearances just did not satisfy her creatively. Today, she pursues her passion for design by working with both institutional and residential clients. Banner Day is known for their signature balance of playful patterns and the minimal aesthetic, balancing traditional interiors with color pattern whimsy. Principal and Founder Clara Jung's work with Banner Day has been published in ArchDigest, Domino, Design Sponge, Apartment Therapy, and so many more.
Clara grew up in LA and chose to stay in California for college. Shortly after graduating from Cal Berkeley, Clara spent some time in Nepal, teaching English through the Peace Corps. After surviving a couple of winters in Michigan, while attending University of Michigan law school, she returned to the Bay Area where it felt almost balmy.
I want to start with some big congratulations though. Clara was just named one of House Beautiful’s 2022 Nextwave Designers. And on top of that, she's a brand new mom! Congratulations on your newborn Clara, and welcome to the show. I'm so grateful to have you.
Thanks Anastasia for having me, I feel super, super honored and excited to talk to you.
We have, as I mentioned before, personal experience and this exact topic, which I'm sure is not unique to me, probably wasn't unique to Clara and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to grow from it. But as you start to add people to your team, your process changes, you do not necessarily have eyes on every single step of the design process. Clara's methodical, former lawyer brain is gonna walk us through how we can adapt, how we can grow, and how we can maintain that superior level of client experience throughout.
Clara as the Principal Designer and Founder of Banner Day, can you tell us a bit about the current size and organization of your studio?
Sure. I would say we're still what I would consider a small design firm. So, there are six employees, including me. So that's me plus five employees and that includes three designers, and a studio manager, and a design assistant. I would say our broader team also includes an accounting firm and a PR agent. So I would be remiss in not including those people ‘cause they definitely help flush out the strength of our team.
Does your team currently… Are all those people on the team full-time employee or some contractor, besides those external people like your PR and your accountant? Is your team fully employed?
Yeah, mostly fully employed. There is an exception–there is a mom on my team who has an adjusted schedule, but she has been with me the longest and we have an understanding. She can read my brain essentially, so it works both ways. But as far as the rest of the team, they're all full time. And I would say the one employee that has that adjusted schedule, she basically works full time hours. She just has more discretion than them.
Anastasia 00:04:19 Got it. That's super helpful. I'm also curious are all of those team members, ‘cause I know our listeners are probably wondering as well, is everybody in-house with you, like physically in the office with you, or is anybody doing work remote?
Such a good question. For us, 'cause they're so hands-on in terms of project management and we really advertise ourselves as full service, all the team members are in the Bay Area and that's a requirement for employment at my firm. That is largely because we do a lot of site visits. There are things that can't be done virtually–unlike like your industry Anastasia, where maybe you have a contractor in like Finland, I don't know where–but it doesn't really work to go check out tile and grout and stuff like that. So we require two days a week in the office and for the other three days, it's flex. So if you happen to come into the office, that's great. And if not, you're free to work from home.
Oh, that's awesome. Are those two required days, are they the same days for everyone each week or is it like just, ‘you need to be here two days a week, whichever days work’.
Great question. So we experimented a little bit during the pandemic largely because of COVID protocols and concerns about like being around other people, but we've really landed on the idea of two days a week, Mondays and Thursdays. Everyone for the most part, to the extent possible, should be in office, especially Mondays. Mondays are like holy for our team. That's when we go over that week's agendas, the priorities, any troubleshooting that occurred over the weekend. And the point of being in office for us is really, you know, sometimes, putting things on Slack or Asana takes way more time than just turning around and asking your coworker a question. So that's really important to me. So that's the purpose of having everyone come in on the same days.
I would say another thing that I would recommend if you have a similarly sized team is I've always paid for lunch for my team on Mondays. I've gotten a lot of good feedback on that. They say that just helps them on Sunday. That's like one less thing to worry about. And it's just a nice time to bond,, talk about what we did over the weekend. That's not always the case, sometimes somebody's like ‘I have to just work through lunch’, but I hope to kind of develop a culture where that's something that we do.
I love that. It's interesting you say that. We have also, especially since COVID… You were right, we do have employees all across the country and then we do have contractors in Paris, London and two in Croatia. So we are a very remote team, but we've grown our Austin studio where there's eight of us now, locally, that come into the studio. We also have, everybody needs to be in on Mondays, Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays people can work from home or if they wanna come in, that's great too. Usually they opt not to <laugh> it's just me.
And then we've actually just established this year will be the first year that we're doing Summer Fridays. And so from Memorial day through Labor day, every other Friday will be a day off.
And so we get to have three day weekends. We also do it between Thanksgiving and Christmas which ends up only being an extra two days off. But I'm excited for that. I've just really found that our team produces more quality work when they have a little bit of freedom. So I love to hear that you have something similar set up in your firm.
That's amazing. I love to hear that. I mean, Summer Fridays I've always associated with the New York kind of a work culture, but I love that you're implementing it in Texas.
I am somewhat selfish because we did just get a lake house and I want to have Fridays off, but I am always one that if I want or expect something, then I wanna make sure my whole team gets the same. So yeah, I try to lead by example that way. So we'll see how it goes. I'll report back this fall and see how Summer Fridays worked out.
Talk me through how long you worked solo before making your first hire or outsourcing beyond yourself.
I think it was two and a half to three years into starting my firm and my first hire was a contractor who's still with me, and she's the mom I referred to earlier and so I shared her with another designer and she's still with me. So I think it's almost five years later. She's basically my right-hand woman. I've never had an older sister and I consider her my older sister in a lot of ways.
Oh, I love that. Can you tell us, when you made that first hire, what their role was? A conversation that I have a lot is hiring for a role, not a person in the sense that I have found bringing someone on I need to have a very clear understanding of what they're gonna own top-to-bottom instead of someone who's gonna look at my to-do list and cross things off. That ends up being a lot of micromanaging and just time coming up with what this to-do list is that you're gonna hand off. So talk me through what that first employee for you looked like and if there's anything you would do differently.
Yeah. That's a really easy question for me. So let me step back a little bit. I'm self-taught, I didn't go back to design school. And so I did dabble in a couple classes at Berkeley Extension, which is a type of a design degree in San Francisco. And I went to a couple classes and honestly I finished those classes, but I couldn't keep up because I was so busy with clients and I already had clients. So I was talking to a couple of my peers at the school and they were like, ‘the hardest part is getting clients’. If that's your hard part, you can contract a lot of the other work. A light bulb just hit in my head like, ‘why am I trying to do these like CAD drawings or schedule drawings when there's like a million people that can contract out’. I'm really good at the business side of obtaining clients and the general design side.
So for me, this role was specifically for someone who had amazing CAD and sketch up skills, and that's who I hired for. So this employee is just really good at it and she's very technical, and is really able to bridge that gap between my design vision and putting that on paper, as far as construction documents or design documents are concerned.
That's such great advice. I so often see our clients at IDCO say that they're ready to hire someone. And they're like, ‘oh, I want a design assistant’, like ‘that's who I need’. And my question to them is always, what is the part of your job that you don't feel fully qualified to do? Or you just don't enjoy doing as much because that's what you should be hiring for. And in your case, you didn't have those technical skills. You obviously had the vision and the design eye. And so I'm so glad to hear that you went that route and I so encourage anybody listening to focus mostly on what the role is that you're bringing in and not necessarily just the extra body.
That's such great advice. Yeah, Nailed the head. Exactly.
We always talk about growing pains as business owners, or maybe we should talk about it more often <laugh> but over the years, what type of growth has resulted in the need to adapt Banner Day?
It's just a hard question. Cause I thought I was growing like three years ago and now it was accelerated growth the last two years in an insane way. I actually don't have a hard time letting go and delegating, which might sound crazy to some people–people might envision me as a manager, but I'm not. I am like ‘if I can outsource this, I will’, to a certain extent. There are some things I don't. I always promise clients that I am the creative force behind the firm, I will review any design board, any design presentation that comes their way, and that is still true.
But I definitely had to do a reset. In 2020 when work was absolutely bonkers and I was working crazy hours and having no breaks and no time off, to kind of reset our systems and figure out how do we streamline. There were so many projects at a certain point that people on my team didn't know who was what and where things were going. And so I was like, I've been putting this off forever, but I just had to sit down and start the process of a handbook and also a pipeline of how processes work. My excuse was always that I didn't have to do this because all projects are different and that is totally true.
Like construction projects, you really can't anticipate what comes up, what will need help with troubleshooting. It varies so much depending on client/contractor/project, but it's really good to have a baseline and I’ve realized that.
I would say the key solution, not overall solution, but key component is hiring my studio manager who is really helping me. I have the thought in my head, but I could just email her or slack her and be like, ‘Hey Michaela, can you make it official and put it in our materials?’ or ‘how do we record it in a way that is translated to not only the clients, but the team?’.
One thing that we've recently implemented–and I try to tell people as we scale, cause we're up to like 22 people now–whenever I have something I need to train someone on or whenever I'm like, ‘oh, we really need to document this’. I like to use Loom and I screen record myself as I'm doing the task so that someone can watch it and rewind it as many times as they need to follow along. Now that said, it's a lot easier, 'cause everything we're doing is digital. So pretty much their entire role is happening behind a screen. What are some of the ways that you implement training materials or tutorials or that handbook in your own firm?
We definitely have a retreat at the beginning of the year. We go over, like down to like the nitty gritty, of how do we treat proposals, or invoices, or how do we do procurement? The retreat is not just to transmit information, but it's to really solicit feedback from the team. Because honestly, at this point I'm not doing the purchasing, I'm not doing a lot of the things I started out with. So I'm not the best person to actually be dictating on how things should go. So it's always asking the broader team ‘what are the changes you think we need to make?’ ‘What are the mistakes we made the past year?’ And then, we're gonna have a mid-year retreat to kind of take all that stuff that we talked about at the beginning of the year and see how we can finesse it even further.
I hate to say it, but for us, a lot of it is day to day mentoring. And because we have two relatively new employees, it is incumbent upon one of the senior members and my team to mentor junior employees and mentor them through the processes because there are so many exceptions. For example, trade vendors–all the trade discounts are different. How you transmit orders are different. How you specify things are different. So we can have a universal protocol, but it is not equally applicable. And it's just unfortunate that that's the case, but that's why clients pay us a higher hourly rate to deal with like 20 emails about door hardware, because that's what it is, you know?
Totally, Yeah. Let me backup a little bit. You mentioned how much you've grown during the pandemic, as many studios have. How many employees were you at, February 2020?
We were at two and a half, so it was me, one full-time and a part-time person.
Wow. <laugh> Okay, and then now you're up to six plus your two external regular contractors.
Before then pre March, 2020, how many projects were you juggling at once? If you had to pick an average.
Mm-hmm, I would say around 20.
That was before pandemic?! <laugh>. Oh, OKAY!
I know it's a lot, but there's a spectrum. You know, some projects take two to four years if it's a new build, so the momentum is different. Then we have the larger projects of maybe full home renovation. But we also have so many repeat clients. I say, once you hire us, we’re your designer for life usually, and that's true. And so we have the client we did the nursery for four years ago, and now their kid is turning into a big kid, so we are changing that room up. So there's all of that. So it's a spectrum, but it is quite a bit, yes.
So now when you've added four more bodies, how many projects are you managing now?
I'm scared to say, ‘cause I might get a bunch of emails, but we're at around 40 to 50 projects right now.
Wow! I am so in awe of you and so proud of you and so excited for myself 'cause that's 40 or 50 projects I get to see of your work and that is a win.
So we mentioned earlier your new mom, I know that your daughter came earlier than expected. How did you plan your client process to shift with your team as you were getting ready to be on leave, if you're even on leave?
Yeah, so that kinda went out the window when my daughter came seven weeks early. So we had a plan set in place, you know, I was gonna write that email to all the clients and extended team members, like the contractors. And that never even got sent out. So it was just, you know, it was kind of a [fiasco]. Maybe you have to edit that out, but basically that's what it was. And so, what happened was we literally had three days of notice that she was coming in early. It was honestly a mad scramble. I just wanna give kudos to my team. They just performed like crazy–they filled in all the gaps that I would have. They also said we didn't realize how much you facilitated communication. So I'm like, ‘I'm glad I needed’ <laugh>.
Then also my clients, they were amazing. Without exception, they all understood what was going on–had no problem leaving me off emails, working directly with my team. And I think it also speaks to our system.
For each project we have a lead designer. Additionally, we have a secondary designer and the secondary designer operates basically like a substitute teacher. If the lead designer is on vacation or out of office, the substitute designer steps in. So for any project in our firm, for the most part, you have three people that are kind of in the details of your project. It would be me, the primary designer, and then the secondary designer. As a team of six, that's half the team knowing what's essentially going on or can catch up really quickly on what's going on. And so that was really clutch.
I mean, I probably shouldn't say this, but I also worked while I was in the NICU. There wasn't much to do. I did what I could, but I was sitting in the hospital like 10 hours a day. When I was needed, I was obviously spending time with my daughter, but other times we were just literally sitting there, so it was a nice distraction for me. And I know part of owning your own firm is like, you know, I don't have that really long, nice maternity leave or a parental leave that my husband has. And I'm okay with that. I have the flexibility to work from home now, when I need to, or schedule my meetings in a certain way. So I might be working on an afternoon on a Saturday, but I can spend Mondays with her.
I think a key thing you mentioned there is that you are never assigned the lead designer on a project. And so there is that opportunity when you need to be pulled somewhere else, there's someone else who's in charge, even though you're the last set of eyes that sees everything before it goes out. That's definitely a lesson that is so costly to learn before it becomes a lesson that costed you to learn.
My right hand at IDCO, Lexi had her baby seven weeks early we had planned, prepared, hired, six months in advance. Right before she actually went into labor we had to make a shift in who was taking over her role. It didn't work out and we brought in someone new and I was sure we were closing shop. I was like, ‘Lexi's out. 1000% we are gonna close the shop and we'll pick it back up when she gets back’.
And I was terrified and it was so amazing to see how the team just rallied and filled in the gaps because everyone does understand every project to a certain level and certainly there was some extra explanations. She's literally getting her C-section, texting me about what client needed to go out that day and I'm like, ‘Please stop. We'll figure it out’. So it's funny that your daughter came seven weeks early, cause that's like a trigger for me to hear that we thought we were so prepared. And as Quinn and I continue to family plan and see what that looks like, I really appreciate you sharing how you set up for that. And also how all plans just go out the window anyway and you just need to be okay with that.
Yeah. I mean flexibility, like most people say, is clutch for parenthood but also work life balance.
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How do you document your client processes internally and externally? This would probably go back to what kind of documentation and client education are you providing as well as, do you have Google docs of step by step processes for everything, or is it in spreadsheets, or is it like you talked about–is it literally just in person, showing live tutorials as someone works through things?
I would say for the client process specifically, we have three material booklets, I would say. So we have the investment guide, which we send for potential clients that we would be interested in potentially working with. Then we have the welcome guide and then the client guide. So with all three of those, they go into further detail depending on how far down the process this client comes to us with. It is our overall philosophy, but also very, very specifically step by step how the process usually works. Then also things that come up in terms of project management, invoicing, even stuff like, what is an FF&E sheet? So they know why they're paying us, what these documents mean, and how they serve a purpose. For most of our clients there are some that have done construction, but a lot of them haven't, so they don't understand why certain drawings are needed, why we're doing the things that we're doing. And I feel like the big gap is often educating them on why you're paying us to do this.
Can you explain a little more the difference between the welcome guide and the client booklet?
Yes. So the welcome guide, the scenario is like, okay, I already met the client for initial consultation, they love me, they wanna hire me. And I'll be like, okay, here is our welcome guide. This is what the process in broad strokes would look like. So stuff that normally wouldn't be in the investment guide, such as our sliding scale of hourly rates, depending on seniority, more detail into how we deal with trade, discounts,stuff like that and how our invoicing calendar works. So it just goes into more detail versus the investment guide, it’s a little bit more fluffy. So it's more kind of like a marketing material of like, ‘Hey, this is all that we've done. Here are the great things clients have said about us. Here is our flat fee versus hourly fee design process’, stuff like that. And then in going back to the client guide is very technical. Like I said before, it goes into the names of documents, why we're using them, how it serves their purpose and why they're important, essentially.
So do you send your welcome guide before a signed proposal and contract or after?
We send a welcome guide usually after the initial consultation. So that usually means that I've met these people in person. They pay me for the initial consultation and it's clear that there is chemistry and we want to work with each other and then send them the welcome guide.
Got it. Okay, that's super clear–thank you. How often do you revamp your client process?
Um, a lot. I would say there's always something we are trying to implement and try to write it out and see if it's working or not. I would say that we get feedback–I kind of interpret all emails I get from clients as a type of feedback mechanism. So they're like, ‘why isn't that like this?’ ‘why isn't that like that?’ And the problem is I have to be careful of not tailoring the experience so uniquely to one client, as you know all clients are different. So it's like, ‘what is the way to implement it in a way that is applicable to most people’? As you probably also know, some clients require a higher touch, so there are those clients. We might not revamp the retreat materials or like core materials every month. We are always experimenting with ‘how can we improve communication,’ ‘how can we improve the overall experience’–pretty much monthly, if not weekly.
You mentioned earlier that when you went on leave after your daughter was born or quotation marks leave <laugh>,that your team was surprised as to how much interaction and communication you actually do have with the clients when you are sending off presentations. Who is the touch point at your company within the teams assigned to a project? Is it you that's sending everything or is it the lead designer?
No way. It's definitely the lead designer. And then I kind of trust them to channel my voice, but they're not me. So like almost never, but sometimes I'll chime in. I'll reply all, I'll be like, ‘I'm chiming in because, you know, blah, blah, blah. Like this is one thought I had’. It is true, there are some clients that want the communication directly from me and I tell them I should not be the person doing it. I can't be held accountable cause I am all over the place. So it should be the [lead designer]. And I'm not doing the drawings to be honest, I might be sourcing everything but you know, that's not everything. I can pick a mirror that's two times too large for a vanity. So you should be really trusting the lead designer, who's really in the nitty gritty and also the person who is corresponding with the building team.
Question, do you allow your clients to text or DM you or call anytime? What are your communication guidelines?
Yeah, I don't have any, and I might be guilty of being too responsive. So I haven't had… I've only had one client who called me on the weekends. I would just press ignore <laugh> and I have no shame in saying that. But for the most part most clients will text me for time sensitive stuff and that's totally okay by me. If it ever got to the point where it would be too much, I would say, ‘Hey, let's go back on email’. But usually I say, let's go back on email because there's no point in texting me if we have to just recap via email to loop all these other parties in. It's just not a good way to keep a good record, especially for a million dollar project the fact that you're changing X, Y, and Z is not searchable in a text thread.
I think that's a really important part that we put in all of our client welcome packets that we have in the shop. It's like our client communication is set that we prefer everything to be handled via email so that everyone on the team can be in the loop because it can totally get lost. As a business owner, the more documentation you can have between your client experience, the more protected you are, both you and the client to be completely transparent. Like everyone is more protected when you can keep it to an email thread.
What would you say are your top three most critical steps in your client process?
The contract signing or ‘dating’ of each other is honestly one of the most important steps in the overall process. I do consider it dating–you're feeling each other out. I am a very direct person and super transparent. And so I try to be the same, and sometimes it's just not a good fit. Some people have gotten offended. I give my opinion about a project and they don’t love it, and it's a clear signal to me that that's not a good fit for me.
I think another important, crucial point is the onboarding process. So we set expectations of communication, how this is gonna work, the overall processes, overall budget, stuff like that.
I think the third step honestly–I know this is not a really precise answer–is the ongoing project management. I always tell clients the design part is technically, not the easier part but it is more controllable. It is the project management execution where you're relying on third parties, whether it be vendors or general contractors where, you know, we don't control contractors. That's not how it works. <laugh> But we can help facilitate and keep the project on track. And that takes the cooperation of all parties.
When, if this has ever happened to you–when you didn't pick up red flags during that courtship onboarding process, and there is a project that maybe you are not still jiving or singing. Do you have a process or do you have an experience you can share on how to tactfully and helpfully discontinue a project?
Yes <laugh> so I take great pride in being a very customer service oriented firm. But I have had four breakups in the last eight years and I would say that's a fairly good track record. I would say I've gotten better about the breakup as the years have gone by with more experience. The last one, which was last year, it just, yeah–I'm not gonna go into details, but there was no good chemistry. We presented and it just did not go well. And it's a bummer. I just wrote an email, I'm like, ‘look, this process and project should be exciting. It should be fun. It should be something that you're looking forward to. And this seems like clearly that it's not’. I know that I never take it for granted that clients are investing a ton of money with us and the overall project.
And I say, if you're spending this much money, this is not how it should be going. And so I wrote them a very tactful email, basically saying that. And I say, ‘it might be best for both of us if we stop the process before we go deeper down the rabbit hole’. I also waived the balance of design fees. I don't know if most other firm owners would've done that, but if they're not loving it, then I didn't feel right about charging the balance.
So to clarify, if you had been paid design fees up until that point, you aren't reimbursing anything, but you're not continuing to fulfill the quoted design hours.
I guess that's one way to look at it. So for us, since we do a flat fee design process, we collect 50% up front and then 50% after the presentation. In this situation, we did present and as I said, it didn't go well. And so I am technically entitled to the other 50%. I should have collected the balance after the presentation–and I chose not to. Design is somewhat subjective. So our contract doesn't hinge on the fact that you love the design. Technically, I am owed that money, but I'm not gonna try to collect money from clients that didn't love what we're doing. I just don't see the point in that–I don't know–maybe that's a different perspective.
No, I think that's great. And I just wanted to clarify for those listening that you didn't return your 50% deposit–you just did not collect the additional.
Correct. Exactly, yeah.
What would you say, if anything, when you see a client is not receiving your ultimate client experience? How do you pivot that? Or are you all just total perfection and there's never a scenario where that happens?
<laugh> I wish. I would say it depends on the degree of miscommunication or the mistake. But first is always an apology. I am sorry. And there's no ‘but’, ‘excuses’, nothing. It's just an ‘I'm sorry’, period, ‘we dropped the ball’ period. With that same email, I say, ‘here's the solution–this is what we're gonna do. here's plan A, B or C to rectify it’. And then the other thing I do–if possible–if it costs money, I always waive my time to correct that mistake. Mine or the team's time. And then if there's an additional cost differential, because there's expedited shipping because wallpaper didn't come in time–then we pay for that. I think the straight out apology is the most important thing, 'cause no one wants to hear excuses, including me. Then the second thing is finding a solution and start working on it ASAP. When someone calls me with a problem, we start working on it immediately. We don't wait till next week or next month–it is immediate
When something like that happens, how do you handle it with your team, and whether that be a communication issue? I'm really interested in learning from you as to how to help facilitate a lesson learned and a pivot amongst your team and not just how you handle it directly with the client.
Right. So I really, really, really am conscientious after working at law firms and working for law partners, <laugh> about being kind and showing grace and being understanding. So usually I say, ‘okay, this mistake was made, look, I get it, mistakes happen. What can we do to mitigate and reduce that in the future?’ So that's always the first question. I’ve made a mistake. I mismeasured for a wall and now we have two nightstands that are worth $7,000 in my office. So I am not immune to mistakes. I tell them ‘look, those nightstands are haunting me every night. So I understand. So I don't blame me, but it does cost money. So the first question I asked my team is, ‘what can we do, what can we change in our process or communication to make sure this doesn't happen again?’,
Secondly, at the beginning of the year retreat, I show them–not to shame anyone or anything like that–how much a mistake can cost or cut into the profitability of a project. So I show them the numbers. This was a design fee, these were our mark-ups, this was our projected profit. We made these two mistakes and basically we're in the hole for that project. And so I'm just showing just so they can appreciate and hopefully that stays with them–to be a little bit more careful. To be more thoughtful about ordering, especially custom pieces, stuff like that.
I think in some ways, not that this is true of any of my employees, we're so busy, money's coming in. I don't want it to seem like I say, ‘it's a mistake and I'm happy to pay for it’. Mistakes happen, but I don't also don't want it to be an atmosphere of casualness about it. It should still mean something.
I think that's great. One thing I've learned with my team is that when a mistake is made, especially from a client's perspective at the end of the day, any mistake that's made at IDCO is my mistake. I did not provide them the attention that they needed when they were looking for revisions. I did not properly teach them. I did not communicate what the client had specifically asked for. As a business owner, you know, deep down in your gut, it actually was someone else's oversight, at the end of the day, it's your mistake. And I try to approach every conversation with an employee introing that, that I did not give you what you needed to prevent this mistake from happening. So let's learn from this together. And I really like your idea of showcasing, just so you know, what this mistake ends up costing us.
And one thing that actually came up recently when we had to refund something–refunds aren't something that happen a lot at IDCO, but it did, and it was a big one. And just explaining, ‘this is three people's salaries this month’. When you break it down like that, so that people can understand the weight of what those mistakes actually make. By positioning it as ‘I didn't give you what you needed’ they're comfortable knowing they're not gonna not get paid that month. <laugh> I don't ever want them to worry about paying their mortgage. I do want them to understand that we need to slow down a little bit, no matter how busy we are. We either need to help delegate, ask for help, or just slow down a little bit, to make sure that those mistakes don't happen.
Yeah. I love that. I love that you are also saying at the end of the day you are the owner and the principal. So it is true. It is an extension, the team is an extension of my responsibility and kind of my mistakes. And I did the same, you know, when we had that sample project of how the mistakes ate into the profitability, I said, this is somebody's salary for however many months. I would rather give you guys crazy [big] bonuses at the end of the year, instead of paying for these mistakes.
Totally. Projects can be both made or broken by the relationship you have with your client. You mentioned that you have forever clients that come back to you with every pivot and growth phase of their life. What would you say is your top two secret sauce ingredients to making those clients turn into lifetime clients?
I think it's about perspective. I view this business not as a design business, but for me it's really a client services business and I think that's just the way it is. So if you don't like clients, don’t like client services, this is not the business for you. <laugh> I would say one thing is we do go above and beyond. Often we're the first people to know when somebody has bought a house or are having a baby or unfortunately separating. So it's like, whatever these life milestones are I really take that to heart. I know that they rely on us to help perform during that milestone of their life. And so I say that we never say no to maybe, things that other designers would.
So a client asked for a favor–his wife was expecting and the movers didn't come and complete something, unpacking a couple of boxes. He wanted it to be perfect for his wife when she moved in. So I went into their home and I unpack three or four boxes for them, last minute. I think that meant something to them and they're still my clients now. So it's just like those little things. That we’re always responsive. I think a lesson that I taught one of my employees early on, she thought that a request from a client was totally unreasonable. And she said, ‘this is not within my scope’. And I was like, ‘is it really not?’ I'm like, you might not like the request, but I view it as part of the project. And so it's like, you really have to put your ego out the door and say like, is this part of my job or not? And if the job description is broadly client services, then it usually is. That's it. I'm not saying go do their laundry, or <laugh> cook for them. But I'm saying I think that's part of the reason why clients really love us.
I love that. Okay. I have a pop quiz question for you, Clara, that I did not previously send ahead of time. I'm really interested to know how were you handling client communications and a great client experience, in the midst of a pandemic when things were so backlogged and back ordered and missing? How do you keep that amazing personal touch when things can be a little disappointing in this phase, especially if they've worked with a designer before and it went a different way.
Yeah. That's a really good question. It's hard. And it's tough. But I think it goes back to when you're dating a potential client, it's really important to see, are they realistic about things? Are they out of touch with what's going on? I think that's really important because then you don't have to do the education further down the process of like, why this chair is still stuck on the cargo ship in Oakland. So, stuff like that. Honestly I say it a lot, but I think my clients are pretty amazing. They really have realistic expectations of things and I do wanna take some credit 'cause I am transparent to a fault, so I will educate them. I'm telling clients now, if you wanna do a full house furniture project, it's gonna take a year to install at least and that may cost us some potential clients. But you're gonna have to cross that bridge, whether you get this client now or later, you know what I mean? So I'd rather just be open about it.
Lastly, are there any thoughts on pivots or scale for Banner Day moving forward?
Mm that's a good question. I've actually thought about this quite a bit. We could have added more headcount last year and this year, and I've decided conscientiously not to do that. We're doing really great right now. I feel like we're hitting our stride. I had that question of do I wanna grow? Do I want to try something else? Like a lot of other designers are doing. Perhaps open an online shop and I decided no, I know what I like to do. I like to work with clients on creating beautiful spaces. I love our team as it is now and just embracing that. I don't know if that's true a year from now or two years from now, but I think this is where I am.
I love that so much. It's something I work really hard on and fail miserably at all the time. Practicing content, and being content, and proud, and fulfilled, in where your business is now and not feeling like there needs to be this huge next step to continue to run a successful business. You're already running a successful business and it doesn't need to look any different than that. So thank you so much for sharing that.
You can follow Clara @BannerDayInteriors on Instagram and visit her stunning portfolio of work at bannerdaysf.com. Again, that's @bannerdayinteriors on Instagram and bannerdaysf.com. Don't forget to pick up your copy of House Beautiful this month so you can see Clara's work as one of House Beautiful’s Next Wave Designers.
Clara's work at Banner Day has always moved me. Clara, your ability to inject modern elements of whimsey into my hometown of San Francisco's historic buildings while keeping the spaces feeling calm and soothing is unprecedented. However, watching you run a business with your brilliant legally trained brain has changed me forever. Thank you so much for always being my friend, for leading the industry by example, and upholding a level of integrity that so many of us strive to achieve. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining us today on The Interior Collective.
Thanks for having me! So much fun.
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