We want to help people as they are aging in place – regardless of their current age, the number of people in the household (from one person to more than one), any physical or mobility challenges they are facing, how old their home happens to be, and how long they have lived in that home. However, it’s not just a matter of showing up and beginning to help them. We have to know what they need, and they need to appreciate or understand how we can help them.
We have to begin the process by gathering information – even before we walk into their home and see for ourselves what might need to be done. We are going to listen to their story as they explain what they are looking for in an improvement, and we are going to delve into that with some exploratory questions. They may do a good job of expressing their needs, or we may need to draw out of them what they are experiencing and what they would like to have done or what they feel would help their situation. Then we’ll explore their budget and their timing for having the work completed.
Unless we’re psychic, and that likely isn’t the case, we need to be prepared to engage our potential clients and ask questions. Initially, over the phone as we are determining how we might help someone and if the desired project is something we want to undertake, we’ll ask questions and listen to their responses. As we meet with them in their home, we’ll continue to ask questions, but we’ll also be gathering information with our eyes – both from what we see and what we perceive as being present.
While being psychic might sound like it could be fun, no one is that gifted. Thus, we have to work at making a sale – which only is going to happen when we determine what the client needs and we are able to suggest a solution that meets their approval.
There are just two ways of learning what people are looking for in a solution for their home to help them age in place more effectively (whether they have specific needs that should be addressed or not), how soon they need the work completed, how much they want to invest in the project (if they know), what they want it to look like, and other crucial details that factor into their ability to make decision to engage our help. We have already dismissed the first way (psychic) as beyond our abilities. That leaves the second way – letting our customers tell us the answers – some voluntarily and some in response to what we ask.
They can share with us and our team what their concerns are in their current home and layout, what they feel isn’t working well for them and why, what they would like to be able to do that doesn’t seem possible now, safety issues they are encountering, lack of lighting or storage, areas in their home where they don’t feel especially comfortable, and anything involving their lifestyle such as use of the kitchen or bath or their ability to sleep. They may tell us also that they have gotten some ideas for what they want by talking with family or friends, watching design-oriented TV shows, looking at articles or ads in magazines, visiting furniture or design showrooms for possible solutions, searching online to check out some possibilities, or possibly even talking with other designers or contractors.
We can ask general questions or more specific ones about what they feel they need and why their home is not providing for their needs currently – and then listen very carefully and intently to what they are saying as well as what they are not saying (“listening between the lines”). Then, in order to use the information that has been shared with us by our clients and observed by us, we must take good notes to facilitate recall later while we are still in their home and days later as we are formulating our proposal for them. It does no good to ask clients a question and then not pay attention to what they are saying. This is rude, unprofessional, and unproductive.
We also can gauge from their responses, tone, body language, and glances to each other (when there is more than one person present) as granting approval or agreement, or indicating disapproval or doubt, to what we are discussing.
We just have to pay attention and be totally focused on understanding the client’s situation and be less concerned with what we are going to say next. We must concentrate on what our clients are telling us.