How to Manage Client Expectations in the Midst of a Pandemic

I’ve seen a lot during my 21 years in this industry, but nothing could have prepared me for 2020. From face masks to lockdowns to nationwide shortages of toilet paper, this has been one heck of a ride!

How do you manage client expectations when you’re in uncharted territory yourself? 

Perhaps the most challenging part of this year for those of us in the design business has been the job of managing client expectations during a completely unprecedented double whammy:

On the one side, demand for home improvement resources has risen to an all-time high due to the pandemic. (One source estimates that 76 percent of homeowners began a project in 2020.) Yet at the same time — also because of the pandemic — the industry has faced an unprecedented inability to meet that demand. 

I recommend spelling out the ramifications from the very start of a new project.

Lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing requirements in the workplace, supply chain issues, and, of course, the virus itself have all contributed to manufacturers’ inability to keep up with demand. 

Caught in the middle: the interior designer, who has the unfortunate task of trying to obtain information about lead times and delivery dates from overwhelmed vendors while pleading for patience from clients. . .who just want to know when they’re going to get their furniture.

So how do you manage client expectations when you’re in uncharted territory yourself? 

I recommend spelling out the current situation and its likely ramifications from the very start of a new project. And to make one aspect of this complicated process easier for you, I have created a template for a letter that does just that. 

Please accept this template as my New Year’s gift to you. 

Wishing you all a peaceful and prosperous 2021!


Dear (Client),

I’m delighted to be embarking with you on this exciting new interior design project, and look forward to working together to create a home that you absolutely love!

As always, it is my intention not only to design a beautiful and functional home for you and your family, but also to make the process of implementing that design as smooth and easy as possible for everyone involved.

However, as you know, we are currently living through extraordinary times. And, just as the global pandemic has affected every aspect of our daily lives, it is important to understand that it will also affect our design project.

I hope that being upfront about this reality at the outset will make any challenges we face more expected and, therefore, less stressful for us all.

Currently, the pandemic is affecting design projects in two key areas:

SUPPLY CHAINS for all kinds of products — from furniture to appliances to the materials used to make them — have been disrupted by an unprecedented increase in demand this year, coupled with severe limitations placed on the manufacturers who are attempting to meet that demand.

New social distancing requirements mean that manufacturers must limit their workforce to 60-80% of normal capacity. This includes the administrative workers who take and process orders, the craftsmen who make the product, and the warehouse workers in charge of shipping and receiving.

In addition, rising numbers of Covid-19 cases across the country mean that manufacturers must also deal with the unknown variable of who might call in sick on any given day, or test positive and need to quarantine for time. This unpredictable fluctuation in staffing has made it almost impossible for companies to provide firm delivery dates to their customers. 

SHIPPING has been similarly affected by the pandemic. Most of our products are transported by truck — a shipping method that has seen a twenty-fold increase in demand this year. Freight carriers are currently overwhelmed by those numbers, and also by their drivers’ increased susceptibility to Covid as they travel across the country.

Designers have seen an increase in shipping damages recently — perhaps as a result of short staffing. Rest assured that, should any of your products arrive damaged, we will make it right. But that process will likely add a delay to the completion of your project.

Thank you in advance for your cooperation as we work through these difficult times together. It is my intention for everyone to be as happy as possible given the current constraints on us all.

I find this little prayer to be helpful on especially challenging days:

May God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Because it’s important that we stay in touch throughout the design process, it is my policy to return your emails and phone calls within 24-48 hours (except on weekends and holidays). In return, I would appreciate your doing the same so that we can keep this project moving forward as seamlessly and efficiently as possible.