In support of Burwell Consulting, William M. Burwell writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Design; Marketing, Firm Management and Project Management
Marketing Post 4.3
This is a story of romance and abandonment; of intensity and complacency; and one of forgiveness and rebirth. Stop me if this sounds familiar.
After the sale, after the construction is over, long after the furnishings are installed and the client occupies their space - buyers remorse can pop up suddenly like a facial blemish on prom night. In most Architect / Client relationships there is so much romance in the beginning. Everyone makes their pitch in their Sunday best and shiniest shoes. All the principals and marketers are present and tapping their toes. Everyone is accommodating and on their best behavior. The band starts playing and the dance begins.
While most all firms have a wonderful delivery system, a great project management system or even a great construction administration process, sometimes just it isn't enough. Sometimes the negative issue could be a personality, or an misunderstanding along the way. In the field small incidents and issues can begin to build. Real or imagined the seeds of discontent are planted and when the designers and project managers are busy with project delivery it is often too difficult to notice nuances of change in client behavior. Of course the project proceeds as the work is set in motion and the the client's dream becomes a reality. This growing discomfort can smolder and billow until something finally fans those flames and the smooth process and happy ending is in jeopardy.
What's needed is reconnecting with the client by the Principals and marketers. A text won't do, nor will an email. This is phone call and personal face to face meeting time. The thing is that the client may NOT indicate that anything is wrong. He may just have a nervous feeling or a bad taste in his mouth. Clients are busy and likely the client has handed project responsibility off to a designated manager, so he may only be hearing the highlights and they may be biased for any number of reasons. This is where a little time and attention can go a long way through an off line meeting to gut check progress and performance. This is when the use of the original sales team is is not a bad way to bring back the good times and address any issues offline at lunch, cocktail hour or dinner. Often times when not pressed in the heat of a discussion clients may open up and share their thoughts. Take note, ask for key points and how the client might feel about any solution. Then take the comments to heart, avoid being defensive or argumentative and afterward discuss your findings with your team. Remember that perception rules, regardless of reality. If the client believes there is a problem, there is a problem. And the client is the only one in the room writing checks with your firm as the payee.
Touching base throughout the project keeps things smooth and give the client a sincere feeling that you care about him and the work. Once it's complete, the punch list is remedied, and the facility is occupied. The job isn't over. An appreciation or project close out evening or dinner is a terrific way to bring all the original players back into the mix along with consultants and contractors. Make certain to include as many elements of the client team (HR, IT, CEO, CFO etc), the real estate brokerage team and others. I like to have additional quarterly follow up visits in addition to the project walk through at 11 months to catch items for the 12 month Warranty period.
As an aside, client contacts do move and change companies. Follow them, wish them well, give them some time to settle in and then ask what opportunities may be in the future. In the mean time, build your relationship with the replacement, keeping in mind that many times that new contact may come with existing relationships. Walk carefully around this subject or your may find your firm on the outside looking in.
Once the habit of client follow up is established, the lines are clear for new work, expansion of service or new services. Essentially the favorable completion of any project should be an invitation to the next dance.
William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer who focused on corporate interior architecture for over 40 years in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff. Bill retired in 2014 and began a Small Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm to share the wisdom and experience of those 40 years. He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence.