One of the keys to success for small firm architects is client satisfaction. Keep the client happy throughout the project and that happy client will lead you to more happy clients.
Our clients don’t like surprises. They want to be fully informed and up-to-date throughout the process. Expectation Management is an important practice that must be included in the overall management of every project. Our clients want to know what to expect, when to expect it and what it may cost them when the expectation is finally realized. Manage their expectations and you will manage their happiness.
The Expectation Management System
With so many roles and responsibilities as a small firm architect, how might we ensure that our clients’ expectations are well managed? As with so many questions regarding a successful business, the answer lies within the system. Build a step-by-step process of touch points, follow-ups, confirmations, documents and checklists that will keep your clients feeling fully in control throughout; from pre-contract, through design, construction and right up to the end of project close-out.
Schedule some time to review the process that you complete with every project. Whether you have it documented or not, you most likely follow a routine for each project you deliver. Write that process down as a non-formatted list. Just get it all out of your head and on to a piece of paper or into an Evernote notebook. Then take that list and arrange it into an outline, documenting each step of your process. With a complete outline of your delivery process, then decide how best to communicate each step to your client.
For an example; identify the starting points and end points for each phase. How do you communicate the completion of Schematic Design Phase and the commencement of Design Development? Remember that your client most likely has no experience with the architectural process. It’s your job to successfully guide them through each step. The smoother the process, the happier your client will be.
Authorization to Proceed
At Fivecat Studio, we use a series of authorization forms to document the completion of each phase. Our Authorization to Proceed form is formatted as a Microsoft Word template and includes form fields for the project name and project number. More fields identify the name of the Project Manager submitting the document to the owner, the date that the document is submitted and a series of checkboxes indicating our five phases, where we check off the current phase being completed.
The template includes language stating that by signing this Authorization to Proceed form, our client is approving the completed phase and authorizing Fivecat Studio to process to the next phase. We include a signature line at the bottom of the form where our client will endorse the document and officially grant us permission to proceed.
Reinforcing Our Value as Architects
With a clear documented system, we reinforce our value as architects, identify the benchmarks for each project and end up with a complete record of client authorizations, documenting the process (which may come in handy if ever the relationship goes bad and attorneys get involved).
When our client returns the endorsed document, it triggers our Financial System and we send them an invoice for the completed phase. Upon receipt of payment, we then proceed to the next phase as authorized.
Question: Do you actively manage the happiness of your clients?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock /racorn
Written by Mark R. LePage