Client managers face new challenges post-pandemic, requiring increased client contact, realistic budgeting, and managing expectations for success.
If you are a client manager, you know these are challenging times in the AEC industry. It’s hard to build trust and maintain positive relationships with key clients when so much is outside of your control. Our client management plan at Fleis & VandenBrink was working fine until the pandemic changed everything. Like other engineering and consulting firms, it seems like we’re continually getting slapped with new challenges. The sudden rise of inflation, combined with supply chain shortages, negatively impacted the planning and delivery of our projects, but we’ve found ways to adapt.
We have found that more client contact and being transparent about items that could impact a project is a best practice for success. We are all having to do a little bit more to educate our clients, but if clients don’t know what’s happening and why, they may lose trust in you.
At F&V we promote going the extra mile to satisfy customers which includes:
Setting realistic construction budgets. We have a saying at F&V: “Bad news does not get easier with time!” While some clients may get sticker shock at first, setting realistic expectations at the beginning is better than explaining why the low bid is not even in the ballpark.
Setting a realistic construction budget can be difficult to keep pace with the current market conditions. Keeping clients informed of the current bidding climate is also vital. You will need to update your opinion of construction costs regularly during the process.
We have also found that another set of eyes to review the budget is extremely beneficial. Sometimes, project managers subconsciously think the client will be upset and cancel the project if we present a budget that is too high. However, having an unbiased opinion helps identify if the project is being underestimated.
Better communication. One of the biggest lessons we have learned from the pandemic is the benefit of virtual meetings. Collaborating with clients has never been easier or more efficient. The flexibility, quick check-ins, and project update meetings, are invaluable and leave the client with fewer questions when the invoice comes due. However, they are not a long-term substitute for face-to-face, more human, and relatable client contacts.
A balance between virtual and in-person meetings is recommended. In-person client touches provide spontaneous interactions where there is no mistaking body language or facial expressions. The personal connection can be priceless and ultimately solidify a long-term client relationship.
Managing client expectations. In this post-COVID world, we have unfortunately gained a better perspective of what overpromising and under delivering really is. It comes down to supply and demand.
Contractors are still experiencing project delays and disruptions due to a shortage of construction materials and equipment. Clients want quick, straightforward answers when issues arise. Client managers must continue to communicate effectively with clients and set clear expectations on what lies ahead.
The AEC markets are still going strong today. But with the additional funding entering the market, contractors have become more selective on the projects they go after. Client expectations have not changed, but oftentimes they are paying above market prices and getting below average construction quality on their projects.
It’s critical to understand how the client views quality. It really helps when it comes to your services. It goes with the old saying, “You can have it quick; you can have it good, and you can have it cheap. But you only can pick two.”
The AEC post-COVID world is still evolving. It’s different! We’re utilizing new technology for meetings while trying to maintain our personal client touches because it’s important for client managers to still find a way to be responsive to communities. We want our clients to know and see that we’re a team they can trust to get their project done.
Matt Johnson, PE, is the Kalamazoo regional office manager and an associate at Fleis & VandenBrink. Contact him at email@example.com.