It just doesn’t take that much to be so much better at serving clients than the rest of the firms that do what you do. And it’s so important! Do a lousy job (or just a mediocre one) and you will never be able to replace lost clients fast enough, not even with the world’s greatest marketing program. The firms that really serve their clients will be the firms that do well in good times and bad. They’ll keep growing, keep making money, and keep their employees. Here are some examples of the “little things” that can help one A/E/P or environmental consulting firm distinguish itself from the pack in a crowded field:Project status reports. One thing I have learned over the years is this: Do a weekly project status report on every single active job and send it to the client. They love it! They don’t need to ask, yet here you are, keeping everyone informed at every step along the way. It’s cheap, it’s easy, it helps to keep jobs under control, and it helps you make money. Why aren’t you doing it, then? Accessibility. From the switchboard attendant who doesn’t over-grill incoming callers and recognizes frequent callers, to the time it takes for your professionals to return phone calls, small details have a great deal to do with how accessible your clients think you are. They want access. They hate not being able to reach the person who is supposed to be helping them. Think about this the next time you set up elaborate prescreening procedures to keep out telemarketers or don’t check your voice mail messages at least once a day while on vacation. These are easy things to do, and they make a huge difference in how accessible your clients think you are.Personal touches. Do you send personal letters to people in the client organizations you are working for? Do you personally hand-carry key deliverables over to the client’s office? Do you remember birthdays or other special occasions of significance to the client? These and other personal touches make a huge difference in how clients feel about you, and they carry over to the perceived quality of the service you provide as well. It’s just not that hard to do, so why not make an effort?Giveaways and freebies. Good stuff. Free tickets to sporting events. Good giveaways like the blanket I just got from architecture firm Hastings + Chivetta (St. Louis, MO), which the firm used in a recent promotion to higher education clients. Free site visits, if possible, to give some quick advice on a building that a client is thinking of buying. You get the idea. I’m talking about not charging every nickel and even giving something away every now and then to let your clients know that you are not just greedy people who want to extract all that you can from the relationship and not give anything back. Honesty. This is a big part of client service. Learning how to tell clients what they need to hear (“you don’t want to do that, and here’s why” or “the facility will not be able to be completed on your schedule, and here’s why”) without alienating them is a huge part of exceeding their expectations about service quality. Anyone can say “sure” to every request and then fail to deliver. Not everyone has the courage to tell a client what he or she may not want to hear (yet needs to hear) without doing it in a sarcastic, mean, or smug way. But this ability can so easily distinguish you from the rest of your competitors!Efforts to determine satisfaction. Do you ever poll your clients to see how happy they are? Send a postcard to them with a funny rating system? Have the CEO or managing partner call? Go see the client a year after they’ve moved into their facility to really listen to what they have to say? These are all good things that clients will appreciate. They want to know that you care how they feel about your work— if they think you’re really sincere in your interest.Originally published 4/30/2001.
About Zweig Group
Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.
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