I just heard a story the other day about one of our clients from another clients (both large A/E firms). Evidently, the first firm had been called by a big client for help on a new project. A meeting was arranged to discuss it. Not only did the design firm fail to show up, but no one even bothered to call to cancel! The peeved client then called the second firm and said they could have the job if they just showed up!Getting contractors to come out to my new house is similar. One of the swimming pool contractors I had out last week told me I should have called him last month. I said, “I did. I called you in January!” He’s already booked for the year now! My electrician is stringing me along. The tree guy takes two weeks to return calls. And the garage door company that came out to make a bid on three doors and openers never quoted me a price.The point is, with times this good, what are you doing to make sure the quality of your service is not deteriorating beyond repair? Here are some things you need to be thinking about:Staffing. Do you have the people you need to do the work you are signing up to do? Do you even know what your backlog is? Is there any reserve capacity whatsoever to take care of your best clients? If you answered no to any of these questions, you’d better be taking action to make this problem go away. Otherwise, you will soon be missing deadlines and upsetting clients— and jeopardizing your firm’s future income.Client satisfaction monitoring. How happy are your clients? Are you assuming that just because you aren’t hearing a lot of complaints, everything is OK? Are there any changes in satisfaction over time that you could measure? I would want to know the answers to these questions and more. You should be doing something beyond just telling your principals and project managers that it’s their job to keep clients happy. That just isn’t good enough. It takes an investment of cash and other resources to make sure your clients are being continuously polled on their level of happiness with your firm’s work.Your best old clients. Just make sure they aren’t forgotten. Give them the price breaks if any are offered. Don’t use them as a training ground for newcomers to the firm. Make sure that whoever answers the phone recognizes good old clients when they call. Get out and see these clients occasionally. Training. Are you doing anything at all to improve the quality of your service by improving the skill sets of your people? If not, maybe now is the time to do a little ax sharpening. The lion’s share of training expenditures for A/E/P and environmental firms goes to two things— computer training of one sort or another and project management training. How much are you spending in these two critical areas? Underfunding training produces short-term profitability benefits, but it has longer-term costs in quality and staff turnover. Think about that!Corporate culture. What do you reward in your firm? What do you measure? What do you talk about? These are the things that will determine your company’s culture. Some aspect of your culture better be telling people that doing the work and making clients happy is really important! Contrast this with the culture that says getting new jobs is the only activity worth doing. Think about how you can mold the culture of your firm so that everyone knows what it takes to get ahead and knows that actually doing a good job is important!Growth rate. Maybe it’s too high. Just because the work is there doesn’t mean that you have to do it. Learn to say no sometimes. Maybe you cannot train and hire as fast as the marketplace would allow you to sell new work. Employee attitude. When people get overloaded and overbooked, some will suffer deterioration in their attitudes. They may start talking and acting as if the client is the enemy or the “problem” that is keeping them from living the life they want to live. You have to immediately confront this attitude as soon as it shows its ugly head! Danger, danger, danger! If you start thinking you’re doing well just by showing up, rest assured, at some point you will face the inevitable rude awakening. So do something about it before it’s too late.Originally published 4/24/2000
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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