Without clients, you don’t have a business, which means your priority is to delight your clients. Happy clients pay their bills and recommend you to others.
There are many types of architecture clients, but what are the top fourteen things you can do to make your client relationship the organization’s bedrock?
1. Sparkle Online
Your clients will meet you online before they even think of setting up an appointment to discuss their project. For some services, you may never meet your client but simply deal with them through the internet.
Your client journey begins with how you look online, so you need a fresh and current website and pay attention to your social media like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Most potential clients will look at your online presence to see if they like your style.
2. Be Realistic
However much you want the work, it is not fair to the client to take on a project you can’t deliver.
Failure hurts your reputation (and your pride), so assess your potential client’s needs and be realistic with them about what you can and cannot deliver.
This reality check covers everything from deadlines to budgets and techniques.
3. Listen to the Client
Your role as an architect is to meet your client’s needs.
Imagine you walk into a hairdresser, explain what you want, and walk out with the hairstyle your hairdresser wanted to practice instead. You would feel annoyed and frustrated.
Your client may not be able to articulate what they need from you, but part of your role is to listen and find out what the client needs so you can deliver it.
Attentiveness and listening skills are hallmarks of being a great architect.
4. Speak the Client’s Language
The client wants you to provide a professional service, which means they probably don’t know all the architectural jargon.
When you explain your vision for their project, use illustrations (3D rendering, sketches, plans) and present your ideas to them in simple terms.
Pay attention to how your client receives information, and make sure you cover all the standard learning styles – hearing, seeing, and experiencing.
5. Avoid Problems
A straightforward contract, terms, and conditions covering every detail of what you expect from the client (stage payments, for example) and what the client can expect from you mean there are no confusing expectations between you.
The documentation must cover dispute resolution because if you need to deal with an angry client, a framework for managing conflict with clients makes life easier for both of you.
6. Be Professional
Part of your role is to be on top of all the technical details – the building codes, safety specifications, and everything else to do with the project.
The only way you can build a reputation for being the professional architect that gets the job done is by being the professional architect that manages all the details and gets the job done.
7. Talk to the Client
It would be best if you kept the client in the loop through regular, effective communication. If you don’t give your client regular updates, you will get an unhappy client calling you and requesting an update.
Part of your communication strategy is to avoid creating a client who has unrealistic expectations about deadlines and progress. You choose the best method for talking to your clients while managing the project, from a weekly email to scheduled meeting dates.
The essential component is that your client is satisfied; they get the information they need before they have to ask for it.
8. Be Honest
Suppose you know you will miss a deadline, or the construction site is full of mud and water, or some other thing will cause problems.
You can pretend it is not happening and keep telling the client what you think they want to hear, but this is not how to deal with clients effectively.
Give them the truth, they can handle it, and they will respect you more for being honest with them.
9. Manage Conflict
You may have a difficult client that gives you a headache every time they are on the phone. You may have a rude client, and your staff is threatening to walk out, and the contractor wants to quit.
Handling conflict with clients is something you need to tackle before it escalates. It is best to have a clear set of boundaries before you start, and you need to enforce them.
Sadly, if you allow a client to be rude to your staff, you teach the client that you find this acceptable behavior.
Your approach needs to center around courteous manner, but firm. Often a polite conversation addressing the matter will sort the issue, but you need to give concrete examples of unacceptable behavior and how you expect the behavior to change.
Plus, it would help if you had a clause in your contract detailing acceptable behavior with a walk-away clause that does not hurt you financially.
10. Evolve Your Contract
Every interaction with a client will highlight areas that your contract should have covered but did not – keep updating your agreement.
You only need to have your staff suffer under a rude client on one project to realize that you need safeguards in your terms and conditions that allow you to resolve conflicts with clients in an effective way.
You learn how to deal with clients in architecture one project at a time. It would be best to reflect your learning in your evolving contract, so your experience shapes your future client interactions.
11. Breaking Up is Never Easy
Sometimes, you want to walk away when you realize you have a client who is never happy with your work. On the other hand, how to handle a client that wants to cancel?
Every arrangement with clients needs a get-out clause for you and the client. It helps to accept that not every project runs to a successful conclusion, and sometimes there is nothing you can do but agree to part company with your client.
However, before you throw in the towel, there are a couple of approaches you can try to save the relationship.
Why is the client never happy?
The client could have unmet expectations about how the project was going to run, and it is worth finding out the source of their unhappiness. Then you can ask yourself if you can or should meet their expectations.
Perhaps the client expects something not provided in the contract?
In this case, you have an opportunity to negotiate for an extra fee.
The answer to the client who is never happy is listening, understanding, and deciding on appropriate action – even if that action is to walk away.
The approach to the client who wants to cancel is similar – listen to what they are saying. Their reasons for canceling may have nothing to do with you; perhaps they are running out of funding.
A client with a strong motivation to cancel is unlikely to be dissuaded, so it is best to be courteous in organizing the break-up with minimal damage on both sides.
It is a more serious matter if the client wants to cancel because of your work’s quality – investigate and see if they have a valid point.
If the client has a genuine reason for the complaint, accept it, apologize, and put it right. Prompt action and taking responsibility may change the client’s mind.
12. Be Polite and Friendly
The best way to build relationships with the client is to maintain a friendly attitude.
You don’t have to be a doormat agreeing to everything the client wants. You can be assertive while remaining polite and friendly.
You can defuse an angry client with relentless courtesy, or you can stomp around your project, upsetting everyone with your abrupt manner.
You get to choose how you behave, but polite and friendly, keep the clients on board and recommending you to others.
Your client will be delighted if you do what you say you will do by the date you agreed. If you can build a reputation for delivering the job on time and budget, you will attract the best clients to your practice.
It means having a steady focus on time, cost, and proper project management practices at every level of your organization, but isn’t that the business you want to be?
14. Give Something Extra
When you complete the project, surprise the client with an extra unexpected flourish.
It does not have to cost a chunk of money, but it needs to make them feel special to lift your relationship out of the transactional and into the edges of friendship.
Unique extras can cover a signed (by the whole team) and framed concept sketch of their project, a photomontage of the construction process, or a tiny hidden surprise in the building like a carved mouse on a skirting board.
As an architect, you have a creative mind; design your unique flourish to surprise and delight your client.
In time, this flourish may be the reason why clients beat a path to your door, but your motivation should be the pleasure of a surprise gift.
Wanting to please your client is how you handle your clients in architecture and win their hearts.