In my forty years as an architect, I’ve learned partnerships that embrace mutual trust and respect between the owner, architect, consultants and the general contractor will more often than not provide positive results. As I continue to mentor younger staff in my role at MG2 and while serving on the AIA’s Seattle chapter board of directors, I wanted to share a few of my tried and true methods for successful client relationships.
So how do you start to build and maintain successful client relationships? Here are three tips to keep in mind:
The foundation for a successful client relationship starts with the first encounter – oftentimes it has nothing to do with a specific project opportunity. The old saying that first impressions are key is especially relevant to our business. In my mind, they are asking themselves, “All things being equal, is this someone I would enjoy working with?” One thing I’ve learned is sincerity is not overrated. Be real and avoid pretense. If they sense you have a genuine interest in who they are and what they do, you may have already answered their first question.
Of course, sincerity only accounts for so much. The client is putting their trust in you to successfully shepherd their project through the process without encountering ‘surprises’ that can negatively impact their investment. In our business, there are bound to be obstacles that arise at inopportune times and will most assuredly result in additional costs to the project and / or delays to the schedule. Many times these are beyond our control. How you respond can have a lasting effect on the client relationship. I recommend seizing the moment – “run toward danger,” not away. This can take many forms and I assure you it will strengthen the relationship, enhancing the client’s sense of trust and confidence that you are committed to finding the best solution to the problem. The end result may not change; however, the fact that you faced adversity head on can speak volumes about your character.
There are so many other behaviors that can positively impact a relationship with a client: patience, persistence and of course integrity. The one aspect I always return to is treating your client as a friend, not only a business partner. Establish a connection on a personal level whenever possible. Larger projects can last many years and encounter numerous ebbs and flows, similar to other personal relationships. I guarantee there will be challenges over the course of a project that will test the relationship between owner and architect. The ability to reinforce business relationships with a personal connection may not always guarantee success, but in my mind increase the chances significantly. I’ve been fortunate in my career that many of my clients, general contractors and consultants I’ve worked with have become friends.
Once younger staff spends more time in the industry and have worked on their networks and client relationships, it’s important to remember there will be challenges with both the relationships and projects. In my career I’ve seen relationships and projects fall into one of four categories:
I’d like to focus on project types three and four. At some point in everyone’s career, they will deal with an unhappy client. How do you take a relationship and project that has soured and ultimately salvage the relationship? In my opinion it’s done by first and foremost focusing on your internal team. Maintaining the morale of your team is absolutely critical; you cannot do it alone. Acknowledge their continued commitment to finish the project strong. It’s unlikely you will significantly change an unhappy client’s perception – so continue to focus on what you can control: you and your team.
Regarding the client, always strive to keep the relationship professional and positive. Obviously, easy to say, much harder to do. You may never do another project with this client, but trust me, these experiences will pay dividends in your personal growth throughout your career. Based on my personal experience, you will gain the trust and respect of your colleagues. Although it is your job to keep your team morale high in this situation, it’s also imperative that you have confidence that firm leadership “has your back.” In my 20+ years with MG2, I am proud to say that has always been the case.
In closing, I’d like to share a quote from our Seattle neighbor, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.