Client Communication, Part 2

by Bill Beardslee, PLS, PE, PP

In my last article (June 2013, “Business Is Still about Relationships”), I encouraged surveyors to make the next year the “Year of the Talk.”  You have always walked the walk with your knowledge and skills.  But now, let’s discuss ways to “talk the talk” without feeling out of your comfort zone.

Everyone is aware that it costs substantially less to keep existing clients than to create new ones.  Expanding your services or projects to a client you have a relationship with is a “win-win” situation for both parties.  The client has a known, dependable member of his team, while the surveyor increases the workload and income stream. 

There is a question I like to ask in companies where I am consulting on management.  When a manager says he or she has a “great” relationship with a certain client, I ask,  “What is the client’s spouse’s name?”  (Mrs. Jones is not an acceptable answer.)  Most responders don’t know. 

That says to me that the relationship is all business and they probably are one error (or one ridiculously low price from another surveyor) away from losing the client.  Wouldn’t you have a bit more patience with someone who dines with you and your partner or asks how your son is doing in his soccer league?
If you have a client who provides more than 5% of the company’s gross, you should be seeing this person at a lunch meeting every 60 to 90 days and at a social night once a year.  Certainly, the annual social event of an association or organization your client values is a great option.

As for lunch, an 11:00 a.m. meeting can lead right into lunch.  Or, in many cases, particularly with public employees, you could schedule a meeting over lunch to “not take up part of the busy day.”  Make sure you are aware of all the regulations in your area for public employee gratuities or gifts.
Another client keeper is the non-milestone phone call.  There are always opportunities for conversations at milestones in a project, and yet what impresses clients is a call in the middle of a project where no call is required.  A simple, “Just wanted to let you know where we are” or, “We found something really interesting while reviewing the title on your property” will give the client the opinion that you are on top of the project—that they are important to you. 

Of course, that conversation ends with, “Is there anything else you would like to know or that we can help you with?”  Please remember one of my strictest axioms—every conversation is an opportunity to market.

My last point is deadlines.  In my experience, deadlines are treated much too casually, particularly ones for milestones and not project completion. Every time you have the fortune to obtain a new project, you establish a completion date with the client.  The internal goal for your firm should be to complete the project 20 to 25% before the client’s deadline.  If four weeks is agreed, finish in three weeks.  If 60 days is agreed, finish in 48 days.

This philosophy works for three major reasons.  The most important is client satisfaction, which should always be your primary goal.  The second is profit: the faster the project leaves your office, the more profit will most likely be created.  Projects that “lay around” tend to be forgotten and deadlines are missed, or team members charge hours to the project to “review” its status or perform myopic and questionably necessary changes. Thirdly, stuff happens: project manager out sick, a blizzard, no power for seven days, computer crashes, client unavailable to answer key questions, etc. 

These suggestions may not be applicable for all surveyors.  But whatever system you use, keep a personal relationship with your clients and keep them informed. An unhappy or unsatisfied client may then fall into another category—former client.  Let us all make sure our clients never have reason to be part of that group.

Bill Beardslee, PLS, PE, PP is the past-president of the New Jersey Society of Professional Land Surveyors and their 2006 Surveyor of the Year. 
 

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