A little bit of TLC

Looking after and nurturing your clients can mean repeat business in an increasingly competitive marketplace, says Paul Matthews. Here he outlines some key ways to protect your clients from competitor advances.

Key client management Client relationship management and client focused may be the new buzzwords in the property industry, but how active are most surveying firms when it comes to managing, protecting and developing their existing client base?

Is the active management of cl ient relationships something most of us aspire to, but actually do very little about?

Most surveyors would agree that the cost of gaining new business from an existing client is much lower than winning a new client.

Yet excellent client management means more than just buying the occasional lunch or making a monthly courtesy call.

It is a carefully honed skill, which, if done properly, means that your firm will always be the first port of call when new opportunities arise.

It also means being at the receiving end of more referrals and recommendations, all of which are vital in the current marketplace.

Who do we need to nurture?
All clients should receive exceptional service, however, there are those clients who are vitally important to a surveying firm’s business.  This could be for any number of reasons, such as their current fee income, potential fee-income, referral or strategic value, their ‘name’ in the marketplace etc. These are the clients that if they took their business away tomorrow would have a serious and negative effect on the firm’s business.  Such clients warrant a more proactive approach to managing their relationship.

Client care
While all clients should receive exceptional, first-class service from their surveyor, certain clients are vitally important to a surveying firm’s business.

This could be for any number of reasons – their current fee income, potential fee-income, referral or strategic value or simply the weight of their ‘name’ in the marketplace.

These are the clients that, if they took their business away tomorrow, it would have a serious and negative effect on the firm’s business. Such clients warrant a more proactive approach to managing their relationship.

Processes and procedures
Applying a firm-wide key client management process is essential. This process focuses on the whole client relationship in order to deliver excellence in four key areas – managing fee-earning work, defending clients, developing client relationships and client project management.

Perceptions are neither right or wrong, they are simply the client’s views of their advisers based on their experience.

For a client to remain loyal and continue to give their surveyors a continuous stream of work, these perceptions need to be very positive.

This will only happen from a belief that their needs and expectations are being satisfied or exceeded at every turn, and that the service your firm is providing is extremely difficult to replace or replicate.

Building such a position of trust requires everyone in your firm to understand, establish and agree the client’s expectations at each and every step of the relationship.

This can take place:

  • While selling to the client
  • In the final negotiations
  • At the start of work
  • At regular stages in the execution of the work
  • At the end of the engagement.

A client’s expectations can be gleaned from conversations and planning meetings with them.

While surveyors often make a good job at agreeing the ‘technical deliverables’ of an assignment, frustration on both sides is sometimes caused by a failure to agree on the ‘soft stuff’. This includes areas such as how the two sides are going to work together, how they will communicate and how meetings should be run.

By establishing and agreeing the client’s expectations, it is then much easier to plan and execute work precisely, so that it meets or exceeds these standards.

Firms that are very good at client management will continue to communicate with their client throughout the planning and execution stages.

This enables them to crosscheck expectations in case they have changed – and it also enables these firms to make ongoing improvements to their overall service delivery.

Building strong relationships
However, managing and executing excellent fee-earning work alone will not prevent a client from becoming interested in a competitor, particularly if they are tempting your clients with lower fees.

Successful businesses defend their client relationships – and if your client regards the relationship with their designated surveyor as tremendously valuable, it will become increasingly difficult for a competitor to poach them.

Such a position of trust comes not only from identifying key clients and understanding their expectations, but also from analysing the strength of the relationship.

This identifies any weaknesses or gaps, which a competitor could potentially exploit. Such gaps include not knowing or having relationships with enough of the key decision-makers or not fully understanding the client’s business or industry well enough.

Client relationships are often built around the personalities of two key people – one from the client side, one from the surveying firm.

This can cause problems if one of those people leaves their current employer, leaving the relationship in jeopardy.

Interaction is essential. The more key people you know, and who are supportive of your firm in the client organisation, the more protected the relationship will be.

This can be achieved by mapping out who is important in the client organisation (in terms of influence and decision-making) and making a concerted effort to get to know them.

The success of these plans should always be monitored and amended as the relationship evolves and changes.

Marketing and development
Many surveying firms often bemoan that clients ‘pigeon hole’ them as providing a particular range of expertise – which is often the case when a client doesn’t realise that the firm could help and support them in a much wider capacity.

Client development is developing the client and their business, and promoting the totality of your firm’s business to key clients.

This is not just about trying to ‘flog’ a range of services to get a bigger share of the client’s wallet.

Those firms that are successful in this respect use all the knowledge and information they gather during their relationship building to establish tailored solutions that draw on a wide range of their capabilities.

The aim here is to provide even greater support to the client, and to help them achieve their business objectives.

This also requires marketing to clients with targeted activities and correspondence that correlates with their specific interests and issues.

Client project management
The fourth element of key client management comes in the form of client project management.

Those firms that excel in this area create systems and ways of working that ensure all people involved with key clients contribute to the knowledge and plans relating to them.

In doing so, these firms ensure that everyone is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ when it comes to delivering excellent client service and defending and developing the client relationship.

This cannot be achieved unless key client management is taken very seriously and this motivation needs to be driven from the top of the firm.

Firms that have a high loyalty from their key clients tend to have real ‘buy-in’ and understanding of the importance of key client management among both their surveyors and support staff.

They also generate an internal plan that is aimed at improving the way the interface with each key client is coordinated.

Planning ahead
If clients believe that you are giving them tremendous value, they will truly prize their relationship with you and refer more business your way.

Such an achievement requires time and careful planning. Yet the rewards for doing so are immense – low client turnover, increased fees, client referrals/ recommendations and prompt payment of fees, to name but a few.

In planning how to build key client loyalty, property firms should not just focus on managing their fee-earning work. There are more facets to the relationship than this.

Finding client solutions beyond those being worked on today, expanding your knowledge of the client’s business, forming a stronger relationship with all of the client’s key people, and developing your own culture to deliver excellent client service, are all just as important.

 

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