In a competitive world where firms of chartered surveyors are trying to distinguish themselves, the concept of added value is highly prized. But, added value is not just about doing a good job – all clients should, and do expect to receive an excellent service. And it’s not necessarily about doing something for nothing.
Added value is about delivering over and above a client’s expectations. To be valuable to the client, a service must make a difference to them and their business, which usually means it, must be individual and personal. Chartered surveyors who seek generic solutions, which may add value across the client portfolio, usually miss the mark.
But added value presents many surveyors with a dilemma. On the one hand, they want to protect their client relationships. They recognise that if they can add genuine value, clients will remain loyal to them and continue to give them new and repeat instructions. However, the thought of understanding the wants of each client seems labour intensive. It conflicts with the economies of scale some firms are pursuing in the management of their client portfolios and profitability margins.
Added value can contribute positively to a firm’s performance; for example, one company took the time to understand what its clients really wanted from their relationship. It carried out research to access what it could do to help make its clients’ lives easier and also looked at areas of support and added value it was currently offering.
With this information the firm mapped out different needs in its client base. It soon became clear that there were clusters of similar needs across the portfolio. This enabled the firm to make a number of service changes and modes of working, which helped them tailor their offer to individual clients. This included changing methods, frequency and content of communications (from practice areas, marketing, accounts etc) so that they better reflected client preferences. In reality the changes did not result in a major upheaval. The firm’s new focus on those areas that mattered to clients meant that it stopped wasting time and energy on those aspects that didn’t. Profitability levels improved and the client base became very loyal. Over time it did indeed bring in new referrals and instructions.
Where to begin?
To deliver added value, Chartered Surveyors need to focus their energies. The more successful surveyors are very specific in their approach and identify those individuals who are critical with regard to the way they are seen within their client organisation. These people are key to the winning of on-going work.
It is sometimes difficult to answer the question “what would make your life better and easier?” and pinpoint the areas that could help. An understanding of what a client sees as added value comes from a number of different interactions such as client research, feedback after each project and in-depth dialogue with key people in the client organisation. Client service review meetings are very effective here as they have the potential to re-assess the whole of the relationship between the firm and the client – past, present and future. By listening and understanding a client’s situation, we may well identify areas where we can go beyond their expectations of us and deliver an even better service.
Sometimes the factors that clients consider as added value are somewhat intangible. For example, our research shows that clients want surveyors to:
- Know and really understand our industry and where our business fits into this
- Make an effort to really know the people in my team
- Understand the demands made by my internal clients
- Spend time with us – even when there is not fee-earning work to carry out or supervise
- Provide me with information that helps me to carry out my role more easily and more effectively
- Help me to develop my own capabilities and the capabilities of my team, so that we can become demonstrably more effective over time
By investing time to respond to and develop these intangible elements within the relationship, chartered surveyors can help the client to be successful. Eventually, (and without the firm demanding anything in return) its key client contacts will become its advocates. They will really cement the firm’s relationship with their organisation.
Value added facts
Regular client review meetings also allows surveyors to communicate to the client the extra value they have received from them. This is especially important if surveyor’s contacts in the client have to justify using their particular firm (perhaps at higher rates than some of the competitors). Surveyors shouldn’t assume the client automatically recognises the added value they have delivered.
The more successful chartered surveyors firms find ways to remind the client of the value they have generated. One firm has an ‘extra mile’ file, in which it records all the ‘extras’ it has done for the client, above and beyond the basic service components. Every now and then, it reports back to the client on the contents of this log. By doing this they pre-empt the questions: “Where’s the value in this relationship?” And “Where’s the evidence of that value?”
We have seen some chartered surveyors view added value as just a marketing tool – sending newsletters, brochures and email updates to all contacts on a database. However clients do not necessarily see more information as added value. They expect their advisers to understand them well enough to ensure that any information sent to them is relevant and helps them and their business. Any irrelevant information sent to a client can be potentially damaging to the client relationship. The client questions why the firm has sent it to them and may then start being receptive to advances from competitors who do demonstrate an understanding.
Chartered Surveyors, having recognised that their clients demand added value, can comply and build client loyalty through three key steps:
- Understanding what added value means to each key contact in each client firm
- Finding the time to plan and deliver;
- measuring, demonstrating and reminding clients of this added value on a regular basis.
- How do I find the time? Published 9th January 2009
- Brilliance in Business Development Published 6th June 2008
- Business development: get up and go Published 11th December 2008
- Making a Breakthrough Published 14th May 2009