Masters of contentment

Keeping the customer satisfied is more than just a cliché to most surveyors, a recent study finds, but they must remember that competitors will seek to steal clients away with promises of better service. Kevin Walker reports.

News flash: surveyors care about their clients. Chartered surveying firms are, believe it or not, showing increased commitment to more proactive and effective management of their most important client relationships.

This is one finding that has emerged from a recent benchmarking ‘healthcheck’ carried out by The PACE Partnership, which looks at how professional firms approach key client management. Sixty-seven major professional services organisations took part in the benchmarking study, including seven firms of chartered surveyors – of which most were significant market players.

Motivated to manage clients

Overall the property professionals scored themselves much higher than colleagues in other professions when it came to finding the motivation to engage in proactive key client management. This indicates that senior management is taking the subject of key client management seriously. And so it should be.

For most firms, the 80/20 rule applies. Eighty percent of income is derived from 20% (sometimes less) of the client base. This part of the client base is becoming more discerning and these clients are increasingly aware of their value to property advisers. Any firm without a structure process in place to manage the relationships with the 20% is taking a big risk.

The risk is heightened in today’s market conditions. With less transactional business to go round, competitors find time to ramp up business development and the best targets are the key clients of competitors.

In the past many key client management initiatives failed to have any real impact because they did not have the sponsorship of those whose opinions really counted – those who ran the business.

Managing client relationships was often seen as a positive choice, rather than a necessity. Often there was no explicit link between key client management and increased fee income and profitability. The benchmarking survey would indicate that this is no longer the case.

However, getting senior management to drive the programme is not the end of the story. The client enjoys excellent management through a myriad of interactions with its property advisers.

These ‘moments of truth’ are delivered, in some circumstances, by hundreds of different people – and people’s behaviour is dictated by how they think and feel.

Demonstrate commitment

If the people within the business do not embrace and demonstrate real commitment to continually improving the firm’s client management processes and practices, then there is a risk that the client’s experience does not improve much at all – despite management banging the drum.

Perhaps management has been too eager. Having recognised the necessity to pay more attention to key client relationships, the tendency of many mangers is to take immediate action to remedy the situation. Although the orientation to action is laudable, there is the risk that the initiative becomes a ‘management thing’ that many lower down in the business do not relate to.

In the worst situation, people wait for it to ‘go away’ – like many previous management initiatives.

It is very important that management takes a very clear position with regard to how the business manages the relationships with its most valuable clients and it is heartening to see this explicit commitment. However, having made the decision as to what needs to be done (‘We need to improve!’) then, to win hearts and minds, management must engage all of the people in the organisation in finding ways as to how this can be accomplished.

When people implement their own ideas – not management’s – the firm gains the commitment of the people who actually do the important job of managing the client.

 

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