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Five Tips for Successful Client Relationship Management
As a young structural engineer, I am only about a year and a half into my career. Over that time, I have gained so much technical knowledge about the world of structural design, but perhaps it’s the non-technical skills that I’ve learned that are the most important. Chief among these is the skill of client management. Now I am very aware that I still have a lot to learn in this area, but I still believe that I can offer a few tips on successful client management. These tips were learned from my experiences – from both successes I’ve had and mistakes I’ve made.
1. Go above and beyond
When you’ve been working for a client for a long time, you start to just go through the motions. The project comes in, you design it, you draw it up, and you send it out. You’ve done exactly what the client has asked you to do, but is this enough? Is there something more you could be doing to give them a reminder of why they should continue to use you for their next project?
Once in a while, do something that is a bit unexpected for your client. It will make you look even better in their eyes, and you can be sure that you will be the person they call for their next project. If you have just designed a brand new office for your client, send them a framed rendering along with it as an added touch. They will love to hang it up in their lobby, and, as an added bonus, your name will come up whenever someone talks about the rendering. Sending a project a few days before a deadline also looks good in the eyes of the client. It lets them know that they are a priority for you and that you value them as a client.
2. Be honest
This one might seem like a no brainer, but it can still be easy to forget at times. In most cases, the dishonesty doesn’t come in the form of lies that you blatantly tell your client. It’s what you don’t tell them that can be dishonest. For example, if it’s Wednesday afternoon, and you already know that you are not going to be able to hit the 4:00 pm Friday deadline, let your client know immediately. It doesn’t do any good to wait until 3:55 on Friday to break the news that you won’t be sending the drawings over in five minutes.
Honesty builds trust, and when your clients know that they can trust you, they will continue to want to work with you. On the other hand, if they cannot take your word as the truth, they are going to drop you very quickly.
3. Be detailed in your invoicing
I’ve touched on this topic before in my blog Five Ways to Collect More Quickly, but it’s very important so I am going to touch on it again. Your client does not want to see an invoice and not know exactly what they are being charged for. This is especially true when you are working on a time and materials basis instead of lump sum. Include your hours on the invoice, and accompany each chunk of time with a detailed description of how the time was spent. Your client will appreciate the fact that you are being transparent with them. Vague bills are annoying, and if you keep annoying clients, there is a better chance that they will stop working with you.
4. Practice good communication
Good communication, in my eyes, is the number one most important aspect of good client management. You and your client need to be on the same page at all times so that the project can move along in a smooth manner. Send your client weekly updates so that they know exactly where you are on their project. In your update, make sure to include a detailed status report of what you have completed and if you are still on pace to hit their deadline (if you aren’t, tell them immediately (see number 2). Your client will appreciate these updates, and it will make them happy to know that there is significant progress happening. Also, be sure to include any impediments that you’re dealing with and what information you need from them to remove those impediments and keep moving forward.
If you have a client that your used to getting work from on a regular basis and you haven’t heard from them in a while, reach out to them as a reminder that you are still there. Ask if there is anything you can help them out with. This will take you no more than five minutes to do, and it can lead to you landing another project with the client.
5. Get together with them out of the office
Do something with your clients out of the office so that you can get to know them on a more personal level. Host a happy hour for them, or take them to a ball game. We do this fairly often at the architecture and engineering firm I work for, and it has led to some of our best client relationships. It’s nice to be able to talk to your clients about something other than work once in a while, and it’s going to be harder for a client to drop you when they like you personally.
Having good relationships with your clients is key to running a good business. If you have a solid client relationship management technique that has worked for you, please post it in the comments. Thanks for reading!
John Baucco, EI
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