Architects are professionals who have the important responsibility to undertake the design and construction of projects with varying scale, budget and scope. At the core of a successful architecture, business is the firm’s ability to cultivate an environment for their clients that fosters mutual trust, relieves frustration, creates good communication, and builds strong relationships.
When the architecture firm and its clients share an effective working relationship, it sets the tone for the project’s success while helping the firm build brand image and reputation.
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Aligning with client expectations
Building client trust and earning goodwill in the industry enables an architect firm to optimize both client recommendations and client retention. Architect firms need to differentiate themselves and offer exceptional services in order to stay ahead of competition.
A winning strategy to achieve differentiation is to align architecture firm services with the needs of the clients. Architect firms need to clearly articulate the benefits of their project pre-planning, designs and project management in terms of client priorities including quality, operating costs, occupant satisfaction and environmental impact.
Five ways to align your architecture firm with client needs
Educate: Written agreements are the most important documents related to the construction project. The process of determining what the agreement terms are begins even before the agreement is drafted and signed. At this point, it is crucial for architecture firms to clearly define the scope of their services and educate their clients on the architect’s specific role and responsibilities. The entire project’s alignment depends on how clearly and precisely the architecture firm educates the clients on the project scope and the firm’s responsibilities.
Leadership involvement: Focusing on strengthening architect-client relationships is therefore a priority for architect firms. For many clients, while the firm’s experience in the relevant sector is a differentiator when it comes to choosing an architect firm, the firm’s leaders’ involvement is also a top priority.
One of the primary needs of seven out of ten clients, as revealed in a survey, is the firm’s leaders’ involvement, which plays a crucial role in their hiring decision. At the onset, the firm’s leaders need to be involved in project proposals and project initiation. This factor is considered to be more important than recommendations, referrals or low-cost proposals or bids.
Knowledge and expertise: Architecture firms need to understand the other aspects that influence their clients’ decision-making. Across sectors such as healthcare, education and offices, 58 percent of clients prefer architects who understand the buildings’ performance and its impact on its occupants. The other areas of priority are the architect’s knowledge of their firm’s culture and goals.
While the specific needs and expectations differ from client to client, it is always important to take a personalized approach to understanding what the particular client wants the most. Given the priority placed on the structure’s impact on occupants, architect firms would benefit from designing discussions around function, performance and experience.
Collaborative approach: Demonstrate a collaborative approach by acknowledging the client’s needs and reiterating the architecture firm’s commitment to customer service.
Holistic offerings: Architecture firms are increasingly adopting a multidisciplinary approach as they offer additional in-house services including interior design, furniture design and engineering. This trend is particularly seen with larger firms. While the traditional architecture functions of delivering design and documents remain critical, clients also give priority to a range of additional services they expect from architect firms. Brands are also trying increasingly to find ways in which they can be an inherent part of their stakeholders’ lifestyle.
With the exponential increase in technology in all aspects of daily lives, clients also seek smart technology integration in the built environment. Organizational management is another key area of focus for clients looking for support to transition users into new spaces and optimize project outcomes.
As a result, architecture firms are diversifying their offerings by including consultants from various disciplines. These consultants include electrical, mechanical, structural and plumbing engineers, landscape architects, lighting and interior designers, cost estimators, brand experience and user interface designers.
Risk management: Architect firms cannot anticipate every contingency or circumstance that can arise during construction. Change orders can typically occur which requires the architect firm to factor in additional time with consequent increase in budget. This may mean that the initial budget estimate may also change.
Risks are inherent aspects of any profession or creative endeavor including architecture business. Unforeseen and unknown conditions can happen at every stage of the project. Errors and omissions can range from design errors to budget under or overestimation. While some errors are minor, major errors in project management, structural design or budget estimation can have a huge impact on the project and client relationship. Clients also file claims based on an incorrect understanding of project scope or unrealistic expectations.
While planning ahead for project contingencies, it is imperative for architecture firms to protect their financial health and reputation with architect liability insurance.
Build strong relationships
Good relationships form the basis of success across industries and professional ventures. This is particularly true of the construction and design industry. The very foundation of a successful project depends on how well aligned the architect firms and their clients are on all specifications of the project and the project scope.