Every A/E firm talks about delivering stellar client service and many deliver to that mark. Why? Well, before I can provide my opinion let’s set the definition for what constitutes stellar client service.
From my foxhole, stellar client service = responsiveness, collaboration, and establishment of crystal clear expectations. Without these three elements, you will certainly not develop stellar anything, let alone client service.
Thirty years ago, I learned what delivering stellar client service was as a bus boy, then as a waiter, in a posh restaurant. We in the A/E industry can learn a lot from the hospitality industry when it comes to client service and “delivering an experience”. From my time servicing clients on two-tops, then four-, six- and eight-tops, I learned how to gauge what our guests (i.e. clients) wanted and when. How to read body language, how to interact with the guests to establish rapport beyond a transactional relationship, and how to ensure they left with an experience, not just a meal.
In short, I learned how to turn eating into an experience. I also learned that when it’s done correctly, your fees (i.e. tips!) go up.
Delivering stellar client service in the A/E industry requires engineers to transform the technical act of engineering services from the technical stuff many clients don’t understand (or want to), into an experience. This is much like the transformation of eating dinner from a biological requirement into a memorable experience.
The 6 Ingredients for Stellar Client Service
There are six ingredients you need for delivering stellar client service. This isn’t a step-by-step listing, meaning you need to be delivering on all six. The reason any A/E firm wants to do this is simple: repeat business. The cost associated with generating new clients for A/E services is substantial, so it is sound business sense to deliver the goods for the clients you have so they come back to you over and over. One firm I recently met within the UK has a repeat client base of 80%. That’s impressive and it also means that they are delivering stellar client service.
The delivery of A/E services is much more than good engineering. There are thousands of firms employing tens of thousands of engineers that deliver good engineering. The differentiator between A/E Firm A and A/E Firm B isn’t their engineering, it’s the level of trust that a client has with either Firm A’s or Firm B’s ability to deliver to their expectations. Having sat in the seat of the client, selection of Firm A or Firm B comes down to the level of confidence I develop with either firm’s ability to limit my risk exposure and which one expresses a clear understanding of how to mitigate my risk.
If your firm can do this, then you’ll build your client’s confidence and trust.
2. Delivering on your word
When I was waiting tables, if the chef or kitchen staff didn’t deliver greatness on the meal, I wasn’t able to deliver an exceptional product. If that happened repeatedly, then the restaurant would have gained a bad reputation and would have eventually gone out of business. This wasn’t the case — in fact, that restaurant is still delivering exceptional client service 30 years after I worked there. They continue to deliver on their word of exceptional food delivered with exceptional service.
In the A/E industry, a firm delivers on its word when it’s able to meet schedule, cost and quality expectations of the client. It further builds on this when able to respond professionally to fix problems that arise.
3. Actively Listen
One of the best ways to deliver stellar client service is to actively listen to the client. A client needs an A/E consultancy that understands their business, the client’s clients, and what constitutes strategic success…through the eyes of the client. Client’s also want an A/E consultancy that understands how to mitigate risks for the client. All of this can only occur through active listening.
4. Actually caring about the client’s position
Tied to actively listening to the client is being empathetic to the client’s business, their strategic objectives, and mitigating the risks they face. The project your firm is working on today is part of that business’s future plans for success. Do you fully understand what these are? Do you understand what your client’s full strategy is, and how the work you are performing fits? What about the risks the client faces, not only associated with your project, but dependent on your project? Understanding this bigger picture will help you become more concerned about the client’s position and how you can best help.
5. Being willing to say “no”
Sometimes your firm is not the best suited to solving a problem for your client. Can you say “no” to their request for support? Yes, you can. In fact, you must do this, as it’s the ethical thing to do. It’s also how you build trust and mitigate the client’s risks. Even better than saying “no”, is saying “no, but let me help you find the right consultancy that can help”. This not only engenders trust and deepens the relationship, but you’re likely to build a relationship with the firm you help the client bring in to the mix. The A/E consultancy industry is not a zero-sum game, do not play it like that.
6. Investing in a relationship
Delivering stellar client service is best summed up as investing in a relationship. A/E firms are consultancies, akin to law firms or doctor practices. Our fellow professionals generate their business solely off relationships developed with their clients. The most successful among them, as with engineering consultancies, do so because of the investments they make in relationships. All relationships require trust, shared commitments, collaboration, a clear understanding of expectations, and desire to further the other party. If you approach client service like this, you’ll not only be delivering stellar client service, you’ll be growing your business as well.
“People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below on delivering stellar client service to engineering clients.
To your success,
Christian Knutson, PE, PgMP, PMP
Engineering Management Institute