Communicating Expectations

April 23, 2018

As an architect, engineer, or contractor, you must communicate clear and concise expectations to your client. Setting these expectations upfront will help smooth any bumps in the road ahead. As the expert, it’s your job to communicate with your client what potential road blocks will occur and, more importantly, how your team will overcome them. This shows you have proactively thought about their project and what “could” happen. Writing about your past experiences (case studies or project summary sheets) tells a story, too. People enjoy stories, so give examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly by setting up realistic expectations.

Talk about how you’ve overcome the bad and the ugly. We are all human and make mistakes. It’s how you communicate and handle the mistakes that displays your customer service skills.

When I was young, my parents built a house. I remember for three months, we would hear the contractor say, “Two more weeks and you’ll be in your house.” Three months later, we moved in upstairs while it took them another three weeks to finish the downstairs. Had they just set clear expectations upfront about the schedule, we wouldn’t have been “surprised” that the schedule kept getting pushed back. The truth is, the client doesn’t care about the excuses ― they want their project completed in a quality manner, on time, and within the set budget you communicated early in the project.

There are always issues or problems that come up with everything in life. What matters is how the problem is handled and communicated with the client. Most people are reasonable and understanding if something changes, as long as you give them a valid reason. As soon as you see an issue arise, communicate with the team and put together a plan of action of how you are going to fix it. You can even make a mistake — but own up to it and then fix it! Typically, mistakes can be fixed with little cost to you or the client.

Communication is challenging for the design and construction industry. You don’t want to talk over the client’s head, but you want to keep them informed on the progress of the project. Finding this balance is key to making sure everyone is on the same page with project expectations, ensuring on-time completion and a satisfied client.

There really isn’t such a thing as too much communication, but the level of detail needed may change depending on the client. Repeat clients typically understand your firm’s processes and communication style, so they won’t be as unsure of your team as a new client may be. New clients will need more communication and setting expectations, so they can gain a better understanding of how your firm operates. Regardless of the client, communication is instrumental to the success of a relationship. Keeping the lines of communication open and honest results in a much more successful project and a continuum of the relationship, thus resulting in additional projects.

Communication can be difficult if something negative must be discussed. If a negative conversation must occur, try to do this in person if possible. If you aren’t able to have the conversation face-to-face, the next best solution is to pick up the phone and call. By having this discussion in person or on the phone, you are better able to read the facial expressions and/or tone of the conversation.

If you don’t meet your client face-to-face or call them on the phone very often, it’s recommended to make that connection and not just rely on emails. Don’t get me wrong, emails are an effective way to communicate, but you can’t build a relationship through email. The face-to-face and phone calls are more effective ways to build those relationships.

Effective communication — whetherwritten, verbal, body language, etc. — must be a component of any successful business. Many issues often stem from a communication problem, so make sure you are having conversations with your clients and prospects to deliver what they need and want, thus resulting in a successfully completed project. Communication is a broad-brushed subject, so you will need to drill down to discover the “communication problem” should your project team have one.

Communication before, during, and after the project must be part of your firm’s processes. This MUST be built into the project and ALL project team members must understand the importance of communication. Without effective communication, your firm could lose potential clients and future projects. Keep the lines of communication open!