Archive for the 'Customer Service' Category

Will Lower Fees Save Your Firm?

Have you reduced your fees, with the intent of obtaining more work?

The economy dumps and projects vanish. In reaction, the architect drops her fees. Revenues plummet and the firm shutters its shop.

Sound familiar? Do you fall somewhere in that scenario? I hope not.

Reduced fees will not save your practice. It will kill it.

Our strategy is different… and so far, it’s worked.

We held our fees at the level required to cover our overhead and make a profit (which, interestingly enough, is a “high fee” compared to our local competition). That’s what every business must do to stay in business and thrive into the future.

Then we reduced our expenses to the minimum and expanded our services to the maximum. We remained focused on high-touch customer service and our revenues remained strong (although cash flow is a whole other blog post).

We have survived the worst of times.

Have you reduced your fees? Why or why not? What other strategies have you used to weather the storm?

Let’s talk.

Recruit Your Clients to Help you Better Serve your Clients

Starbucks Coffee Co. has built a website dedicated to the interaction with their customers. It’s called My Starbucks Idea. Have an idea that will improve the Starbucks customer experience? Drop them a line at their website. The best ideas are actually implemented in Starbucks stores throughout the world.

Check out the website here: mystarbucksidea.force.com

How can we recruit OUR clients to help us serve them better?

Architects Can Learn Much from Other Industries

What can we learn from other industries to make the traditional architectural and construction processes better?

Hospitals are filled with checklists and other systems to make sure that every step of a procedure is done correctly. NASCAR racing teams also use checklists and directives from multiple layers of team members, each with their own specialty. Toyota uses their Product Development System, also known as Lean Manufacturing, to make every subsequent product better than the last.

At Fivecat Studio, we are developing a Project Manual, filled with checklists, that will make every design process more efficient and will assure that every project is well built.

What are you doing to be more efficient? What systems are you implementing to be sure your clients are happy? Are you learning from other industries?

Please share…

Too Many Choices?

When performing our Design Development phase with clients, we typically assist them in selecting all their finishes, plumbing fixtures and lighting. This process is completed most efficiently when we discover and learn, through questionnaires and images, what our clients like and what they dislike. Then, with thorough knowledge of their taste, we offer a limited number of items from which they select.

We find that when clients attempt to perform this task themselves, they are often overwhelmed by the almost infinite number of choices from which to pick. This typically leads them back to us and our efficient process…

Today, Guy Kawasaki tweeted a link to Catherine Faas’ blog post, Why you should stop giving your customers too many choices. Catherine references an eye-opening case study showing redbox beating out Netflix by making DVD selection easier for their customers.

How can we make our clients’ project experience easier and more enjoyable? Should we be limiting their stress by limiting their choices?

I wonder how our clients’ would answer these questions…

What are your thoughts on choices?

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Be Nice!

Besides creating wonderful residential architecture, marketing our firm well and encouraging our clients to spread the word about Fivecat Studio, I believe a major part of our success is “likeability”.

Clients expect architects to design well. They expect us to provide a quality service at a reasonable cost. It is actually rather difficult to distinguish your firm from others.

One thing that sets our firm apart is that people like us. We’re nice. I just had a client tell me the other day that she felt that we were “real” and “down to earth”. I tell my employees often…”be nice!”

Apparently “likeability” is a skill set, not a gift. I credit my mom and dad for raising me well, but according to an article in this week’s AIArchitect, “likeability” can be learned at any age… and if you’re interested in succeeding, it’s well worth the lessons.

From AIArchitect:

Here’s what we know about likeable people:

  • They are more successful in business and in life.
  • They get elected, promoted, and rewarded more often than those less likable.
  • They close more sales and make more money.
  • They get better service from all types of service providers, including doctors and other health care providers (which means they may live longer as well!).

White Windows

Many years ago, before Annmarie and I started our residential architecture firm, I was a project manager with Kaeyer, Garment & Davidson Architects in Mt. Kisco, New York. I worked very closely with the senior partner at the time, Dick Kaeyer.

My first assignment as Project Manager was a major addition and renovation project for a church and facilities in Yorktown Heights. Dick designed the project and I developed it through construction drawings. Then, in order to learn the tips and tricks of construction administration, Dick and I worked as a team through construction.

Everything was going very smoothly and I was feeling very confident, until the windows were delivered. I will never forget the day. A sunny summer afternoon, I was attending the project meeting alone and the first window was being installed. The owner looked at the new Andersen Sandtone window and said, “The windows are wrong. We wanted white windows. Why are they not white?”

Panic pushed massive amounts of adrenaline through my brain. I specified Sandtone windows months ago during Design Development. Dick and I selected a neutral earthtone color scheme and I thought the deep tan color of the Sandtone finish would look great. There was never a request for white windows from the owner. They just expected that they would be white, and they weren’t. I never informed Dick of my decision, so this was all on me.

I was scared. I was 26 years old and this project was my first big responsibility. I went back to the office and told Dick about the problem. The contractor wanted the issue resolved immediately. Reordering the windows would push the project weeks off schedule and the rest of the building was enclosed and ready for siding.

I explained to Dick how I specified the color and that it was all my fault. I took full responsibility and offered to pay for the new window order. I don’t think I completely understood what I was doing. It was a $15,000 order and I was making about $35,000 per year.

The next day, I met with the owner, apologized, again took full responsilibity and explained what I had suggested to Dick.

What happened next was very interesting. Not only did the owner accept my apology, I gained his full respect. From that point forward he knew, without a doubt, that I was working for him. My honesty and integrity gave him a whole new level of comfort and confidence.

Dick’s years in the industry paid off that week. He pulled some strings and had a new order of white windows delivered the following week. The supplier accepted the Sandtone windows in exchange and my salary was unscathed.

The lessons I learned on that project have been with me ever since;

1. Manage your client’s expectations. Make sure they know what they’re getting…before they get it.

2. When you make a mistake, take full responsibility as soon as possible. Not only will you gain respect, you will minimize the impact of the error.

3. Use the words, “I am sorry”. It will instantly defuse the anger of the offened party.

4. Find a solution, no matter how much it might hurt.

I have discovered throughout the years that if you are honest and have integrity in all you do, it will ALWAYS work out. The relationship you have built with your client will be streghthened in ways that would be impossible otherwise.

Then, once the problem has been completely resolved, make sure it NEVER happens again.

Do you have a story about a successfully resolved mistake? Tell us about it by clicking the “comments” link above this post.

Remark-able Customer Service

I am constantly looking to other industries to find ideas for my own business (a great tip for architects in itself). Here’s a very interesting post about customer service by Joel Spolsky, CEO of Fog Creek Software.


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