Communication And The Client Experience.

Melanie Lochore (Board Member) considers the “client journey”

Architecture is primarily about communication.  A successful architect-client relationship is based on trust and for meaningful dialogue to occur there must be confidence in and respect between architect and client. 

Good communication skills breed trust, reduce perceived risk and increase repeat business. 

Communication failures are at the root of a high proportion of claims from disgruntled clients who feel that their architect has let them down.  The potential impact of a claim or complaint on an architect and their professional reputation is immense.  Many claims could have been avoided by improved communication with the client.

How Architects communicate well, build trust, and improve the client experience:

  • Educate your client.  The education of the client is a fundamental component of a successful client-architect relationship.  Architects often assume that clients have a broader understanding of the design and construction process than they really do. Assume they know nothing.  Discuss and inform.  Ensure that they understand the design process and what information they will need to pass on to the design team.
  • Listen to your client.  Respond to their concerns. Don’t make assumptions. Architects who listen and understand are better placed to challenge the brief.  Ensure your client provides you with clear feedback.  Let them know that their contributions are valued.
  • Identify and manage risk.   Identify and communicate areas of risk to your client and ensure they are involved in decision making about reducing or eliminating risk.  Clearly describe the reasons behind design decisions and the effect of them on project outcomes.  Managing risk means anticipating failure and planning how to deal with it.
  • Manage client expectations.  One of the fundamental ways to build trust is to deliver on what you promise.  If the client has unrealistic demands regarding budget and schedule, be honest with them about what is feasible.  Don’t overcommit and don’t be afraid to say no.  Do not avoid difficult conversations.  Advise early if budget or programme are escalating beyond initial estimates.
  • Avoid ambiguity;  confirm decisions.  Be clear in your communication and avoid ambiguity.  Ambiguity is a problematic issue that can lead to mistrust and damage communication.  Discussion is a great way to communicate with your client but follow up all critical decisions and advice in writing.  As time passes it is easy to forget exactly what was said, and clients are prone to misinterpreting or forgetting key issues.
  • Tailor design communication.  Communicate your design intent to your client in a language they understand.  Employ easy to understand visualisation techniques to communicate design ideas and decisions.  Architects assume that clients can read drawings well and understand technical architectural vocabulary, this is often not the case. 
  • Put yourself in the client’s shoes.  If you discover a problem, step back and be objective.  Prepare for and move to resolve it as soon as you can.  If your client understands you are being “up front”, maintaining goodwill, and are proactive in finding solutions, the prospect of escalation may reduce.  Understand the issues from the client’s point of view, and prioritise that over defending your pride.  If there is the potential for a claim against you, notify your insurers and seek their instructions as soon as you can.  Do not indicate to your client that you anticipate a claim on your PI. 
  • Keep them involved.  Reply promptly to client’s letters, emails and phone calls.  Be proactive in problem solving and decision-making, and keep them involved in it.  Demonstrate to your client that you are acting in their best interests.