Service Is Still King

Most of my posts focus on the importance and benefits of marketing for businesses in the architecture, engineering, construction and real estate industry.

Where does client service fit in? After all, it isn’t really related to marketing, right?

People often think that referral business has little to do with marketing and branding, and everything to do with quality work. While the quality of work is utterly important, it isn’t the only reason for a referral.

Client service = long-term relationship building. Taking care of your clients and letting them know just how valuable they are, keeps them coming back for more and it’s what makes them remember and refer you. Your reputation for client service IS your brand, just like your quality of work is.

How defined is your expectation for client service? How can your firm control your brand through day-to-day interaction?

Communication. Defining your brand doesn’t just mean making sure your logo is used consistently. The strongest brands filter through to every activity and the strongest leaders communicate the expectations. Many companies define behaviors such as:
• Client calls are returned within a day, without exception.
• Every project begins with a bound document with job roles, contact information, schedule…

• Every client should be taken to lunch monthly during the duration of their project.

Depending upon your business, services and client list, some of the above may not make sense or aren’t realistic. However, in some form or fashion, these service-related behaviors should be defined and communicated to your team in a way that is unique to your firm.

I’m sure we’ve all had partners and clients miss appointments or fail to follow up on important deliverables…I’ve probably had three in the past month. But for you, and your business, is that how you want your brand to be remembered? If not, how are you communicating that to the rest of your team in a way that is empowering and engaging rather than restrictive and cumbersome?

Learning from Consumer America

It’s a fact that marketing for professional services (especially firms in the AEC industry) is a whole different ball of wax than consumer product marketing.

It is also a fact however, that decision makers “buying” services are people, just like the consumers that buy products. So what can the architecture and engineering industry pick up from consumer marketing during this recession?
Since the recession hit there have been a large number of consumer rebrands effecting almost every major industry: apparel, food, grocery, hospitality…the list continues. Rebrands are EXPENSIVE, especially for a major corporation with stores (or products in stores) across the globe. Why are all of these large brands willing to sink so much money into a new brand in the middle of a struggling economy?
The reason is that marketing and branding are important. Not just important, crucial. Even to an already educated or aware audience, a rebrand provides new top of mind awareness for companies. The cost to rebrand a chain such as Holiday Inn, is well worth it now that consumers who have driven by the same Holiday Inn everyday notice it again. What was once an almost unnoticeable fixture on your daily commute is now a new icon that catches your attention.
Just getting new attention isn’t worth a rebrand, it has to be a part of a larger strategic decision. However, the point is that companies that are respected as smart marketers and understand their audience also understand the need to continue and even increase their marketing efforts in a down economy. The result is more control of the advertising space, increased marketshare and a position as the right choice in tough times and when spending picks back up.

How is your 2010 looking?

According to the Consensus Construction Forecast from a few months ago, next year still isn’t looking wonderful for the industry…at least the nonresidential side.

So when we’re so busy thinking about making it through this week, next week, next month…how do we think about making next year successful? How can we see the forest when there are so many trees in the way?!

One of the most important aspects of business or marketing planning is setting time-sensitive goals. Everyday you might make a to do list on post-it notes, and while this isn’t exactly business planning, let’s consider it micro-planning for this post. The list is usually very specific, and likely things that have to be done that day, or at least that week.

Your post-its are your trees.

I had a discussion this week with a colleague that said “I just don’t have time to write a business plan. It takes so much work.” So, I offered this advice to her…don’t write a plan.

To begin making your 2010 plans now, try working the way that you already do. If you’re a post-it note fan, for every note you write of to-dos, write another one with longer term items. You can group your posts however you like. Maybe one note includes marketing goals, another includes client targets and another includes operations related needs. Then, over time begin to fill in the gaps on those post-it notes with quick ideas on how to achieve them, details on costs, etc.

Don’t worry if you hate post-its. If you’re a sketchbook carrier (like I am), then pick a page at the back of your sketchbook and do the exact same thing. Write down a few notes at a time, leaving space to come back and fill in info later. The whole intention of the exercise is that you spend time looking at the long-term without being overwhelmed by the aspect of writing something definitive.

Before you know it, you’ll have a “forest” of post-it notes that you can organize and type up to create your 2010 marketing or business plan. You will also have spent as much time planning your future as you did planning your day.