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1.  Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 13 days ago
I am interested in learning how everyone establishes guidelines for client communication during a project. Let's assume you've created a good relationship, you have the project, you are now either designing the project or it might even be in construction.  We all know that homeowners are not the same as developers or corporations. They might be nervous about the project, they may not fully understand the process and you get phone calls and emails often. Let's add in the variable and say that you've discussed many items with this client and have agreed on them, yet later the client brings up these same design items and wants to review them stating "we've never discussed this option".

With that scenario in place, do you establish communication guidelines with clients at some point in the project? Designate time to return calls only once/day or once/week? Let your client know you will respond to all their questions on "x" day each week? Other ideas?

I'm sure we all like our clients, but also know that sometimes the constant communication from them can also prevent us from finding out the answers they need and completing the work properly.

I'd love to hear what experiences you've had. And what has and hasn't worked for you.

Thanks,
Brenda Nelson

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Brenda Nelson Assoc. AIA
Intern Architect
Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, Inc.
Omaha NE
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2.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 12 days ago

Welcome to the proactive of Residential Architecture. The only rules are the ones the client set and reset.

Just keep positive communication going both way. I find it best to work at the client level. Each one brings their own level of understanding. Not unlike children,

Do not punish yourself when punishing the client.

Just like children, some clients are  easy and some are very difficult. You have to embrace the variety. Bring patience to the job. You will often be the calming voice of reason when the builder and owner are at each other.

 

No wisdom from me.  other than trying to create office standards to manage client is not  where I would spend my time.

a schedule is fine but will not hold.  It's good to have plan, but plans have to be flexible as they will not hold.  

 There is too much life to get in the way. A good time to return calls and email is after 6:00 when your client is home and not distracted  by their work day. Most of my clients do not want emails at work. It depends on if their name is on the sing out front or the door.

 

Best of luck managing your clients.

 

 






3.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 12 days ago
It's a great topic for discussion.

I am probably breaking every rule, but I like to manage expectations from the beginning by not replying immediately to emails. Later in the day or the next day are fine. I will sometimes send a message saying - "All good questions. I'll give this some thought and reply tomorrow."

Phone calls take less time so usually, I will respond as soon as I am able. I do not, however, allow my clients to expect me to be available at all hours. I ask at the beginning if work hours or outside of work hours are best for them and accommodate their choice. Nobody gets to pick both (though obviously there will be some overlap/exceptions made). I think wanting 24/7 responsiveness is a power thing and I know I won't enjoy working with that client.

I haven't provided any advice for the really anxious clients, who will reconsider every decision and never stop questioning. It sounds like that is what you have going on now. That's really hard.

My contracts provide estimates for the "hard" work but the "soft" stuff - meetings, phone calls and emails with the clients - those I bill by the hour. I explain that some clients want to be more involved, going through every detail together, and some are more hands off. So far, everyone gets that and accepts it. When the invoice lists my communications with the client and the time involved, some will cut back on their 2am emails.

Very interested in what others have to say on this.

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Carol De Tine AIA
Carriage House Studio architects LLC
Portland ME
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4.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 12 days ago
Maybe I am a little different than some of the others, but I will try and respond to an email as soon as I can.  Every client wants to feel "special" or as though they are your only client.  They are paying in my mind a decent fee, so why not make them feel as though they are getting the most of your services and attention.  There are times that I can't respond as quickly as I hope to, due to meetings, out on a job site, etc., and I have never had a client complain I haven't gotten back to them in sufficient time.  Even if I have set a precedence of responding quickly.  I think most people understand that we do have other projects going on, even if they hope we don't and are only focusing on their project.  The most I will wait to respond is 24 hours, or as someone else mentioned, I will respond with a generic "good question(s), let me think on that and get back to you."  I will try my best not to respond after regular business hours, though it doesn't always happen.

My biggest pet peeve is when I will get a text from the client, since my cell phone is my office phone, especially after business hours.  I will respond again with my generic response about getting back to them.  Thankfully it doesn't happen often or I might have to consider a separate office phone system.

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Jason Hoppe Assoc. AIA
JH Designs, LLC
Middletown KY
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5.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 12 days ago
Brenda,
 
Although it takes a little extra time, I strive to always issue meeting minutes covering items discussed during design.  Regarding the calls, I try to tell them the hours budgeted for construction observation so I can say - "we are near exceeding the budget prompting additional services costs".....Adam 
 
Adam J. Trott Architect
1001 State Street, Suite 205
Erie, PA 16501
p. 814-456-8667
f. 814-453-4978





6.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 11 days ago
We set up a base camp site for the clients and our staff. We can see any questions and whoever is appropriate responds. We do not respond outside of business hours unless it involves a early am meeting. During the design and construction document phase we past w bi-weekly update to basecamp. This is great to remind owners if we are waiting on them.

We do weekly site visits during construction and post detail field reports with photo to basecamp. Most of our clients live out of town during design and construction.

We answer all phone calls. It is also important to figure out how your client likes to communicate.
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7.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 12 days ago
I am available 24/7 to my clients. I don't think only replying on certain days or hours would work. All design work is done on an hourly basis. Rather than a detailed set of meeting notes, we take notes on a set of drawings for minor changes or overlay sketch paper for major changes. In my 35 year old practice, I have not had these problems.


John Stewart
Stewart Associates Architects
1351 Laurel St.
San Carlos, Ca 94070
650-591-8283 O
650-787-2656 C
stewartassocaia.com




8.  RE: Client Communication Guidelines

Posted 12 days ago

The ArCH AOA (Architect-Owner Agreement)

http://www.archomes.org/product/the-archforms-aoa-2015-architect-owner-agreement-2015-edition

has a paragraph that is COMMUNCATIONS and in it, the Architect and Owner discuss how often and by what means the Client would like the Architect to contact or update them.  Choices include: daily, weekly, monthly, or when the Architect deems it appropriate (what Clients often select).  However, it also indicates that the Client may contact the Architect whenever they wish.  But what this does, is establish a contractual basis for when and how the Architect contacts the Owner, so there is no misunderstanding later.

 

However, your question also calls into action something all Architects should do: keep an electronic record of all emails with Clients, and if you had a phone call, make a "Telecon Record" into an email and send that to the Client, so that there is a written (typed) record of all discussions.  That way, if the Client indicates later that this what never discussed, you can resend the contact record.  But be careful how you do that. 

 

E.G: "Here's a copy of our discussion from 4 months, ago, Fred, I know that's been a while ago, so it's understandable that anyone might need to see this again, as we are all making a lot of decisions to advance the project.  Please let me know if you have any questions; thanks."

 

And if a Client wants to change their mind and you are hourly, that's fine.  However, if you have a fixed fee, you're going to have to have a heart to heart discussion, making the Client aware that they're going to need to now pay for your backtracking on a path they previously approved.  Those are the discussions that are the toughest. Having a good record-keeping system will be your best support to tackle those issues.

 

Rand Soellner  Architect     ArCH /NCARB /LHI /MA Arch

 

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