It’s nice to talk about service, but what are you doing about it?

December 09, 2012 |
Rob Cassidy

Who’s the most important person in your firm? The biggest stockholder? The tree-shaker who brings in the biggest contracts? The top designer, engineer, or construction professional? Answer: None of the above. The most important person in your firm isn’t in your firm. It’s your client.

How well does your firm treat its clients? How do you measure client satisfaction? How often do you assess it? The management consulting firm Morrissey Goodale ( has been asking clients of architecture and engineering firms questions like these every two years since 2008.

The 2102 Morrissey Goodale A/E Industry Customer Service Report Card offers this stern warning: “Firms that sit idly by without reassessing the way they do business will likely face declining revenue and backlog, eroding profits, and potentially, the loss of their businesses.”

According to the report, A/E firms actually are doing quite well on client service. (The report did not study construction companies, but its findings should be of value to contractors.) Sixty-two percent of client/owners rated their overall satisfaction with A/E industry customer services as “excellent,” up from 56% in 2010 and way, way up from an abysmal 16% in 2008.

A couple of key findings:

  • The most important aspects of customer service to clients: communications (43%), adherence to schedules (40%), and budgets (40%).
  • Client/owners rated A/E firms highest for “integrity” (93 out of 100) and the quality of project managers (89). The lowest mark was given for “budgetary capabilities” (85).

With regard to “integrity,” the Morrissey Goodale study advises firms not to overpromise; to stay on top of change orders, project budgets, and schedules; to eliminate surprises by “communicating frequently and honestly” with clients; and to manage client expectations from the outset by “telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear” (emphasis added).

Give your project managers sufficient training and administrative and technical support, say Morrissey Goodale. One reason respondents may have given such high marks to project managers is that they were seeing more experienced, capable professionals due to layoffs at A/E firms. They caution firms that are currently hiring to be careful about thrusting inexperienced, junior-level staff into project manager roles too quickly.

Several “takeaways” reinforce points we’ve been writing about in these pages. Morrissey Goodale advise A/E firms to “stay on top of owners’ industries.” In other words, get to know your clients’ businesses. As the report notes, “Owners repeatedly emphasized they are looking for A/E firms to understand the challenges they face and the trends that are driving their industries.” They note that firms that are organized around market sectors have an advantage here.

The report recommends being mindful of the needs of all your clients, including end-users—office tenants, shoppers, hospital patients, school children—as well as the facilities staff.

“Go beyond design” is another thoughtful recommendation. Help your clients find the money to build the great structures they want. Discover clients’ “pain points,” they counsel, and find the salve to soothe them.

Finally, some sage advice that applies to every business, not just AEC firms: “Never take clients for granted, particularly long-term clients,” Morrissey Goodale advise. “Provide high-quality service on each and every job, no matter the size”—wise words, but too often ignored in the helter-skelter of day-to-day operations. +

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Rob Cassidy (“ClimateGrouch”) is editorial director of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

Related Blogs

Why AEC firms should be cultivating 'visible experts'

Photo: Cydcor via flickr creative commons

July 07, 2015 | Architects | Building Team Blog

A new study pinpoints the true dollar value of having knowledge leaders and market shapers on your team....

Tactical urbanism: Why bigger isn’t always better in urban revitalization

Each September, as part of Park(ing) Day, citizens, artists, and activists in more than 160 cities collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into micro parks, gardens, and art exhibits. Photo:

May 27, 2015 | Smart and Resilient Cities | Building Team Blog

A budding urban planning movement that is sprouting in cities across the globe proves that low-cost, small-...

Hackathons and RFCs: Why one developer killed the RFP

Image depicts design concepts from the hackathon winner, Pickard Chilton of New Haven, Conn. Photo courtesy Skanska

May 06, 2015 | Building Owner | Building Team Blog

In lieu of an RFP process, Skanska Commercial Development hosted a three-week "hackathon" to find an archit...

Chance encounters and the ‘action’ office: Do collisions spark innovation?

Google is among a handful of tech giants to unveil plans for “action” offices. Rendering courtesy Google, BIG, Thomas Heatherwick

March 29, 2015 | Office Building Design | Building Team Blog

Google, Facebook, Samsung, and Tencent have all unveiled plans for “action” offices designed to get their p...

The High Line effect: Placemaking as an economic development engine

Eight years into the transformation of an elevated section of New York Central Railroad’s West Side Line into a public park, the $273 million project is being hailed as a resounding win for the city. Photo: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons

March 02, 2015 | Cultural Facilities | Building Team Blog

As big money and eager tourists flock to Chelsea, cities across the globe are starting to take notice. Chic...

Photo: Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons

The National Institute of Building Sciences estimates the retrofit market for small commercial buildings at $35.6 billion. Photo: Infrogmation via Wikimedia Commons

January 28, 2015 | Office Building Design | Building Team Blog

The real opportunity for shrinking the nation’s energy footprint lies in the mundane world of small commerc...

This past October, 78 young AEC professionals gathered in New York City for leadership development and networking during BD+C's Under 40 Leadership Summit.

January 21, 2015 | Building Team Blog
Many AEC firms focus on training for the hard skills of the profession, not so much for business prowess,...

Photo: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

December 22, 2014 | Building Team Blog

Commercial and residential construction can be as different as night and day. But as one who covered the ho...

American Standard's SaTo sanitary toilet pans (shown here installed in a latrine in Haiti) seal off pit latrines from flies to prevent the spread of pathogens.

December 08, 2014 | Building Team Blog

When we see the incredible technology being produced by global plumbing manufacturers, it’s hard to conceiv...

Add new comment

Your Information
Your Comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.
Overlay Init