Laying the foundations: The importance of client relationships

  • 21 May 2018

The phrase ‘the customer is always right’ was first coined by Harry Gordon, the founder of high-street retailer Selfridges. His idea was to make customers believe that they would receive the highest level of service, even before purchasing anything. But how do you manage client relationships without over promising? Here, Dave Friar international operations director at engineering solutions provider Boulting Ltd, explores the importance of building and maintaining a strong relationship with the client.

The success of any engineering project often revolves around the quality of the relationship between client and service provider. A good working relationship should be based on trust and understanding between all parties and, if managed correctly, this can lead to a more permanent contract between all parties and, through good relationship management can be fruitfully beneficial to both parties for the longer term.

At Boulting, building strong relationships with our customers is a top priority for everyone. As a result, we have a great number of long standing clients who we have worked with for up to 50 years. During this time, the roles and type of work we deliver has evolved. However, the importance of a good relationship and the benefits it can bring have not.

The benefits of good manners

The services that engineers provide are often not judged until the end of a project or even for some time after. If you’re looking to improve plant efficiency by integrating automation technologies or design and build a new high voltage distribution network, the success of the project may not be immediately measurable. However, the client’s experience is. Word of mouth is very powerful in the industrial world, as it can both lead to new project wins or result in the loss of potential contracts. A client’s experience will shape how they publicly talk about a project, even if the results are not yet available.

While it does take time to build and maintain a strong working relationship, it is a cost-effective exercise that can improve productivity and efficiency. Equally, if not managed appropriately complaints and misunderstandings can have a detrimental affect on the relationship, costing both time and money.

Basic building blocks

With any new client or project, it’s important to lay the foundations and get to know who you are working with and build up a rapport by exploring how they like to work. Do they prefer weekly or daily calls? Perhaps they’d prefer everything to be done by email. Whatever the approach, it needs to be defined in the early stages.

It isn’t just about a single client though. Building relationships with individuals, whether they are the decision makers or not, is equally as important. Some projects may span across continents and require conversations in various languages, which brings their own set of challenges, further emphasising the importance of establishing strong communication channels.

Managing relationships

How we communicate with clients and maintain that healthy relationship has changed significantly over the past 50 years. Historically, plant managers approached us with a single problem that they needed rectifying, such as a drive on a pump that was not working effectively. We are now being asked to look at the scope of a project on a much wider scale. Rather than installing one single piece of equipment, if the project requires it we develop a bespoke system that impacts on the overall facility.

Increasingly, clients are looking at the design and build of a facility as one single element, rather than breaking it into two. At Boulting, we provide both services, taking clients through the entire journey; from concept to creation. Concepts such as Industry 4.0 have led to a great number of new possibilities for the design and build of a project, and while clients may have an initial idea for a scheme, it is our job to help them shape and develop their vision into something that can deliver the results they require.

One way we manage larger integrated projects is by using building information modelling (BIM). By integrating information from a variety of sources linked with the construction or renovation of a facility, BIM allows for the creation of a digital model of the plant. The level of detail in the model is dependent on the chosen BIM level.

BIM is a collaborative process that is particularly useful when working with modular builds on pre-fabrication sites. By using one digital model that all contractors have access to, you can ensure that all pre-fabricated components fit into the facility. Clients will also have access to the model should they require a more in-depth update on the status of a project.

Client collaboration can also be achieved through integrated project delivery, an alliance between suppliers and the client that aims to integrate the best aspects of people, systems, business structures and practices. By using this system, clients become part of the team, ensuring all interests and objectives are aligned across every aspect of the project.

Transparency is a key benefit of this particular model as costs, timeframe and progress are shared among all relevant parties, creating a sense of security and involvement.

There is no one single way to perfectly manage a client relationship as every project is different. Whatever model is chosen, communication remains key. While technologies such as BIM have a wealth of advantages, it’s important not to rely on technology and forget to simply pick up the phone and talk.

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