Prepare for Success

The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina has left the country reeling with anguish and questions: How can we have been so ill-prepared for such a storm? Why did the emergency response systems fail? What is the future of New Orleans, a city built below sea level? How will these events affect all of our businesses and lives over the coming months and years?

The politicians, citizens and FEMA will wrestle with these issues for some time to come. But design/builders and our clients are also affected by hurricanes. It is prudent for us to reflect on how well prepared we are and how well we prepare our clients.

Now, in the immediate aftermath of the storm, it is evident that the cost of all building materials will skyrocket. Many resources are being diverted to the Gulf Coast region, creating a limitation of materials available to residential design/builders. The old supply and demand principle takes effect.

But preparedness is not just a matter of correctly estimating the cost of lumber. It also entails communicating with the client about what is going to happen throughout the design/build process. The use of certain communication tools creates comfort, consistency and distinction for your company, and exceeds your clients' expectations.

Here are a few examples of the tools I am referring to:

The Meeting Agenda: During the sales process it is important to ask permission from the client to document pertinent project information. This information is compiled into a meeting agenda that prepares the client (and salesperson) for the sales call. The agenda serves as the meeting coordinator, keeping the discussion on track. By adhering to one, the client will notice that your company is different from the others.

Interactive Design Presentations: Choose an interactive media display during the initial design presentation. Interactive media presentations include 3-D software, laptop computers and LCD projectors. Let the client know that he/she will have the opportunity to make alterations to the design during this presentation. By offering a tangible method in which to voice and document their needs, clients are empowered by the design/builder.

Job Folders: Not all modern communication is technology-based. The act of leaving a folder on a client's dining room table, including updated project information and receipts, communicates what is happening on the jobsite. Furthermore, this folder can contain additional information about services the builder offers. For example, the left pocket contains invoices and the right contains marketing materials.

All these tools will meet the immediate communication needs of clients, and ultimately exceed their expectations of the design/build process. If the design/builder uses tools like these to connect with the client, clients will realize that they are receiving premier service.

In light of the additional financial stress that will be on the building trades as a result of recent natural disasters, it is imperative that we step up our professionalism and client service. The client chose this project delivery system because he values accountability and control. Clients can figure out rather quickly if their expectations are being met or not.

By using communication tools that cater to the client's needs, the builder or architect can mitigate the unplanned events that inevitably occur. In spite of the unpredictable nature of life, if we try to run our businesses in an orderly manner and with a plan, we can manage the business risks inherent in our professional lives.