Columnist Bill Beardslee, PLS, PE, PP, writes in this space about the importance of clear communication with your clients. This month a surveying company based in New York shares their insights into client communication from more than 35 years of business, as they expanded into a multi-discipline, multi-state firm.
Marketing your business and its services can appear to be a simple task on the surface. However, this can very quickly become daunting for surveyors (as for most professionals). Knowing where to look, which doors to knock on, and how to access decision makers in a market where they are increasingly harder to access can be extremely challenging.
Part of our solution at Delta (Delta Engineers, Architects, & Land Surveyors) is to turn each customer into a part of our marketing team through an exceptional client experience. Of course, we pride ourselves on the quality of our final work and the fact that clients know we will always give them a great product. However, what we have found to be equally as important is communication, before, during, and after project completion. Effective communication can be the distinguishing factor and a substantial marketing tool in its own right and helps to set us apart from the competition.
Talk to Clients
The average consumer may know what a surveyor does in simple terms but likely has had little or no exposure to the profession itself, outside of the possibility of a property transaction. Even then, the surveyor’s role primarily occurs behind the scenes. Given this unfamiliarity, most people treat these services as a commodity and feel that as long as a professional is licensed in their jurisdiction, they will be getting an equal product no matter whom they chose.
Consumer naivety of the surveyor’s skill set poses a significant disconnect. As this can occur even between professionals working within similar industries, continually educating potential clients as well as existing clients can pay off exponentially in the long run. Making sure everyone is on the same playing field, beginning with both project scoping and estimating fees, can make the difference between a repeat client and a dissatisfied customer.
When we meet with new clients, we try to take a few extra minutes to explain the background of what we are proposing to do, why it needs to be done, and the benefit it will provide them. We do this also with existing clients to reinforce an understanding of the process and project. Often, we find that customers are eager to learn what goes on “behind the curtain,” and this information goes a long way when it comes time to pay for our services because then the clients understand the amount of effort that goes into the final product. It can be easy to assume when you are working with clients in a field similar to ours, such as when we are working for construction contractors, that they have not only an understanding of what we do but also an “equal” understanding of the details; however, this is rarely the case.
On many occasions we have found it necessary to refresh our clients’ understanding of the process to prevent costly mistakes in the field. Things as simple as reviewing markings or symbols on grade stakes with operators in the field can prevent errors on the part of the misinformed operator as well as solidify the relationship between surveyor and client through the extra effort to make sure the next person in line is able to move the project forward.
A good example of the benefits of discussing the project in full with clients is a case when a client was requesting a boundary survey on his first commercial site purchase. As with most first-time buyers of commercial properties, he did not want to spend a lot of money on a survey. After sitting down together, talking about the project, and looking at the title work that he made available to me, I explained that I thought he would be much better off with an ALTA/ACSM land title survey, even though it would cost him more money.
I explained that a boundary survey generally shows the property lines, easements, and other details as mandated by our state standard, whereas an ALTA/ACSM land title survey must adhere to a set of national standards put forth by the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping and adopted by the American Land Title Association, which establishes a common standard for commercial real estate transactions.
When the client agreed to the ALTA survey, I told him that once we finished our work and he completed the purchase of this property, he would understand the importance of having this type of survey for this purchase. Not only was our client very happy with our survey and has used us on his next commercial purchases, but his attorney had high praise for our work and now recommends us to all his clients.
Listen to Clients
Effective communication goes both ways. Most importantly, that means not drowning out the client with your own communication. We understand our clients’ needs simply because we listen to them. We do not try to sell something the client does not need but focus on what kind of results they really are looking for. In the end clients will respect you more for hearing their needs and responding to them.
For example, a client was going to put one of his large commercial shopping centers up for sale and asked us to put together cost for an ALTA/ACSM land title survey. He told me that he wanted this map to be special because he also wanted to use it as a tool to help market the shopping center. After talking with him, I told him we use high-definition laser scanners on most of our larger projects and could prepare a “fly-through” video of the site for him from our scans. He wasn’t sure what I meant until he saw the video, which we produced from our scans—it “flies” throughout his property, around all the buildings and parking lots like the viewer is in a helicopter. He said that video and our mapping helped sell his shopping center, and now we prepare a video on all sites like this.
Let Your Clients Do the Marketing
As surveyors, a majority of our work is done in our heads, and it is sometimes difficult to step outside of that frame of mind and engage people. However, doing so for even a brief period and learning to effectively communicate what you are doing can help you provide your clients with a better overall experience.
Trying to keep a constant flow of work coming into a land surveying company week after week is challenging. Most people need only one or two surveys in their lifetime. However, by creating relationships with each of your clients through effective communication, you have the added benefit of turning them into a valuable part of your “marketing team” as they share their experiences with others. And you don’t even have to have them on your payroll.
In one case we completed a small boundary survey for a client who turned out to be part of a large local construction company. He was impressed with our work and contacted us to provide services to his company on a job with a fee worth far more than the original boundary survey.
Engage in Grassroots Marketing
Finally, do not underestimate the importance of com-munity involvement and “grassroots” marketing efforts. Clients are members of the community and have involvement, connections, and business networks that can be valuable marketing tools. It’s important to promote your surveying business as a brand and to seek to have widespread recognition of that brand in the community.
This can be done in a variety of cost-effective and non-complicated ways. Some examples include arranging interviews with local and regional news publications on important projects in the community, sponsoring local community organizations and youth groups such as the MATE program featured in this issue), joining business organizations, and being active in college alumni programs. It’s important to put a face on your business to make your company more relatable to the community.