Tracking the Client Experience
What does your role at Beaton involve? What’s a typical day like?
I am the executive chairman of the consultancy I co-founded 35 years ago. A typical day for me involves leading innovation and digitalisation initiatives, working with clients, keeping an eye on survey response rates, liaising with professional associations like the ACA, and interacting with our wonderful team members across the east coast of Australia and New Zealand.
In my spare time I research and write about the relevance of professionalism in today’s world. The Australian Council of the Professions kindly publishes my white papers on the subject. In recent years, I relinquished my part-time academic roles in the University of Melbourne Business School and The College of Law and now concentrate solely on the growth and relevance of Beaton’s information products and consulting services to the B2B professions we serve.
How long have you been involved in client market research and what are the major changes you have seen over this time?
I started back in South Africa in the early 1980s and became deeply involved in market research when we emigrated to Australia in 1986. Back then paper and pencil questionnaires, focus groups and depth interviews were the stock-in-trade. In those days, the London market research scene was regarded as the gold standard and Australian research agencies sought to learn and recruit from the UK. Today Australia is a world leader and with access to world’s best practice only a few clicks away the industry is constantly evolving and hyper-competitive.
At Beaton, we don’t actually call ourselves a market research agency; rather, we are an evidence-based consultancy that gathers large quantities of data from the clients of professional services firms. This is why we refer to ourselves as ‘The Voice of Your Clients’.
What was the genesis and motivations for the Client Choice Awards?
In the 1990s, one of our colleagues completed a PhD in the University of Melbourne on what the clients of law firms value. This was ground-breaking and we realised it could be commercialised. Using a measurement model developed in the PhD, in 2003 we launched the first study of the buying behaviour of corporate clients of 23 law firms. It was an instant success – but needed scale to survive.
The following year, we invented the idea of inviting firms in many B2B professions to enter the Client Choice Awards and in effect form a giant market research syndicate. The Awards are a means of gathering hundreds of thousands of email addresses of the clients of B2B professional services firms. Under strict compliance with the Privacy Act and cyber-secure conditions, we do this every year. Our analysis tracks trends, measures and benchmarks the client service performance of firms and reports on the brand health of firms. Currently, some 500 firms are involved.
What are the short-term and long-term benefits for architects to be involved?
The great majority of architectural practices can enter the Awards and gather independent, objective feedback from their clients. It’s free and easy to enter. This year will be the fourth that we are including architects, so we already see trends and have positive proof from members of the ACA of the value of this feedback – for the practice itself and its clients. In addition, practices can subscribe to reports covering performance benchmarks and other valuable, actionable information. Finally, a few practices will reach the finals of the Awards and one practice will be crowned the winner and announced in March 2023.
In the longer-term, we see the morale-building effects on firms that get feedback from their clients. Not that every client is happy and smiling; some aren’t! But, like all professionals, architects thrive on getting feedback that helps them to maintain and improve their service for clients. Importantly, the findings can also be used to inform the fee-setting and CX (i.e. client experience) strategies of the firm, a vital part of running a profitable practice.
How can architects best develop positive relationships with their clients? What steps can architects take to maximise the impact of their client engagement?
Relationships are built on knowledge of your clients and their overall needs, not just the designs they are seeking. Whether the client is a business, a government department or an individual, their needs are remarkably similar. They fall in four clusters: Expertise (design quality and relevance to client’s future use of the space, commerciality, innovation), Service (responsiveness, communication, reliability, ease of doing business), Cost Consciousness (how the architect offers the client options and involves them in the ‘co-creation’ of the design) and Price (level and structure).
Research published in the RIBA Journal incontrovertibly shows that whether or not clients are invited to give feedback on project completion has a major impact on client satisfaction and willingness to recommend the architect. Architects who do not follow up on completion of a project are rated worse than those who do, all other factors being similar. There’s only one conclusion from this research: Clients, like all people, value being listened to and afforded the opportunity of talking.
Finally, to maximise the impact of their client engagement, the architect needs to map out and follow-through on every stage of the ‘client’s journey’. This journey starts when the client first recognises their need to build or refurbish through steps to engage an architect and then work through the design and implementation of the project. This process is now known as CX journey mapping and management. Beaton has recently published a major white paper, The State of Client Experience in Professional Services 2022. ACA members are welcome to download a free copy by clicking on the link.