The Client Journey

Soo Darcy discusses the benefits of stepping back to view the project life cycle through the eyes of the client.

Before joining the Ryder team in 2018, Soo spent over a decade running client feedback programmes for professional services firms.

When I first sat down to write this piece I hoped to include a clear, concise map of the client journey for architecture.  Client journey maps are useful to help businesses better understand all the points at which clients encounter their brand, including external communications, meeting employees and delivery of the product or service itself.  We can map out everything from buying a bar of chocolate to appointing a lawyer.  The client journey in professional services is typically a cycle including the steps of identifying a need, brand awareness, consideration, selection, use, repeat or recommend.  Companies diligently arrange their client services and marketing activities around these clear stages to maximise their impact and encourage client loyalty.

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It will probably come as no surprise that even my basic diagram quickly resembled a striped beachball studded with twigs.  From the very first stumbling block – who is the client? – to the complexities of procurement, novation and delivery stages, it is clear that the client journey is not straightforward for purchasers of architectural and construction services.

This poses significant challenges for practices that wish to better understand their clients and consistently deliver excellence.  Overlaying the key touchpoints of the buying process with the necessary procedures for procurement and delivery reveals a mind boggling array of issues for practices to deal with.  Of course, this is a necessary part of client service that simply cannot be ignored.  The day to day intricacies of design and project management are essential to ensure the project runs safely and smoothly and is accountable at every stage.

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Yet if we return to the basics we can start to strip away some of the complexity as it relates to the client’s own experience.  We need to step into their shoes and understand the process from their perspective – their hopes and aspirations, what makes their life easier or harder, their fears and challenges and, of course, their aspirations for the lifetime of the building.  I have spent most of my career sitting face to face with thousands of clients across a range of professional services sectors, trying to understand exactly that – and almost without exception the conversation returns to people, relationships, trust… those intangible qualities that can make or break a successful partnership.

So, I have returned to my simple client journey diagram.  Regardless of the method of procurement, most clients hope to decide based on merit and value rather than price alone.  The decision is necessarily subjective, often based on whether the client feels they can work comfortably with their chosen team and trusts them to work towards a shared vision.  Crucially, if the relationship is transparent and honest then clients usually believe that the complexities of delivery can be navigated together, through the good old fashioned art of speaking and listening.  Client retention flows naturally from successful outcomes, heartfelt recommendations and a genuine desire to work together again.  It is the job of both clients and architects to work towards open and clear communication, which ultimately benefits every member of the project team.  Regardless of how complex the road becomes, a solid relationship is the first step to a successful client journey.