Breaking Out of Silos
‘Providing Customized Client Service: Breaking out of Silos’ can be found on page 42 of the 2021 edition of Perspective, a compilation of insights from members of the RLB team around the world.
In the highly competitive AEC world, strategic marketing campaigns are a tried-and-true tool to reach customers, drive business, and raise the brand profile. But there is another way to achieve those goals: Challenging all employees—managers and mid-level workers, specialists and support personnel, entry level and executives—to truly understand their clients and align the firm’s services with their desired outcomes.
An eye-opening insight is found in the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual study that gauges the level of confidence in business, government, media, and NGOs and analyzes the factors underlying those perceptions. In response to a question about who is the most credible source of information about a company, 53% replied a “regular employee.” That’s a powerful endorsement of the impact workers can wield when it comes to communicating about their firms.
A team effort, not an individual task
Communicating with clients and potential clients requires all team members to understand the different functions and services of the company, beyond their own job descriptions. A cost estimator needs to know what schedulers do; a project manager needs to know how construction advisory experts work. Having this 360-degree perspective allows people to talk assertively about those services and relate them to the client’s objectives.
Naturally, implementing such a far-reaching program will have some challenges. Knowing how to pivot a conversation when faced with a gap in the employee’s knowledge is very useful—and very easy to master. A simple statement like, “That’s a great question for Jenna Hawthorne, who’s our expert in project scheduling” demonstrates a cooperative, proactive approach to achieving the client’s objectives while communicating the scope of your firm’s resources.
Encouraging employees to broaden their knowledge can not only help their company to achieve new goals but can also position them as specialists and for career growth within the firm. At Rider Levett Bucknall, we’re engaging employees to shift the company mindset from that of technical staff providing a specific service to delivering client outcomes. To accomplish this, we are providing training to employees that immerses them in our corporate values and objectives, and ultimately invests them in our mission.
Empowering the in-house team
While traditional, face-to-face training sessions are important since they allow team-building exercises and the opportunity to network with other individuals within the firm, the pandemic has upended—at least temporarily—that long-time model.
As an alternative, firms that are dedicated to ongoing training and upskilling of staff are utilizing webinars and online workshops to supplement in-person trainings. With an unlimited “capacity,” these are open to all employees. Efficient to produce, webinars can be serialized on a monthly—or more frequent—basis. Finally, the recorded webinar becomes a permanent resource, fixed in the company culture, as it is archived for easy reference by new hires as well as firm leaders.
Encouraging the culture
While formal training remains relevant for technical processes, more open, ongoing, and organic communication with your team can build internal allegiance with authenticity, rather than prescription. The message needs to feel genuine to who they are as people as well as why they are working at the company. Transparently sharing the company’s goals is key to this. Remember that employees want to feel like they understand the goals of their organization, and that they each have a role to play to achieve these goals. Actions and initiatives that employees see happening inside the firm need to align with what they are expected to say outside it.
Our company intranet has also proven to be an amazingly effective communication tool. In addition to being a source of firm information [job openings, company directory, human resources material, learning and education opportunities], every office contributes unique content to the site: news items, project wins, employee profiles, video messages from leadership—even birthday and anniversary announcements. We also have an app for our intranet, extending its reach and making it easier for people to use. All this helps to bring the firm closer together by sharing what is going on in other geographic regions.
When COVID hit, we had another opportunity to demonstrate the priority we place on personal service. We quickly added a dedicated resources page to the site to ensure that all staff had easy access to COVID-related benefits, school resources, external COVID-related company communications, COVID-related public relations, quick links to the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, and tips for working remotely, virtual meetings etc. All of this was created to assure the staff that leadership values them both personally and professionally, a position integral to our corporate outlook.
There are other measures to take to help employees focus on clients’ expectations. If your company has conducted a client survey, consider sharing the results with your staff so they can better perceive clients’ perspectives. Everyone can be encouraged to go the extra mile in communications. Rather than respond with a rote “He’s not here” when a call comes in for another team member, ask employees to answer with a more proactive “I understand the urgency and will contact him and ask him to call you” or a simple “may I be of assistance”? And if an employee is truly at an impasse in a conversation with a customer, simply saying what they can do at that moment, then quickly finding out additional information to follow up with is a great way of gracefully pausing the chat while seeking assistance.
The takeaway here is that putting people first—with exemplary customer care as well as thorough targeted training of the workforce—communicates a company’s dedication to service, and builds loyalty. When clients observe and experience employees’ emotional commitment to their company, it makes a lasting, positive impact.
Reputation is hindsight; trust is a predictor
Top firms stay at the top by solving their clients’ problems, not by rolling out a checklist of professional services or ticking off their industry accolades. Entrusting employees at all levels to build business for the company in a way that is empathetic and team-based delivers results that are two-fold: it makes workers feel more invested in the firm’s future which in turn increases client confidence and allegiance.