Turning loyal customers into business partners is win-win

Turning loyal customers into business partners is win-win

Building strong relationships with existing clients is important for repeat business and is especially true in the niche South African property development industry, which is dominated by many key players. 

In addition, recommendation and endorsement by clients play a vital role in entrenching a reputation. One of the best ways to foster strong client relationships is to develop a reputation as an independent professional that delivers exceptional results.

According to business development director Derek Weimer, this is where design-and-build specialist Trend Group has achieved good results. Having delivered over 300 projects in 12 years, and not missing a single deadline in that period, this singular achievement is due to the company consistently aligning itself with industry requirements. By giving its clients impeccable service, it has systematically grown its reputation.

With average lease periods ranging from three to five years for tenants, repeat business is only possible if companies remain front-of-mind during these periods. A client is much more likely to approach the company for any additional requirements or further expansions if its initial experience was enjoyable and pleasant, as well as delivering the required end results.

The fact that a business can established a strong brand gives its business development team a distinct edge in generating new leads, according to business developer Gabriella Green. When the company was still establishing itself, it was a relative unknown. Now its reputation has given it a critical mass across a range of industries and markets, including an impressive roster of international brands seeking to gain a foothold in Africa.

“Within the property development industry in South Africa it is important for us to build relationships with the key players. By never letting them down, we get our name referenced a lot. Getting new business is really a combination of our relationships and our reputation,” Green stresses.

A growing reputation and reference list also mean that a business can be selective in choosing clients that fit in with its business philosophy. However, flexibility in an industry where both budgets and margins are tight is vital. This has allowed the company to cater for small and large budgets.

“Clients do go through good and bad times, as does the industry. You always must be there for them. Hence it is very much a long-term partnership that you aim for,” Green explains.

For example, when a client must downsize, it is important to understand what is happening within that company, and the broader industry itself. The fact that Trend Group deals with such a diverse range of markets and industries means it is at the coalface of what is happening. The advantage for smaller clients is that these have access to the same experience, expertise and resources that are dedicated to larger international clients.

Whether a 100m2 or a 1 000m2 project, the processes and procedures are the same, from project meetings to reports, costing, sign-off and liaising with both project managers and directors. “All our clients are part of that, which has helped us forge such strong relationships with them. Clients do appreciate the fact that we consistently offer the same level of service and delivery excellence across the board,” Weimer stresses.

Establishing such close relationships invariably means that a company gains an intuitive understanding of it what makes its clients tick. Given the fact that fit-outs and redesigns are potentially costly and disruptive, the aim is to make the process as smooth and as painless as possible. This means understanding the culture of the client, understanding what it is trying to achieve, and then managing its expectations. It is important in ensuring that a company allocates personnel with the necessary knowledge to meet those requirements, even if it is a construction-heavy project with major steelwork and engineering, for example. Thus, every solution is tailormade, and based around the best people possible for the project. “We can sell the dream, but delivery is critical,” Weimer points out.

It is important to define client expectations at the outset, as this impacts significantly on developing an ongoing relationship with that client. “Construction drawings are difficult to read, and budgets are often misunderstood. Here you assist the clients visually by painting a picture in order to put them at ease and reassure them as to your capability.

Putting clients at ease and ensuring their buy-in is based on the simple concept of constant communication. As a project progresses, and there is no contact with the client, the result is that the client starts to feel nervous as they are not in control of the process. Keeping the client informed does not imply holding the client’s hand. It means a single point of contact and regular updates and meetings to discuss options and preferences.

The psychology of client management teaches that clients prefer having choices, as this empowers them. “A single design is not going to impress a client with our design capability. Hence, we always give options. Clients prefer choice, as this often guides them in the direction of what they require,” Green elaborates. Again, this links back to the initial budget, which is a key consideration from the outset.

Throwing money at design will not give the client the solution that they want. Instead, smart design tailored within the confines of a budget and the client requirements will produce the best result – and a happy client that will remember, and endorse, the experience of working with such a team of consummate professionals.

“We design around the budget, but simultaneously still present options, as our designers always go that extra mile. It is the detail they can add that can change the dynamics of an entire office fit-out. It is all about making your budget work harder. What alternative materials can we use, for example?” Green stresses. “It is often a tough task to stick to a tight budget, but we do appreciate the circumstances of our clients. That is where our designers are so good, and it is simply amazing with what they can come up with.”

You also have a professional responsibility towards clients to ensure that what is produced is future-proof and considers the latest trends and industry developments. This is especially important given that the workplace has changed drastically over the last couple of decades. As professionals, it must keep up with the trends, but this knowledge also must be disseminated to its client base. For example, the workplace hierarchy has now dissipated, with open plan being the norm, but this raises other issues such as noise levels, privacy and the need for quiet spaces, and the requirements of different generations and ages of workers.

What ensures success is setting reasonable expectations, thereby affording your teams the opportunity to not only impress the client with a solution that exceeds those expectations, but which guarantees that you continues to work with them in the future as their needs evolve according to their own growth and transformation. 


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