I recently read a post on LinkedIn from an executive search firm that read, “The best thing you can do to keep candidates interested in and enthusiastic about your opportunity is to prepare them for your estimated timeline and keep an open line of communication throughout the entire hiring process.” I’d like to modify that statement for us in the steel fabrication industry:
“The best thing you can do to keep clients interested in and enthusiastic about your company is to prepare them for your estimated timeline and keep an open line of communication throughout the entire fabrication process.”
Time and again I’ve seen relationships with clients ruined due to the lack of communication. It’s better to be proactive and communicate concerning the rough patches of a project as opposed to letting it fester and blow up in your face later in the project! So how does the fabricator keep open communication with the client and how can this be done more efficiently? In addition, how can we communicate so that we create a relationship where the client wants to work with us again?
Site visits – This doesn’t mean you going to the job site…this means bringing the client to your fabrication facility. I’ve met very few clients that didn’t want to visit a fabrication shop. Face it, fabricators have machinery that represents big-boy toys that we all dream of working with! One of the best things a fabricator can do is to bring the client into the shop when their material is being fabricated. They can hear and see the drill making holes where the bolts will go in the field that help make their project a success. The flashes from the welding and sparks flying create a memory that, without a doubt, will go with them back to their offices. In addition, putting a name with a face is priceless when it comes to relationship building. It’s much harder for a client to do the wrong thing in the hard times when the name in the email is an actual breathing human being that they have met in person!
Connecting by sharing the model – Give the client access to the model…from day one of the project! I can hear the screams now: “But they will be able to track our progress!” Yep, they will! There are a number of benefits to this. First, in tracking your progress, you are motivated to do what you do better. When the client knows your progress, you are more likely to stay on track. Or look at it from the “glass-half-full” perspective, they will see how far ahead you are! Second, the model can be utilized for effectively collaborating on the project. When talking with the client about a connection or canopy as an example, nothing is better than looking at it together in 3d while spinning it to have a full view. Third, the model just “sells” the project! It communicates that you are a fabricator that has things together and knows what they are doing. It instils confidence in the mind of the client that they are dealing with the right fabricator!
Progress reporting – Keeping the client informed makes you a better fabricator and also helps protect the fabricator. As a kid, I wanted to do better at my chores if I knew my dad saw my progress every day! I was generally more motivated and did a better job. Likewise, keeping the client informed of drawing, fabrication, or shipping progress serves to motivate you to do what you do even better. In addition, keeping the client informed helps protect you from accusations that the client was not notified of issues. As an example, why not send an automated report to the client on a weekly basis informing them of overdue RFIs, overdue drawings, or overdue Change Orders? At no point could they ever come back and say, “My project was delayed because you didn’t let me know you needed this information!”
Communication breeds stronger and longer relationships. This is certainly a two-edged sword, and I’m sure many reading this are immediately screaming objections! However, being proactive with communication makes you a better fabricator and aids in the progress of the project. The added benefit is the confidence your client now has that they picked the right fabricator!
Design, detail, fabricate and erect all steel structures on time and on budget.