With many ways to communicate with our clients and with our prospects, as well as internally with staff and trade contractors, it might be time to consider your company’s communication policy.

Going back to the early 1980s, a time when most of you were not yet in business, the choice was letters and phone calls. Then, in quick succession, faxes and emails appeared. Then came pagers and brick-like cellular phones carried in a pouch.

Fast-forward to today. Now, we have desktop and handheld computers—our phones and tablets come loaded with several communication platforms. Many other platforms can be added as individual applications.

I’m referring to popular social-media applications like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram as well as document-sharing platforms where everything from photos and spreadsheets to contracts and punch lists can be edited and discussed in real time. Examples include Google Docs, Microsoft’s SharePoint, and Dropbox, just to name a few.

Video calls and video screen-sharing capabilities also reside within our devices. Google, Microsoft and Apple each offer a suite of communication tools that include chat, video conferencing and screen sharing. Zoom is another.

Then layer in your customer relationship management software, or CRM. They do much more than just facilitate customer interactions. They help manage individual projects in each client’s name. These include Buildertrend, CoConstruct, Houzz, ZOHO, Salesforce, SmartSheets, Oracle and many others that offer their own combination of communication tools.

Best Practices

Most of these tools are offered in the cloud or software as a service (SAAS). Everything happens and resides in the cloud. Access types depend on wether you are a client or an employee. With every CRM it becomes necessary to develop a series of best practices to introduce your clients to the software and to monitor their usage and satisfaction. It’s also important to monitor your employees’ use of the software.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the acceptance of remote work. All the tools mentioned above, including video conferencing, are thus necessities to everyday communication with clients today. As you can see, communication has become complex. Do you even remember which app or platform your last communication was in? Now try a month ago.

Communication Preferences

One of the first questions you must ask is how do your clients like to communicate? This is a good question to ask the client early in the sales process. When do they text, email and message? Which platforms do they wish to utilize? Which platforms does your business require?

And then there are your employees. Younger staffers communicate very differently than your clients, many of whom are baby boomers. Once the platforms have been stipulated and the cadence of communication is set, then staff training is required.

Adding to the potential complexity in utilizing these platforms are the frequent updates. All your cloud software is constantly adding new features. Sometimes a better product comes along, and you decide to make the switch.

When a change like this is made, all your communications data and schedules must export into large files that can be hard to search. In the old days you kept files for seven years in a job folder, in a cardboard box or in filling cabinets in a storeroom. Now when you change software, you need a plan and possibly an IT specialist. You need to train your staff on how to find old files, emails, drawings, schedules and other key details.

Whatever your communication strategy, you’ll need to maintain access to all files in real time. Archiving, training and accountability should be top of mind. Who on a team is copied on email and who is blind copied? These are part of the process that must factor into your communication strategy. Layout, etiquette and consistent signatures need to be considered.

How are important client decisions recorded and shared with the team? Do you monitor employee emails to clients? How often as a manager do you want to be blind copied? How often do misspellings and other typos occur? Is the tone off or awkward? Is there is no salutation?

How much coaching is given around email etiquette to your team? How often in the lifecycle of a project should face-to-face meetings occur? You should know which meetings must be face-to-face, so you can bond and pick up on body language.

How many of your potential sales, or sales from design to construction, are lost because of poor communication? What is your communication policy? Do you have one? Is it in your employee manual?

A clear and concise communication policy both external and internal is important for the smooth running of any firm and the protection of its brand and core values. Picking the right platforms for those communications should go hand in hand. QR

Christopher K. Landis, AIA, is an owner of Landis Construction in Washington, D.C. Reach him at chris@landisconstruction.com.

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