MD Tony Burke: Building Stronger Client Relationships

Published on 20th August 2018
Avonside Group Services CEO, Tony Burke

It’s the Holy Grail for any business – strong mutually beneficial, ongoing and profitable client relationships. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? But in reality, life is never that smooth and predictable; the reality is that working in the construction environment can be unpredictable, demanding and unforgiving.

So how do companies ‘square the circle’ and build those long term strategic relationships?

The answer is usually a blend of several things underpinned by hard work, commitment and transparency. If we take a closer look I can highlight some of the things that have worked well for Avonside Group, but you may have your own ideas and solutions in addition.

Honesty

The first thing we believe in is honesty. If you enter into a project and relationship on the basis of over promising against what you can actually deliver, then you are setting yourself – and your client – up to fail. I believe you have to take responsibility as the ‘expert’ in your discipline and tell the client like it is. It may make you unpopular, it may even lose you some work but from my perspective, as unpalatable as that is, it’s a price that’s worth paying.

Failing to be honest will result in you losing something far more important if you are seeking long term relationships and that is – credibility. This underpins every meaningful relationship, and once you have this you may not be the most popular sub-contractor, but you may well be the most respected, and importantly, you won’t saddle yourself with impossible deadlines that result in acrimony later on.

Being honest doesn’t mean being negative; look for creative decisions, even be prepared to ‘try’ and achieve the impossible for your client – but at least you are doing so with everybody fully understanding the situation.

It might well be a cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true that you must communicate well and at all levels with your client, whether that’s good news or otherwise. The phrase ‘bad news early’ rings true because it means all parties have more opportunity to react and overcome adverse situations. It also runs back into the honest approach.

In today’s modern society with social media and telecommunications it’s never been easier to convey messages, but in needs to be underpinned and utilised by each member of your team, and that’s about taking responsibility.

As an industry we have made great strides over the last two decades to ensure that we work in a safer environment, and although this is about ongoing vigilance, it relies upon a zero-tolerance culture with regard to personal safety. By persuing this approach it further supports your client and their employees as well as your own. This is absolutely fundamental.

Profitability

So far, so uncontroversial I can hear you thinking – well maybe this next element is a little more thought-provoking. It is my belief that you often build a better, stronger relationship with clients by communicating your expectation that you will be profitable and expect to make a profit in your transactions with them. It may seem obvious, but if you don’t operate profitably you stand little or no chance of being around for a long-term partnership. So, I am unapologetic about communicating this to clients – after all, if you are delivering a first-class job, on time for them then you should expect to make a profit – and be paid promptly for your services.

All these things should be woven into the fabric and culture of your business, and in my experience the best way to deliver this is to be clear and open to all of your clients about that values that are important to you, your business and the people in it. It’s not about fancy mission statements, just a few clear and simple values that you have that everybody in your business demonstrates day-in-day out.

So, whilst not exhaustive, these are the few simple guiding principles I have operated by to build up a successful business based upon successful client relationships.

I hope some of these principles can work for you.