How to handle client relationships
This week we're looking at how to handle questions in your APC exam on managing client relationships. These crop up under the M003 Client Care part of the exam. As with previous topics, the question has three levels of competence. At level 1 you need to show general knowledge of the principles of client care. At level 2, you must demonstrate you have experience of appyling the principles. The competency definition at level 3 is not particularly specific - it merely says you must ‘provide evidence of reasoned advice given to clients and others’ - but we suggest how you can respond to this below.
Competency Level 1
Question Can you give me an overview of the principles of client care as you see it applies to your area of practice?
The level 1 response requires a general overview of client care and the competency guidance notes split the area in to the following three sub sections. The types of issue to be covered under each of these areas are suggested below.
“The concept of identifying clients / colleagues / third parties who are your clients and the behaviours that are appropriate to establishing good client relationships”.
• Identifying Clients – This area should consider both existing and potential new clients. It is important to address that client care for an existing client base is vital and requires active management. The process of identifying new potential clients in a particular market sector and how to attract them to your business
• Types of Client – An understanding that different industry sectors have varying structures and these affect the nature of the client and their general objectives and interests
• Behaviours – An overview of professional conduct with reference to the RICS guidance on ethics and the rules for practices and individuals. The candidate may also wish to input their personal views on what makes a good client / provider relationship such as clarity of remit, clear communication, setting realistic expectations, timely deliver, quality of outputs, etc
“The systems and procedures that are appropriate for managing the process of client care, including complaints”.
• Client Care on Projects – Clarity of communication lines and ongoing dialogue with the client on the deliverables of the team and their input to the project
• Client Account Management – The process of structured account management, ensuring that developments in the client organisation are tracked and that there is interaction at a number of seniority levels. Additionally the process of maintaining regular contact away from current live projects to identify how assistance can be provided with longer term client business objectives
• Client Feedback – Processes for collecting and responding to client feedback. Alternative processes such as project reviews, informal feedback and managed client satisfaction surveys
• Client Business Development Activities – The concept of arranging off line business development activities and events as a mechanism to build broader relationships with clients
• Complaints – Maintaining alternative lines of communication / routes for complaints and how these should be dealt with by a practice. The RICS guidance on ethics and expected standards of behaviour should be referred to as well as the option for clients to make formal complaints to the RICS
“The requirement to collect data, analyse and define the needs of clients”.
• The Briefing Process – The importance of the briefing process and defining a clear scope of work for the team so that the expectations of both parties are aligned
• Job Planning – The internal process of planning how the client’s requirements will be met for both specific deliverables and broader input to the project, together with how this relates to the pricing and management of the commission
• Continuous Client Management – identifying a process to capture any changes to the needs of the client and the project
Competency Level 2
Question Please provide an example of how you have applied a number of these principles within your business activities?
At the next level the candidate needs to demonstrate how the above principles have been applied in practice. As the level 1 question is very broad it would not normally be necessary to cover all of the above issues, but the candidate should show some depth of knowledge of particular systems applicable to their work.
Taking a typical scenario of a Cost Consultant working on a number of property development projects the types of issue to be detailed could include:
• Explanation of who the primary client is and any other parties to which there is an obligation to deliver information / outputs both internally and across the professional team. What the candidate did to maintain client care and develop relationships. The specific objectives of the client driven by their business aims and the industry they operate in and how these were interpreted
• Explanation of the organisation’s processes for obtaining feedback from clients as a project progresses. This may include feedback to the project team as the job progresses through those managing the project as well as what client satisfaction surveys are undertaken by the company and how these are reported
• An overview of the company’s processes for dealing with client complaints and how corrective actions internally are identified and implemented
Competency Level 3
Question Please provide evidence of reasoned advice given to clients and others.
The level 3 competency description (repeated in the question above) is quite vague and does not provide the candidate with any more guidance of what is required beyond the general definitions of the level 1, 2 & 3 competencies.
Given the context of the question I would suggest that level 3 competence would involve the candidate having been part of some form of client care initiative, i.e. having been party to the design of the system rather than just having applied the organisations processes as might have been expected at level 2.
Examples of client care initiatives that could be discussed would include items such as:
• Design and implementation of a client feedback process
• Design and implementation of process for handling client complaints
• Active involvement in a Customer Relationship Management system
• Development of the client identification and client care elements of a business / marketing plan for part of the candidate’s organisation
Because of the lack of clarity in the level 3 competency definition this makes it difficult for the candidate to be sure that they have met the requirements. To confidently submit at level 3 the candidate would want to ensure they have substantial direct experience in an applicable, such as those outlined above.
Building's APC advice is intended as a guideline only and should not replace your own study
By Alastair Bloore, head of management consulting, Cyril Sweett