What do clients think of us?

They pay the bills so you need their feedback. The RIBA has done some market research, and it’s encouraging

Architects serve a noble trinity of customers – society, occupiers and clients – but only one of these pays the wages. As Hawkins\Brown’s Nigel Ostime, chair of the RIBA’s Client Liaison Group puts it, ‘No clients = no work’. So we can’t afford to ignore their feedback.

The other truth is that while conducting market research is a good idea in theory, who, frankly, has the time? When there is so much work to do, analysing the nuances of what clients want – and how well you do it – can seem an indulgent luxury.

Fortunately, the RIBA Client Liaison Group has stepped up to do it. Over the summer, it ran the inaugural Working with Architects survey. The results will be published this month and previewed at the RIBA’s annual Guerrilla Tactics conference.

RIBA Ambassador for Clients Stephen Hodder explains that the survey is a continuation of an initiative summarised in the last year’s ‘Client & Architect’ report. It ­confirmed that clients love much of what architects do but that there are opportunities for improvement. He said: ‘This survey is our MOT. It benchmarks how we are perceived by clients, allowing us to track changes. Just as usefully, the results robustly measure the size and shape of commercial opportunities out there. Contemporary practice is a bumpy ride – absorbing these results will help your business speed along more smoothly.’

Clients across the board were more satisfied with the design aspects of their completed project than with architects’ process management

The response was huge. Just under 1,000 replies split roughly between private domestic clients, contractors and other commercial clients, rated how satisfied they were with an actual project completed in the last two years. In particular, they were asked about the performance of their architect/designer. As it turned out, the vast majority used ­architects, most of whom were RIBA members. Clients were asked to rate the overall completed project and value for money, the parts of the completed project influenced by their architect/designer; and the architect/designer’s process management. 

The results correlate findings against sectors and project value as well as client type. Private domestic clients were consistently the most satisfied on almost all measures. Among the commercial clients, ­contractors stood out like a sore thumb as the least satisfied. Again meeting expectations, clients across the board were more satisfied with the design aspects of their completed project than with architects’ process management. One of the most eye-catching ­results showed that simply following up on a project, especially when not contracted to do so, seems to make clients rate their architect more highly.

Ostime describes the survey as a brave but critical move. ‘Whether merited or not, perceptions matter. At a time of seismic ­disruption in our industry, we needed an ­accurate, unflinching, transparent snapshot of what clients think of us. Now we have it, let’s celebrate the good, fix the bad and most importantly, adapt for a prosperous future.’