Let’s be honest: as a contractor, how many times have you sucked your teeth when a client has set out their project aims, but said nothing?
I know in the past I have and I’m pretty sure most others will have too. The reasons for this reticence are perfectly understandable – winning work is the goal and the fewer things that jeopardise this the better.
Yet if we as a construction industry are to improve our offer to our clients and help them deliver a better service for less, this omerta must end.
“I would urge honesty. If you can’t do the volume of work, speak up and say so”
At Osborne Property Services, we work with social landlords in the South-east – housing associations, councils and arm’s-length management organisations. It is not stretching the facts to say that the past six months have seen the biggest changes in the housing sector in a generation.
The recent Spending Review may have set out more investment in measures to support homeownership, but plenty of challenges remain. Social rents are being cut by 1 per cent a year for four years, funding for sub-market rented affordable housing is coming to an end and household incomes are being squeezed due to the planned cap on total benefits of £20,000 – £23,000 in London.
We have been exploring how we can best help our customers in this evolving operating environment. The main conclusion we have drawn is that the right behaviours by all parties are paramount to the success of any contract, large or small. So what does this mean?
The best policy
First and foremost for service providers I would urge honesty. If you can’t do the volume of work, then speak up and say so. Similarly if the terms and conditions are onerous don’t stay silent and hope to renegotiate when in contract. But most of all be realistic with your pricing – a sustainable price is to the benefit of all parties.
Second, the client must also be clear and honest about what type of arrangement they want. Do they want partnering or a more traditional relationship? Do they want lowest cost or best value? It is perfectly fine to opt for lowest cost and a more traditional relationship, but is it right to ‘go through the motions’ just to tick some boxes?
“Taking this approach to its logical conclusion also means we are prepared to walk away from a deal if it is not going to deliver the best outcomes”
Our experience of working this way tells us two things. First, that most clients do not set out to say one thing and do another – the initial focus on quality is genuine but too often that fades.
Second, if you take the time to really engage with a client at the start of the process – to sit down with them and understand their motivations – you can get to the heart of what that client really needs and how the contract can best be structured and delivered.
What goes around
The success of this approach requires trust. That is where being open and honest about what we as a service provider can deliver and for what price is crucial. This is the only way to build the necessary trust with clients. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion also means that we are prepared to walk away from a potential deal if it is not going to deliver the best outcomes.
Attention to detail and our own behaviours ensure the delivery of an excellent service through the provision of a sector-leading customer experience. The results of this tend to be a great repairs service, but also substantial savings to clients.
When we are not the best provider to meet the needs of a particular client in its particular circumstances, we have no problem saying this. More importantly, we have found that when we are frank about our approach, clients are much more likely to follow suit. This means better contracts, better results and that social landlords are better placed to respond to the challenges ahead.
Nick Sterling is managing director of Osborne Property Services