January 2022

Let’s make 2022 the year of listening……

‘Some architects still don’t get the importance of service’, Mark Baines, Director at Hunters discusses.

‘On a recent active and engaging Resident Project Group for an estate in Southwark, one of the residents highlighted his disappointment that he had read a recent survey stating that an architect prioritises the approval and praise of other architects over the satisfaction of their client.

This relates closely to the 2016 RIBA survey – ‘What Clients think of Architects.’ It makes for interesting and uncomfortable reading as it discovered that many architects do not deliver what the client thinks is a valuable service. Is that still the case?

Some of the stats included:

  • Contractors on the whole gave architects around a 50% satisfaction rate
  • Commercial clients around 70%
  • Managing the process, well that dropped to 56% for commercial clients and a staggering 30% for contractors

The RIBA gives the following reasoning as to why you should employ an Architect:

Architects are highly skilled and professionally trained to turn your aspirations into reality. They will guide you through the design, planning and construction process whether you are constructing a new building or adapting an existing property.

Architects apply impartial and creative thinking to projects large and small. They add value, whether from maximising light and space, adding functionality, or achieving the best return on your investment.

As an architect, the above is what we do but surely, we should see excellent service as a principal objective, including for end users and this goes hand in hand with good design.

In 2017 the AJ printed a feature, ‘Seven clients reveal what they really want from architects.’ There were differing stories about what each client wanted, for some it was about the ‘added value’ – how clever design could provide more floor space (one practice managed to include a new public square, where the client didn’t think it was possible), one client commented on ‘I want architects to solve my problems’ another ‘ It comes down to brain power, rationality of thought, clarity in brief assessment, management of time and focused delivery.’ All of these are within the architect’s “skillset” but at Hunters, we also want to see the client relationship, including those who will be using, playing or living in our projects, develop and thrive through every commission.

Being part of the team to achieve a common goal or purpose really does help projects get delivered. We shouldn’t be designing for ourselves or our egos, we aren’t going to be owning, maintaining and living in these buildings, we are designing them for our clients and the people who live / work / play in them.

When asked if there is a certain type of person who works at Hunters, I would always say ‘someone who works well with clients’, we take it for granted that they can design, think differently and provide a creative edge, but do they provide the professional, efficient, proactive service that they should?  

We’ve always been sticklers for measuring patterns in client feedback as well. We have developed service KPIs for all our teams and receive a mix of qualitative and quantitative data from clients, developers and contractors to give us a rounded opinion on how we perform.  If we receive negative feedback, we address it and try to learn from it, so we do better next time.

So, going back to the AJ survey, we would expect ratings of over 80% to be performing well, 70% we would be concerned, anything lower we would be picking up the phone. We also compare our feedback to previous years, look at areas for development (there is always room to improve) and celebrate success – especially when individuals in our team have been given 10/10 across every criteria, we share that with them and congratulate them.

We need to make sure that we understand the end user and their needs. We are usually designing for large organisations such as a Registered Provider, Developer, Local Authority, NHS Trust etc and although they own and manage the buildings, they are often not the only user.

I don’t think we hear the voice of the users enough; they are the ones who physically use our buildings and spaces and enjoy living in them. We will continue to develop surveys and consultations so users can influence the design but is is harder to establish how they have found the building once complete. The reality is, if residents in one of our buildings are not happy with the design, they will tell our clients and we will ultimately receive that feedback.

To finish on a positive note – I am an architect, but I’m one that wants to work with people, that will listen to others and explore ideas and solutions. I value the process from the initial feasibility through to someone living in and enjoying their home, but what lets me know that I’ve done a good job is feedback – good AND bad.

On a more positive note, we recently completed 100% to rent, affordable senior persons homes in Tower Hamlets, one resident commented ‘This is like The Hilton’. You can’t get better than that, and I for one, am never prouder than when the people who live in our buildings enjoy them.

So as an architect, I will continue to drive service excellence and so will my team, and we will continue to pester clients for feedback and if you’re one of those clients, please do give us feedback from the users as well. A 70% satisfaction rating just simply isn’t good enough. We can and we must do better as a profession.