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How do architectural practices deal with complaints?

How do architectural practices deal with complaints?


In the latest issue of AR, we ask a panel of experts their response to the following question: do complaints against architects fall on deaf ears, and has your firm put a process in place to deal with them?

Tracy Hall, marketing director, GoDaddy Australia and New Zealand

In an increasingly digitised world, complaints against service-based businesses can be made publicly in the form of reviews, comments and posts on social media.

This means that complaints are no longer falling on deaf ears. Complaints can be an inevitable part of being a business owner, so instead of feeling disheartened, try to use it as an opportunity to learn and grow as a reputable architecture firm. Monitoring and managing online complaints can be vital to protecting your reputation, simultaneously building stronger relationships with clients.

Thoughtfully addressing the complaint shows that you care about your clients, and are willing to listen and improve for next time. When it comes to responding to public complaints, try addressing the client personally, thank them for their feedback, ask questions, assure them you’ll address the cause of their concern and ask for an opportunity to work to resolve their issue.

If handled professionally and personally, a complaint doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship with a client or come at the expense of potential new business. Proactively welcoming feedback can also be invaluable; it’s your way of acknowledging that you’re willing to improve.

Consider a ‘Feedback’ or ‘Contact’ page on your website to encourage clients to contact you. Try to respond to all the feedback you receive, as it can help clients feel more valued as they know they’re being listened to.

Nick Travers, co-director, Technē Architecture and Interior Design

In delivering architectural services for bespoke building projects, encountering challenges is considered a relatively normal part of the process. While not all complaints are warranted or correct, they should always be acknowledged and managed.

Technē has adopted a system of accountability that ensures we respond to and rectify issues as soon as they arise. To maintain a positive reputation as a practice and ensure our clients are satisfied, we believe we are forthright in the event we have made an honest mistake.

Responding to concerns in a transparent, prompt and professional manner is the best approach. We start with the management of expectations, which is critical in achieving set objectives and shared outcomes. This is supported by our record keeping where we have detailed, up-to-date information that guarantees accuracy in our communications.

All projects involve teams that extend beyond the architectural function and by adjusting goals if required and discussing with the client, broader team and stakeholders in a timely manner, the most effective solution can be reached.

The role of a good architect extends beyond design, which is why we work collaboratively with others involved in the building process to administer high standards at all stages of construction or renovations. Technē has enjoyed nearly 20 years of practice with many repeat clients.

As a great deal of architectural work is generated from referrals, poor practices and negative client experiences aren’t sustainable in this profession. As a result, complaints against architects cannot be ignored for an individual or practice to succeed and operate for the long term.

Sarah Hubbard, associate, Mode

I have been with my firm for over 10 years and can with confidence say that client feedback is essential in improving client engagement. Through this feedback we’ve developed strategies for ourselves and clients to deliver projects with the key aspects of time, cost and quality being discussed from the outset to align the expectations of both parties.

We have been proactive in our works with defining briefs with our clients and identifying risks and benefits to projects to keep the time, cost and quality objectives at the forefront. In terms of complaints falling on deaf ears, I would say that as a company we are supportive of the registration process of the architectural profession, with each state having its own registration and regulatory authority.

There also appears to be a portion of works within the construction industry that is not associated with the architectural profession and, as such, is not regulated in the same manner. With these works overlapping with the architectural profession, roles and responsibilities are continuingly changing and being redefined within the industry. This is adding to the pressures associated with fulfilling expectations as an architectural professional.

In this regard, where roles have been diluted, there seems to be the need for ways to maintain the value for clients that was traditionally delivered by the architectural profession. This could take the form of strengthening regulatory bodies, not just for the architectural profession but the industry as a whole.

Roger Nelson, managing director, NH Architecture

‘Complaints against architects’ is, of course, a very broad topic. The spectrum of practice one could select from ranges from the smallest of domestic work through to projects of major national infrastructure level. And often when confronted at the dinner table by stories of where things went wrong, this can show a wide range of matters that can sometimes be seen as the architect causing [the issue] or perhaps a selective view of what we as a profession do and do not do, and how the clients see it.

We find it is mostly avoided by clear communication and being aware of the other points of view… and acting if it seems fraught, rather than blissfully heading into an unreconcilable conflict. The experiences we have had are ones where we are deeply concerned to be sure we have done everything we can to avoid a situation where the client or others are compelled to ‘complain’.

If they get to that point, we would consider it a serious problem and deal with it at director/owner level, and seek to deal with the matters to mutual satisfaction. Also, the commercial world is fairly unforgiving and if one is causing unjustifiable discomfort, then the prospect of future commissions and word of mouth will have their day. Perhaps this question is really to do with perceptions, along with spoken expectations that both parties have, along with a rational view of what has been contracted to do and what is done.

One should go home each night knowing that everything has been done for long-term harmony and quality work. It’s a position we take very seriously and we have put in place training to handle the toughening world in which we practise.

This article originally appeared in AR160 – available online and digitally through Zinio.


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