One of our key duties is dealing with complaints about an architect’s conduct or their ability to do their job – their competence. Where a complaint is raised with us, we often find that it relates to issues that could easily have been avoided, or that the architect concerned could have resolved the issue before it was escalated to us. Here, we outline how best to respond when a client has voiced concern or made an informal complaint.
Take complaints seriously
Any feedback about your practice is valuable information. Take time to consider the merits of any criticism and how you might improve in the future. Remember that an unhappy customer will tell twice as many people about their experience than a satisfied client, and at a time where new business relies so heavily on word-of-mouth and online reviews, your reputation should be of critical importance to you.
Take your time
While some grievances can quickly be dealt with by a phone call or meeting, be very careful not to reply in a hurry – particularly if your initial reaction is that the complaint is unjustified. Never reply in haste or if you suspect you are having an emotional reaction to criticism. Take time to establish all the facts, which might involve asking for more information. A client who thinks their concerns are being taken seriously is more likely to be satisfied with the overall response. If possible, ask someone else at your practice, or a trusted peer, for an objective and independent view on the complaint.
Have a complaints procedure
It is an expectation of the Architects Code of Conduct that you have a written complaints procedure. Not only will that manage the expectations of the complainant, but it will give you a framework to deal with the complaint.
Inform your PI insurer
If you think that the complaint is about an issue that is likely to give rise to a claim against you or your practice, you must inform your PI insurer without delay. A failure to do so may invalidate your policy, and the insurers may be able to offer you assistance in resolving the dispute efficiently.
Know your areas of risk
If you are receiving repeated complaints about the same areas of your practice, you can consider this a warning sign that changes are required. Also be aware of where complaints are brought against architects generally, and ensure that your practice is on top of the following issues:
- Terms of Engagement: a failure to provide appropriate Terms of Engagement before commencing work is by the most common cause of complaints about architects. Setting out what you are going to do, who is going to do it and how much it is going to cost (or how the cost will be calculated) is the most fail-safe way of ensuring that projects will stay on track. Standard 4 of the Code of Conduct [LINK] sets out what should be in your terms.
- Good communication: ensure that your client is informed about every stage of the project, and that their expectations are managed in terms of budgetary issues or delays.
- Supervise staff: while an architect must be in overall control and management of the architectural work, it is often appropriate and necessary to delegate tasks. Be sure that those that are carrying out work are competent. Often a source of dissatisfaction is not the work an architect has done, but is a result of inadequate supervision of others.