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Five traits a surveyor must have to help a client find success

June 25, 2018

By Mark Foster

The devil is in the details—and getting to those details requires listening to the client and providing what they need

Like other consulting professionals, relationships are very important to a land surveyor’s business. Developing relationships takes time and relies on building trust. Trust is achieved when the consultant and client each feel that the project they completed was a win for both.

When the consultant and client adequately and effectively communicate with each other about their goals, objectives, and challenges in meeting them, there is a much higher likelihood of success for both parties. For my surveying team, these issues are imperative to achieving successful outcomes on our projects and providing quality service to our clients.

Most consultants will say that they are focused on their client’s needs, but the rub is in striking the right balance between such focus and the competing pressures of our own business responsibilities. For me, one of the most important things is to communicate effectively with the client. As technical professionals, we know we should clearly explain issues in the professional realm, so a layperson can fully understand. While this is important, in many instances we forget what is likely the most important part of communication: effective listening.

It’s my goal to first understand what the client’s needs are, then to devise a plan around how to help them meet those needs. And when a client is looking to engage a consultant for land surveying, I advise them to look out for five key traits.

1. Understanding the proposal

For those “not so typical” projects, your consultant should be able to clearly communicate the challenges that may arise and methods that will be used to meet those challenges. Oversimplification can mean two things: You’ve either picked a good surveyor, or one who doesn’t know what he’s getting himself (and you) into. It is probably better to select a surveyor who is willing to take time to discuss the project with you up front.

2. Understanding the fee

Get a second opinion for the quote provided. If the fees aren’t in line this indicates a need for further discussion about any differences in the services being provided. Often, engaging a surveyor who has performed work in the area is beneficial as he/she will have records, which allow them to provide the same services more economically than others.

Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.

3. Using the right technology

A consultant should be well-versed in photogrammetry, lidar (airborne and terrestrial), global positioning systems, drones, ground penetrating radar, among others, and be able to explain their use and benefit clearly. And, although they should be familiar with the latest technology, they should also understand which tools are necessary to complete the job successfully. If laser scanning doesn’t benefit your project, you probably don’t need to pay for it.

4. The importance of relationships

Who does the surveyor know at the regulatory agencies (federal, state, municipal). It’s not only who they know but how well. It all comes down to being able to get a project through the governing authority’s process. In addition to understanding a permitting process, relationships with key staff are a component to accomplishing this.

5. Asking the right questions

A good surveyor will interview a client until they understand exactly what the client is trying to accomplish. Without asking the right questions, you may be steered in a direction that doesn’t lead to the desired result. If your surveyor isn’t asking the questions, perhaps you should.

What is best for the client?

Recently, an attorney for a land owner contacted me to ask about locating a county water main under a section of roadway that was no longer in use. The roadway had been shifted, but the water main remained (and the county retained right-of-way). The attorney asked if we could locate the water main, as county staff members told them they’d need a “Level A” excavation before a right-of-way vacation would be considered.

Before sending him a proposal to perform excavations I went into some explanation about the limitations we may have in performing the requested work and asked some questions. This developed into a back-and-forth discussion, resulting in the determination that “Level B” designation as opposed to excavation of the line may be acceptable—a diagnosis that meant a significant savings of time and money.  

Yes, our team could have simply spent this land owner’s money by performing exactly what he had asked for initially—though maybe unsuccessfully and probably unnecessarily. But that’s not how our team operates.

As consultants, we should be mindful of what agencies are likely to be involved in the project, what are the client’s end goals, and whether the actions will result in value to the client. And if not, what else could or should we do to better achieve those goals?

My team and I strive to go above and beyond for our clients and always focus on asking the right questions. And according to Robert Half, “Asking the right questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers.” I couldn’t agree more.

  • Mark Foster

    Mark is a senior project manager within our Geomatics Group with more than three decades of experience in Florida.

    Contact Mark
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