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Features - Business Management

From scheduling to sales to profitability, customer relationship management software can help your business grow.

Jason Stahl | February 13, 2013

Mike Matthews, president of For-Shore-Weed-Control, Inc. in Atlantic City, N.J., doesn’t know exactly how much his RealGreen customer relationship management (CRM) software cost him. But one thing he does know is that it has been worth every penny.

“Last year, we handled 14,000 residential clients, and a lot of municipal and industrial accounts too,” Matthews says. “And we couldn’t possibly have done it without this software.”

The software allows Matthews to manage customer expectations from the point-of-sale.

“That way,” he says, “if there is an issue, it’s not going to become an ‘I’m going to cancel your service because you guys don’t know what you’re doing’ issue.” Matthews says his company has educated customers to the level where they, for example, will call and say, “That nutsedge the sales guy told me about has come back, can you come out and address that?”

“It’s a completely different kind of phone call, and the relationship with the client is completely different from that point on because now we’re working together to solve the problem before it becomes an issue,” Matthews says.


Relationship manager.
CRM software allows Matthews to analyze the relationship between a given applicator and the number of service calls generated by clients that applicator is servicing. It tells him whether jobs are being sold properly at the point-of-sale so that customer expectations are in line. Besides cancellations, is there a higher percentage of service calls being requested for an individual who is selling a job versus doing the job?

“We can also look at data from a purely demographic standpoint via zip codes, regions and routes we’ve established,” Matthews says. “Also, the combination of services people have in a certain zip code – do they subscribe to lawn care service there? Do they tend to have lawn care and pest control, or lawn care and tree and shrub?” Matthews understands how this software helps a very large company like his, but in his mind, it can also benefit small ones, too.

“I think you should always look at your company not as it is, but as it could be or as you want it to be,” he says. Steve Keys, who owns seven U.S. Lawns franchises, also says that CRM software isn’t just for the big boys.

“I would recommend it to the guy who has his first customer,” he says. “If you don’t want to grow, then maybe you don’t need it. But it makes life so much easier.” Keys is currently transitioning his employees to HindSite software. Training has consisted of webinars conducted by HindSite via the Internet.

“My employees have taken to it well, but it is ongoing training because the software is ever-changing,” Keys says.

“But the software companies are great about adjusting the program to fit you. We make suggestions, and if they’re valid, lo and behold the next version has it.”

Keys has no doubt the software has improved his company’s relationships with customers. Work orders are issued, put into the system and then tracked for completion. Once completed, the customer receives an email, and they have an opportunity to confirm or deny the service has been completed or express dissatisfaction with the service.

“The crew leader may tell you he completed the job, but unless you were there standing there watching him, you really don’t know,” Keys says. Scheduling is streamlined, too, which also makes customers happy. The software eliminates confusion over who is doing what.

“When you have five or six people, it’s pretty easy to keep up with who is supposed to do what. But when you have a couple hundred, tell me how you’re supposed to do that,” Keys says.


Money matters.
Keys says he spends approximately $2,000 a month on the software service, but he has saved a lot on ink and paper by going electronic with service tickets. He does not currently have a data plan for his crews, which means the system only links up when the tablet or whatever device his crews are using hits a wireless signal.

Beyond customer relations, the most important aspect of the software, Keys says, is the ability to pull a report year-to-date to see if a job is in or out of budget.

“Landscape companies in the northern markets renew in January or whenever, but the ones in the south like us are renewing every month in all different months,” he says.

“If you don’t know when those contracts renew, then how do you evaluate if the customer has been profitable or not and then determine if you need to increase or decrease their rate?”

 

The author is a freelancer based in Cleveland.

 



The next level of customer service

Ray Johnson wanted to boost the level of customer service offered by his company – what resulted was a product he’s now offering to other firms in the industry.

By Bill Delaney


For Johnson’s Carefree Lawns in Knoxville, Tenn., providing top-notch customer service is always high on the list of priorities. In 2012, Ray Johnson, owner, developed a new system that he said helped take his company’s customer service to the next level.

Johnson hired a software development team and over the past two years developed a system called ACES for Business (www.acesforbusiness.com), a platform that allows businesses to send out appointment confirmation emails complete with a picture of the specific technician who will be performing a service at the customer’s home. The platform performs a host of other functions that can help gather valuable customer information, according to Johnson.

“The customer response has been phenomenal,” says Johnson, who also owns Johnson Pest Control. “It helps close sales before you get to the door because people have such a feeling about the company they are dealing with that has this technology and professionalism.”

After a customer books an appointment with the company, that customer can check their email inbox moments later to find a confirmation email complete with a photo of the technician they can expect, and a photo of the representative they just spoke with over the phone. Johnson says this not only gives his customers an enhanced sense of security, but is an all-important “first touch” with the customer.

“We say, ‘Mr. Jones, for security reasons, we’d like to send you a picture of the person coming to your property to measure the lawn,’” he says.

“It has been an invaluable tool to get email addresses because when you say for security reasons we’d like to send you a picture of the technician coming to your home, 99.9 percent of the time, we get their email addresses. Before, when we tried to collect email addresses, they were reluctant.”


Customer contact.
There’s an imaginative and charming practicality at work within ACES for Business. LCOs can not only send appointment confirmation emails, but also an array of other email services to customers, such as thank-you cards, service surveys, referral incentives, coupons and more.

The service is fully customizable, specific to the company using the software, and is Web-based. Johnson says it’s about building an interaction with the customer that builds incentive for that customer to keep doing business with you.

Kevin Kordek, president and CEO of A-Active Termite and Pest Control, recently began using the ACES system for his own company, and said the results so far have been very positive.

“We’ve incorporated ACES into every single phase of our customer experience,” Kordek says. “In a tough economy, the little details make more of a difference. This program touches all levels of customer service.” Kordek added that he had originally intended to use the program to reach new prospective customers, but now A-Active uses it for virtually everything: appointment confirmation, estimates, thank-yous and more.

Kordek says he appreciates how the appointment confirmation feature can put some of his customers at ease. “(Customers) will open the email while they’re still on the phone, and it really familiarizes things very quickly. It takes away that uncomfortable feeling of ‘Who’s going to be showing up at my home?’”

Kordek says A-Active uses the system for any opportunity that presents itself as an additional touch point with a customer – and those touch points are important. “That’s what I look for in service companies I use – there’s nothing worse than feeling unappreciated.”


Strategic elements.
Johnson says that the ACES program has bolstered his company’s email database, an important feature of a contemporary business no matter the industry.

“I paid my employees a dollar for every email they’d get from a customer so we could add them to our mailing lists, in hopes of billing them through email instead of snail mail,” he says. These days, Johnson says his company receives a customer email address the majority of the time. The system has also bolstered a few intangibles for his company, Johnson says. These emails heighten the level of professionalism perceived by the customer, and the level of trust.

Johnson tells an anecdote of an elderly woman who called requesting a service – the woman forwarded the confirmation email to her daughter down in Florida, and the daughter in turned called Johnson Pest Control to thank them for providing such exemplary service, Johnson says.

As well, the ability to send simple customer surveys to gain feedback is a useful tool for any lawn care business.

Johnson has been using his own system since February of 2012, and the system is now available for use by other companies at a monthly subscription fee. He says of those who have used it so far, the system has been a success.

“This has been one tool that has really helped us gain closing percentages – if customers are looking at three or four estimates, you send out an email to them, that helps,” he says.

 

The author is associate editor of PCT Magazine. He can be reached at bdelaney@giemedia.com.

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