The art of a service call

Features - Strategies

7 (and a half) simple things you can do to resolve callbacks.

April 14, 2010

Photo: Buckeye Ecocare

Your certified landscape professional or lawn care service technician has delivered your goods and services just as you described in your proposal, but the client is not satisfied. You’re facing the dreaded service call. What do you do now?

A service call, or a callback, is an opportunity to recover and serve your customer in a memorable way. Also, it’s an indication that you have done something wrong in the client’s eyes. Here are seven (and a half) simple things you can do to resolve them.

Invite the call
Most reputable companies have written or implied warranties or guarantees and honor those commitments to their clients. Some companies have mission statements that talk about satisfied clients being their number one goal. Very few companies have instilled a company culture that places customer satisfaction above all else. Which one are you?

Have a trained person answer. Try and imagine a world where every time you have an issue with a service provider or sales clerk your first contact is a live person who has the authority to resolve the problem. That same person is smiling on the phone or in person and assures you that your concerns will be addressed immediately, to your satisfaction, or your money back. Every time! How many times has this happened to you as a consumer in the past year? How many times has it happened for your customers?

Clarify the problem
Do all of the annual flowers need to be replaced? Do the hardscapes need to be cleaned again? Is the entire lawn covered with dandelions? If your office staff is trained to ask these simple questions you will save your field crews some valuable man-hours. Imagine how impressed the client will be when you show up to resolve their problem and the crew knows exactly what to do. The clean-up person(s) then leaves a no-charge invoice explaining exactly what they have done. Is your office staff prepared for these incoming calls?

Create a paper trail to track the call
The three rules of successful service organizations are communication, communication and communication. Tracking free or chargeable service calls for future reference will help you and the client recall your positive experiences. Software is available to track and record every client contact throughout the history of the relationship. Is this a process you have in place?

Kill them with kindness
The faster we learn how to swallow our pride and admit that we may have done something wrong in the clients eyes, the quicker we resolve the problem. “Yes, Ms. Jones, you are exactly right. Our crew did not blow off any of your hardscapes and I’m here to clean them today, and your next regular service will be at no charge. And by the way, thank you for bringing this to my attention.” Try to always deliver more than advertised with a smile on your face.

Resolve problems professionally
Remember, a callback is a great opportunity to recover and serve in a memorable way. This service call opportunity is the most effective way to separate your company from the competition. We are always looking for an edge or advantage on our competition. Separate yourself from the others with a no-hassle policy on how your entire team processes service calls. Consider offering a free widget if you don’t react to a service call within two business days. Can your competition match that?

Follow up with a phone call
Mr. Smith calls to remind you that he still has dandelions in his lawn after a recent treatment. A second treatment is applied within 48 hours by the service manager with a smile on his face along with a no-charge invoice. Two weeks later your office staff calls Mr. Smith back to ask about the weed status. The next time he is asked about a quality lawn care service provider, he remembers the follow-up phone call that accompanied his dead weeds. How much would it cost to make a follow-up call to Mr. Smith?

The 5 percent rule
I saved this one for last because most entrepreneurs are eternal optimists but – in my estimation – 5 percent of the population just cannot be satisfied.

We live in a world where instant gratification is the norm and patience is a lost art. Customers are not willing to accept service providers who blame others, postpone or make excuses for their inefficiencies. We can dial up, order up or purchase electronically just about anything except a newborn child in less than nine months.

Service organizations are under tremendous pressure to do it right, do it right now and charge less than the competition. This is a recipe for failure and failure cannot be one of our goals. Five percent of the time it is your job as an owner, manager or service technician to “just say no.” Do it politely, do it in writing and record everything.

Five percent of our problem clients consume 50 percent of our time. How fair is this to the other 95 percent of our customers?

It is also worth mentioning that the “just say no” rule can become a habit for some overwhelmed owners or sales managers. You should develop a way to track every incoming service call, hold the account manager or route technician responsible and tie it to their compensation.

Most service providers are not performing services that the homeowners could not do on their own. We’re not sending men to the moon, but if we can’t install processes, people and systems such as these to check our own work, the client will find someone else who can. He or she will stop having the services performed, try another vendor, or go back to doing it themselves. Lose-lose situations are not why we’re in business. Try just a few of these this upcoming season and then add the rest as you see fit and I assure you that your customer satisfaction rates will rise.

The author is president of Buckeye Ecocare,Centerville, Ohio.