Customers want a quality product, but what helps most to retain that client is quality customer service. During an educational session at New England Grows, Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, discussed the value landscape contractors gain if they practice good customer service.
Grover shared an example of how a flight attendant had almost refused to serve him coffee, explaining how this gave him a negative opinion of the company even if everything else on the flight went well. “You won’t get credit for great service in landscape unless the customer’s happy,” he said.
During the session, Grover shared a few noteworthy stats about customer service: a Michaelson & Associates study reported 69 percent of customers will leave a business due to poor customer service. Also, an Oracle study reported 86 percent of customers will pay more for better customer experience.
Given these findings, Grover said landscapers should find ways to portray good customer service etiquette in addition to having good landscaping services. “Make sure you still have quality product, but ultimate success depends on customer service.”
The following are Grover’s 11 keys to outstanding customer service:
1. Communicate. Many customers complain, “I can’t get my current vendor to return my call,” or “I’m tired of having to call my vendor to tell them what to do.” Customers value communication, so keep a constant line of communication with them. Grover said about 90 percent of communication should be initiated by the landscaper rather than the customer, so it takes work. However, many customers are lost due to a lack of communication.
2. If customers tell you a problem, it is your problem; if you tell them about a problem, it’s their problem. Grover stressed the importance of being open about problems. He said landscapers should tell customers if they notice a problem to control the story. “Tell them what the problem is, take charge and be proactive,” he said. “Some of my best relationships I’ve had are with customers I failed, but I owned up to the problem and they respected that.”
3. A picture tells 1,000 words. If there is a problem on a job, use pictures to explain the problem to the customer. This often validates the concern and explains the issue better than text.
4. Happy customers put up with occasional quality problems, but dissatisfied customers point out every flaw. Customers give landscapers credit if they put customer service forward proactively. Happier customers tend to be more loyal and in turn provide referrals.
5. Admit failure to build customer loyalty. It’s human nature to try to hide mistakes, but Grover said to own up to mistakes when they happen. He said this will help to build trust, and it also shows customers the hard work involved in the landscaping profession.
6. Every interaction matters (or only the paranoid survive). All interactions with customers are important. “It was once said, ‘only the paranoid survive,’” Grover said. “For me, if a customer calls and I don’t know why they’re calling, I’m going to assume something’s gone wrong. Maybe the customer is happy, but I prepare to accept any feedback and take charge.”
7. You are always on camera – crew professionalism is critical. Managers need to stress to crew members the value of professionalism on the job – especially as the customers will be watching and taking note of negative interactions. “We infringe on people’s days, so we need to be conscientious of people,” he said. “Always be aware of people, teach your entire staff to smile and don’t engage in horse play or joking on a job site.”
8. The customer is not always right; but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes customers are irrational or ask for things that can’t be done. However, this doesn’t mean they should be ignored altogether. Grover suggested finding middle ground with tough customer requests or demands.
9. Look for opportunities to be a hero. It pays to go above and beyond with customer service. Grover shared a story of how one of his customers sent him a note about how impressed he was when his workers stayed at his site long hours to fix a problem. “Heroic service is a number of things, but if you just do regular work, you probably won’t get credit,” he said. “If you exceed expectations, though, that will be noticed.” He said this includes surprising customers, perceiving their needs ahead of time, reducing costs in certain situations and fixing problems when not asked.
10. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask. A customer survey can go a long way to show how a business is doing in regard to customer service. To send out a customer survey, he suggested keeping it short, design it so there will be measurable results, ask only one thing per question and consider rewarding respondents with a simple gift such as a gift card.
11. Great service is a culture, not a department. Customer service needs to be embraced by the entire company to be successful. Grover said business leaders need to instill this in their employees by giving them clear and concise examples of what the owner expects for customer service.