When prices plummet, something’s gotta give. Bob Langille has never been the lowest bidder, and he’ll tell you what’s suffering when companies give away services.
“Customer service is going to go down the toilet if you’re going for price,” he says simply.
Bold statement, but how much time can a company that’s undercutting prices afford to spend on a property? Service takes commitment, initiative and time. “It’s not like installing 100 yards of mulch,” Langille says. “Anyone can do that. Customer service is an unwritten thing the smart ones do.”
Lately, Langille is going after customers in the LOHAS crowd – Lifestyles of the Healthy and Sustainable. They’re willing to spend 20 percent more on services if they believe in services – primarily in their “goodness” for their properties. LOHAS customers buy groceries at Whole Foods and don’t mind paying extra for organic or green products.
Langille is studying how to capture more of this market by expanding his sustainable landscape services, such as rain gardens and native plants. He displayed a booth at two regional flower shows and is advertising on the radio. “We are spending more money to make the phone ring now so when the economy picks up, people won’t think that Landscaping Concepts fell off the face of the Earth,” he says.
Langille isn’t going anywhere. Customer loyalty is the backbone of his company, he says, and the reason why it has been in business for 22 years. He spends several hours each month making personal survey calls to keep clients happy and get referrals.
Langille prefers to just pick up the phone. But he does so with direction – he pulls customer files, reviews notes, identifies soft-sell opportunities and queries the particulars, as in: “What do you think about the proposal I gave you last year for planting trees out front?”
He asks a lineup of questions, as well: Can we help with any projects? Is there anything we can do to make the property look better? Langille is jotting notes during these conversations, making recommendations and listening so he can relay feedback to his eight employees.
“I think picking up the phone and having that personal contact is as good as or even better than sending a paper or e-mail form,” Langille says, aware that customers may not be completely comfortable complaining. That’s where discreet surveys come in handy.
Langille launched a formal survey two years ago with the help of an intern. The survey modeled a template and Langille felt it was perhaps too bland for his company. He received zero response, but he only sent out a dozen.
For now, Langille plans to follow his own advice and take the survey initiative – he knows it will pay off. And he’ll get on the horn to be sure his customers are completely satisfied. “Customers are your best salespeople,” he says. “Your reputation as a business depends on how you treat customers.”
Medium Business - $800,000 to $2 million
Large Business - more than $2 million
The author is a freelance writer based in Bay Village, Ohio.