Manage client expectations

Jud Griggs lends advice on how to manage customer expectations during times of high demand.

In my 40 plus years working in the landscape industry, I have never seen demand for landscape services any stronger. It is not a question of if clients will have the work done, but how quickly they can get the work done. Price resistance is low. Sounds like a perfect scenario for a successful and profitable year, doesn’t it?

Well, life in the landscape industry is never easy. Over the past 18 months, most contractors are dealing with delays in getting critical materials for projects, rampant inflation and labor shortages due to immigration and COVID-19 issues. Those three factors must be faced head on to successfully manage your client’s high expectations.

Communication is the key

How can you manage your client’s expectations in light of these challenges? It starts with great communication. I have found that it is better to be brutally honest about the potential for delays or changes to their project or weekly maintenance regime. If you try to gloss over these issues to make the sale, it may come back to haunt you later.

Communication after the sale is sometimes more important than before the sale. The key is to keep the client engaged and informed of any potential changes or price increases — be proactive! This communication needs to come not only from the sales team, but from everyone in the organization. Everyone who touches the project must know what has been promised to the client. This means that detailed notes in your CRM system regarding what the client is expecting as well as what their “hot buttons” are.

While similar, this proactive communication with your clients may be a little different between design/build project and landscape management projects.

From a design/build perspective

Many design/build companies across the country have anywhere from a two- to six-month backlog of work. During the sales process, it is essential that you let your client know that prices could change during the project due to the rampant inflation we are experiencing.

Having price increase clauses in your contracts is a good way to protect yourself from rapidly escalating prices and minimize surprises for your client. Let them know, too, that there may be delays in material shipments due to the strain on the supply chain.

When you have a four-to-six-month backlog of work, the most challenging time to manage client’s expectations is the time period between selling a project and starting construction. It is essential to stay in touch with your clients to keep them e

ngaged in the project. You don’t want them to lose interest in the project, or worse yet, get “buyer’s remorse” and decide to cancel the project. Be sure to schedule a weekly call or email with your clients.

From a landscape management perspective

Labor is the largest part of your maintenance contracts and, therefore, most deeply impacted by the labor shortage and COVID-19 issues. To manage your client’s expectation, let them know up front that the crew size may vary during the course of the year as well as the day of service may change. This way, it will not be a surprise to your client when it does happen.

Inflation has hit all aspects of the industry. Labor costs, PVC pipe and fertilizer costs have all gone through the roof. Be sure that you have captured those increases in your pricing structure. With the huge rise in fuel costs, it would be advisable to add a fuel surcharge to your contracts. This addresses the inflation issue head on, and the client will not be blind-sided.

Measuring your success

I think we all know that there is a direct correlation between successfully managing your clients’ expectations and having ecstatic clients. Besides seeing improvements in your bottom line, can you quantitatively measure how successfully you have managed your client’s expectations? The answer to that question comes from setting up and measuring Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s).

With all the headwinds you could be facing this year, it has never been more important to manage your client’s expectations.

Be proactive. Don’t wait for the angry phone call when your crew does not show up on the normal day of the week, or you find you have to institute a price increase.

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May 2022
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