Stellar customer service

Departments - L&L Insider

Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, listed top reasons landscapers should focus on customer service at New England Grows.

January 2, 2018

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. The following are Grover’s 11 keys to outstanding customer service:

1. Communicate.

Grover said about 90 percent of communication should be initiated by the landscaper rather than the customer, so it takes work.

2. If customers tell you a problem, it’s your problem; if you tell them, it’s their problem.

Grover said landscapers should tell customers if they notice a problem so the landscaper has control of the story. “Some of my best relationships I’ve had are with customers I failed, but I owned up to the problem and they respected that,” he said.

3. A picture tells 1,000 words.

If there is a problem on a job, use pictures to explain it to the customer.

New England Grows took place Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Photo By Megan Smalley
4. Happy customers put up with occasional quality problems, but dissatisfied customers point out every flaw.

Happier customers tend to be more loyal and provide referrals.

5. Admit failure to build customer loyalty.

It’s human nature to try to hide mistakes, but Grover said to confess mistakes when they happen. He said this will help to build trust.

6. Every interaction matters.

“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,” Grover said.

7. Crew professionalism is critical.

Managers need to stress to crew members that customers will be watching and taking note of negative interactions.

8. The customer is not always right, but that doesn’t matter.

Sometimes customers are irrational. However, this doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Grover suggested finding middle ground with tough customer requests.

9. Look for opportunities to be a hero.

“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.”

10. If you want to know how you’re doing, ask.

To send out a customer survey, keep it short, design it so there will be measurable results, make the questions simple and consider rewarding respondents with an incentive.

11. Great service is a culture, not a department.

Grover said business leaders need to instill this in their employees by giving them clear and concise examples of their expectations.

Caterpillar unveils UTV line

The company will offer a gas and diesel model of the UTVs. By Lauren Rathmell

Caterpillar debuted UTVs at its training facility in Peoria, Illinois.

Two versions of the UTV will be available for purchase in the summer of 2018. The CUV82 features a standard cab with a gas engine. The vehicle can reach a maximum speed of 45 mph. The gas model features a Chery engine. A diesel version, the CUV102D, can reach a maximum speed of 25 mph, built with a Kohler engine. Both vehicles have a 2,000-pound towing capacity and 1,000-pound cargo capacity.

Photo courtesy of Caterpillar

A push from customers prompted Caterpillar to begin designing the utility vehicle. “We were hearing from our dealers that customers would love to have a UTV,” said Norma Aldinger, commercial supervisor for Caterpillar UTVs. “But they wanted it to look like a CAT and be CAT tough.”

Caterpillar also wanted to appeal to new customers who were looking for a work vehicle solution.

Aldinger said customers want an alternative vehicle aside from their pickup trucks when traveling around jobsites. For the UTV, Caterpillar used the same designers who work on their other equipment to ensure their model met customer expectations.

The UTVs feature steel beds and wide cabins to fit operators more comfortably. With the UTV launch, Caterpillar will offer more than 50 accessories.

Campbell Lowman, product engineer for Caterpillar, said there will be accessories offered to allow operators to fully enclose the cab with soft roofs and doors, as well as hard tops and more durable doors. Windshield options will include full plastic coverage and half-windshields.

Other optional accessories include a Bluetooth radio with speakers, a heater pack option and task lights.

Caterpillar’s goal was to make the machine intuitive enough for any operator to figure out the controls in 30 seconds. From the operator’s seat, a column shifter and power steering were included to give the UTV a more familiar truck-feel. The seats and steering wheel are adjustable to accommodate a variety of operators.

With a focus on safety, built-in features can set speed limits on vehicles. The machine won’t operate over 10 mph unless the seatbelt has been fastened.

For larger crews, Caterpillar announced they will be launching a crew version of the UTVs in fall of 2018. In addition, the crew version of UTVs will feature two rows of seating.

The UTVs were developed in collaboration with Textron Specialized Vehicles.

Irrigation updates

Check out the highlights from the 2017 Irrigation Show. By Kate Spirgen

Photo by Kate Spirgen

Lawn & Landscape traveled to Orlando, Florida, for the 2017 Irrigation Show to get the latest education and news from the irrigation industry. Here are some of the highlights from the show:

  • Mike Barron and Robert Starr, both from the Toro Company, won the Irrigation Association Innovator Award for The Water Zone radio program.
  • The Irrigation Association installed its incoming president, Warren Gorowitz, vice president of sustainability at Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply. Gorowitz was the winner of a 2017 Lawn & Landscape Leadership Award.
  • The IA honored the National Mall revitalization project with a Vanguard Award. The project, completed in 2016, spanned four years of construction. The Mall now uses 40 percent storm water runoff and Wi-Fi communication.

Why are you in business?

Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, shared his business philosophy at the Irrigation Show. By Kate Spirgen

Business can get a bad reputation, but it can elevate our existence, raise the standard of living and improve the quality of goods and service, said Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s, in his keynote address at the Irrigation Show in Orlando, Florida, in November.

Rauch helped grow Trader Joe’s from a small local chain into a nationally known brand. He’s a recent senior fellow at the Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative and is founder and president of Daily Table, a nonprofit retail concept designed to bring affordable nutrition to the food-insecure in our cities.

“I think many businesspeople are heroic,” he said. “They take tremendous risks. They put themselves and their businesses on the line. And it’s heroic because it can lift people out of poverty.”

He asked attendees of the Irrigation Association event why they’re in business and what their purpose is. “The easy and cheap answer is that we’re here to make money,” he said, “but that isn’t a very satisfying answer.”

It’s also not a very smart answer because customers don’t care about that. The real goal of business should be to create and amplify a value chain to your investors, your customers and the communities you serve.

Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t make profit because you need to do that in order to survive. But you have think beyond that. “A lot of businesses use people and love things,” Rauch said. “Smart businesses use things and love people.”

Aim higher.

“You’re innovating or you’re dying no matter what industry you’re in,” he said, because your customers’ needs are always changing.

Millennials are now entering the industry. Rauch said when you look at what fuels millennials, it’s more aspirational than anything else. “For many people it’s, ‘I want to do well, but I also want to do good,’” he said. “It’s what you stand for as well as what you sell that customers care about.”

Also, company culture is not something that can be copied. “They can copy a product or a brand look, but they can’t copy the DNA,” Rauch said. “It’s how decisions are made – your core committable values.”

In that company culture, it’s key to allow for mistakes and failures. “You’re either creating cultures in your organization that allow for risk, that allow for appropriate failure or you’re in trouble,” he said. “If you never take risks, you’re never going to innovate.”

Knowing when to let your people make their own mistakes and grow is tricky and he said he had to learn how to do it the hard way. Here are four things he’s learned about failure:

  1. You want to fail on purpose. “You want your failures to be around your purpose. Don’t fail in your gap reporting. That’s not a good place to take a risk.”
  2. Make sure you’re learning. “You are driving, consciously to take risk because it’s something you need to know.”
  3. Manage your risk reward ratio. “Never test the water with both feet.”
  4. Share your mistakes. “If you’re willing to share your mistakes institutionally, everyone gets to learn. If you don’t, everyone is going to make their own mistakes and learn that way.”

Some products from the Irrigation Show are featured on page 76. For more news from the 2017 Irrigation Show, visit

Letter to the editor: Sexual harassment in the green industry

More than 20 years ago, I was on the staff of a national nonprofit organization. A board member – the CEO of a Fortune 500 company – showed up at my hotel room door late at night, under ridiculously flimsy pretenses, seeking sexual gratification. It was neither my first nor last experience with questionable conduct in a professional environment, but it WAS one of the most blatant.

I’ve told that story a lot through the years. It happened shortly before I came to work with the green industry, an industry that felt kinder, gentler, safer – We are good people. I have seen the very best of us through these 20 years. Sadly, I have also seen some of the worst of us.

We are also an industry made up predominantly of men in positions of leadership. And thus, we are not immune. Looking broadly at the industry, I also know that these are our uncomfortable truths:

  • There are “handsy” guys at pretty much every event that I have ever attended. A too-long hug, a roaming hand when photos are being taken, an uninvited shoulder massage, a blatant groping.
  • There are customers at tradeshow booths or in your sales yard, leering at women with thinly veiled come-ons, trying to cajole favors from your sales reps or office staff, or who linger just a little too long, tell a provocative joke, seem just a little too suggestive or stand just a little too close.
  • There are people calling women they work with (or the waitress at the restaurant) “baby, honey, sweetie” without thinking – are they coming on to us, or can they just not be bothered to remember our names?

Every one of those examples is a true story, or many true stories, from a woman in this industry.

Far too often, all of this behavior is brushed off. As a society, we need to stop apologizing for the creeps.

I have always been fortunate enough to feel secure that my job wasn’t in jeopardy for telling (INSERT NAME HERE) “NO.” But I lose sleep at night thinking about the woman making $12 an hour who is too meek to push back, who fears reporting her co-worker/supervisor because it might mean losing the job that keeps a roof over her kids’ heads.

Through the years, one of my most effective coping mechanisms was to create a massive “adopted family” for myself – a whole cadre of “uncles” and “big brothers” who I could count on in an instant if I needed support at an event. Which is great, but it would have been far better to have never felt like I needed it.

If you haven’t heard these stories, if you’re struggling to believe me, I encourage you to start a conversation. Ask the women around you to share their stories. I’m asking you to pay a little more attention to predatory, tasteless or just “walking the fine line of inappropriate” behavior going on around you.

None of us are completely innocent here. We’ve all laughed at an inappropriate joke or made a comment that could have been misconstrued.

None of us are completely innocent here. We’ve all laughed at an inappropriate joke or made a comment that could have been misconstrued.

This is a problem that men are uniquely positioned to fix, and it’s simple. If you see something, say something. Offer to get someone home or in an elevator safely. Say, “hey – that’s not cool” to the guy getting handsy or with the tasteless jokes. If you’re not part of the problem, you need to be part of the solution.

Kellee O'Reilly

CXO, MonkeyBar Management

O’Reilly was the director of member resources for the American Nursery & Landscape Association from 1997 - 2007, and remained a consultant with ANLA until 2012. MonkeyBar Management also works with green industry clients. For the full letter, visit