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Better, best: Know the customer

January 25, 2016 -  By

iS25208346customerIf you work long enough in customer service you can end up hating people, but that’s if you lose sight of realities of human nature. Ending up a “hater” is not a healthy career path if your job is account manager (AM). You will not have fun and you will burn out quickly. So it might be worthwhile understanding “human nature” and how to handle it and yourself. It all starts with the knowledge that customers, like all of us, are highly imperfect beings. How do we then build better relationships with them?

For starters let’s assume that the vast majority of your customers are property managers (PM). Let’s also assume that they are not all equal in terms of talent, experience, responsibility and compensation. For example, the “lower” end of this scale might be represented by apartment PMs while the higher end is represented by “Commercial A” PMs. While there are differences across this spectrum of PMs, they all share some common elements of human nature that will determine your effectiveness with this crowd as well as and your happiness and success as a landscape AM.

Customer profile

Let’s profile some of these common elements. Can we agree that most PMs are: over-worked, under-appreciated, over-tired and under-paid? If we can, then we can begin to see how to build more productive relationships because of the following:

Over-worked: Over the past decade property owners (PO) have reduced staffing and piled on more work for PMs to save money. This situation does not make them happy and it reduces the time available to work with you.

Under-appreciated: In addition to increased workloads, both their bosses and customers have higher expectations. They are between the quintessential rock and the hard place. They deal with problems all day long. It would be a rare occasion were someone to call them and say, “Thanks, nice job. We really are so lucky to have you.” Are you finished laughing yet? This situation can make them very short with you.

Over-tired: Their job never seems to be done. They are rarely “caught up.” They go home with work unfinished every day. This can result in poor follow-up and poor decisions becoming the norm. No wonder that it takes forever to get a decision on an up-sell.

Under-paid: The PM job is essentially a dead-end job. I don’t mean it’s bad, but simply that there are few avenues for promotion and compensation increases. This means that many of the best and most experienced quit and are replaced by, at best, inexperienced people and at worst, flat out incompetents. This makes your job harder having to educate new PMs just when you have one “broken in.”

Taking all these factors into account: They don’t have time, you are not their only concern, they may be “ignorant” about landscape, and they may have very little power to make decisions without at least buy-in from others–if not outright approval. Fun, huh?

AM Approach

Your approach needs to address elements of human nature when you call to schedule a meeting, you want to walk the site with them, follow up on a proposal, work through a renewal or get a referral. So when they don’t call you back, it doesn’t mean they hate you. It means that you may not be the most important thing in the world to them right now.

The simple rule for managing human nature is to practice empathy. I am not referring to the therapeutic, psychological kind of empathy. I am referring to practical everyday empathy… as in “you must be having a hard day with all that to think about” empathy.

To get things done then you need to save time, provide information and demonstrate appreciation.

Time: Schedule site walks frequently enough to get them comfortable, then work to reduce walk frequency as they trust you more. Stick to a consistent site walk agenda. Keep the walk brief, but purposeful. Replace some walks with GoToMeeting review calls. Ask how you can save them time and make the best use of time when you do interact.

Information: Document (photos and text): Email communications; proposals–ideas bid, sold and open; site walk results; renewals–dates and pricing; issues–open and resolved; a client budget document (the summary of all these things). The better you are at communicating, the more they trust and rely on you. Again, ask them what they want to see, when and in what format.

Appreciation: Send the occasional thank-you cards. To the extent permissible (in their organizations), buy them lunch. Be direct to the extent the relationship allows. This may mean getting feedback from them about what you can do to make their jobs easier, as well as providing suggestions where you think the two of you might work better.

We are in a relationship business. When it comes to human nature, it’s not so much what you do, as how you do it. Customers can be enormously challenging and difficult people. Just remember to take a deep breath, avoid the choke impulse, practice empathy and see how you can guide them to where you think they need to be.

So, what’s it going to be? Adapt to human nature and enjoy the job, or end up a hater? It’s your call.

Don’t miss the Account Manager Master’s Series, being held by Envisor Consulting and in four cities across the country this winter. Landscape Management is the media sponsor of the seminars.

About the Author:

Kevin Kehoe, a longtime landscape industry consultant, is managing partner at Aspire Software.

1 Comment on "Better, best: Know the customer"

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  1. Nick says:

    Great Article.