What customers demand … and deserve

October 29, 2009 -  By

By: Bill Hoopes

As another production season winds down, managers, supervisors and front line workers head for trade shows, attend re-certification seminars and prepare to chill out!

But hold on: Someone is missing from our list. Someone or some group of team members who, in addition to those above, are vital to the success of your Green Industry business. I’ve left out the customer service folks! Call them office staff, CSRs or whatever you wish, these people are our front line of communications with our customers. They, as much as anyone in the organization, should be recognized, supported and acknowledged for their important contributions.

Now is the time to take stock of your service level, to measure and react to actual customer satisfaction (or lack thereof). Whether you’re a landscaper, maintenance provider or chemical lawn service, we all set expectations in our customer’s mind. In the marketing and selling process, we tell them in no uncertain terms what to expect. If the sales team is really good, we set expectations high — at times, too high.

Ask yourself these questions: What have you promised? What have you actually delivered, not in your view but in the mind of your customer? Are you meeting expectations?

Before you get defensive, keep in mind that simply choosing to stretch resources to hit bottom-line goals is short-sighted. These short-term strategies de-emphasize or ignore an investment of time and attention to meeting customer expectations, and will eventually hurt your reputation.

Like you, I’ve lived the budgeting process. And, like you, I recognize the line items considered vital to success. No need to itemize; the list rarely includes anything to do with really improving service. In place of a customer focused plan, many rely on finding thick-skinned miracle workers to sit in the front office and handle problems when, in the customer’s mind, we fail to deliver.

My point is, this approach is both antiquated and inadequate. Customers are too expensive to acquire, and lifetime values are too important to ignore. Any well thought out investment in building an efficient customer service culture is money well spent. Make it an investment that improves your process and ensures that, when we set expectations, we deliver; when we make promises, they are kept. In the long term, this pays off in both customer retention and future sales.

As a former employee of two big service organizations, I can’t over-emphasize the value of a strong image. When word gets out that your company can’t be trusted, over time, often without knowing why, leads dry up and sales disappear. Can you afford that?

To improve your image and bottom line at the same time, consider creating a true customer culture in your business. I know, it sounds tough — if not impossible. Still, it can and is being done. Want to give it a go? This is where you start:

  • Make a top-down company commitment to doing whatever it takes to make each customer feel special. Yes, it can be done — and without spending lots of money!
  • Establish clear guidelines for communicating in the marketing/sales process, what you will and will not deliver.
  • Begin building a new culture in your recruiting process. Talk about the culture a new hire will join. If they don’t buy in, don’t hire.
  • Training from day one must be mandatory and support all details of your customer service philosophy.
  • Follow up each day on the job. Evaluate and course correct in weekly team meetings — and on the spot, if necessary.
  • Step up customer communications by using phone surveys and focus groups to gain input. Listen, acknowledge and take suggestions seriously. Be driven by customer input.
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