Business Smarts: Elevating the Customer Experience - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Business Smarts: Elevating the Customer Experience

If you think of some of your recent positive interactions with a business, the majority of the time, this sentiment is created by an excellent customer experience.

You felt valued, heard and your needs were catered to often before you had to request it. Similarly, this is what your clients should be enjoying when they interact with your lawn or landscape company.

Keys to a Great Customer Experience

Depending on your client base, some of the keys to a great customer experience will vary. If you have mainly residential customers, empathy is the most important element.  

Chris Galluzzo, director of account management for Mainely Grass, based in Bedford, New Hampshire, says you need to be on the client’s level and ensure they are confident you feel the same way.

“This is someone who is investing a lot of time, potentially money, energy into their property and when you approach that conversation, you need to show that you have the same the same feelings towards their property as they do,” Galluzzo says.

Mainely Grass regularly conducts internal audits of their communication and one of the things they look for is empathy.

“We’re really looking at four different buckets for each phone call,” Galluzzo says. “You have the knowledge side, you have tone, problem-solving, and most importantly, empathy.”

Photo: City Green Services

If you have commercial clients, it comes down to building a sense of trust and partnership between the two parties. Chad Sikes, owner/CEO of City Green Services, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, says one of the major complaints they hear from clients they add in the middle of the season is they didn’t even know who their account manager was or they changed every six months at the previous company.

Fred Haskett, founder of TrueWinds Consulting, says being a resource for the client, understanding their property and what they want out of it will help you develop that trust and loyalty over time.

“Just being able to be a resource to our clients, have them calling us up saying, ‘Hey, we need new park benches or trash cans,’” Sikes says. “We can help you with that. Whatever it may be, trying to be that one-stop resource for our clients. Becoming that partner rather than just a vendor-client relationship.”

Sikes says consistency throughout the seasons and handling events well, like a major storm or an irrigation leak, all help establish trust.

Taking the time to learn and adapt to your client’s preferred communication channels and frequency is also significant for providing a quality customer experience.

“If you want to be successful, it has to be on their terms,” Haskett says. “We know what their choice was and then we make sure that is in the CRM. Everybody that interrelates with that client knows their preferred (communication) method is email. So, if you start texting them, we’re in the wrong spot.”

Build Relationships

Because your account managers are the main people on staff connecting and building relationships with your clients, it’s important to get the right people in the right seats.

“I think a lot of it starts with how we employ and who we employ, what their priorities are, what their character and morals are,” Sikes says.

Sikes says that a bad account manager who doesn’t have drive or ambition can ruin the experience altogether for a customer. Haskett adds it’s important to pair account managers with the right strengths to deal with specific customer bases, such as HOAs. He says when hiring account managers, make sure your recruiters know what type of person will be successful for the client base you have in mind for them.

Even if an account manager doesn’t have every trait you are looking for, some skills can still be taught. For instance, some may say empathy isn’t a trait that can be trained, but Galluzzo argues it can be coached to those it comes less naturally to. With their regular internal audits, Mainely Grass continues to work with their account managers on where they can improve.

“You start seeing people that you never would have thought give these quality interactions to customers are now some of our top performers,” Galluzzo says. “I do think it is something that can be taught; it just takes an investment. You got to put the energy into it.”

How many clients you assign your account managers will also impact their ability to form meaningful relationships with customers.

“Once you get over a certain number of contacts and relationships, it’s setting you up for failure,” Sikes says. “We tend to base it more on revenue. A junior account manager that’s just getting going, we might have them at $700,000. A good senior account manager might be more towards that $1.4, $1.5 million, depending on the number of contacts that you have.”

Sikes advises making sure you are matching your account managers with clients who mesh well together.

“Doing it geographically to me doesn’t make sense,” Sikes says. “Just because you’re in this area that may not match well with your personality, and that’s just going to be a failure. So, to me, you have to do it based upon setting the client up for success, first and foremost.”

Haskett advises also considering how often you want your account manager to visit sites and how much time it will take for them to visit all of their clients.

Galluzzo says they don’t assign customers to specific account managers to ensure they’re providing timely responses. They track all their customer notes in Real Green so anyone can pull up that information and continue the quality interaction with the client.

“If we do see an issue potentially arising an account manager will assign a customer to themselves for the remainder of the year a singular point of contact to ensure if there are any issues or if there are things they want to address, they’ll be their point of contact,” Galluzzo says.

Advice on Improving Customer Experience

Haskett says you need to review what you are currently measuring when it comes to customer experience and if you are measuring the right things. Galluzzo agrees you have to take a step back and conduct an internal audit first to see how you’re doing with your current overall customer experience.

“It’s something that you’ve got to be constantly monitoring, quite frankly, on a daily basis,” Galluzzo says. “But don’t be afraid of that because it is going to pay dividends over time and you are going to start seeing improvement.”

Haskett suggests adding new technologies to help with the customer experience thoughtfully and consistently.

“We’ve got to train our people how to use the new tools and the new methodology so that we can be effective again with the constantly changing environment that we work in,” Haskett says.

Don’t be afraid to evaluate new techniques and services with your clients.

“They’ll help you,” Haskett says. “They’ll get you there faster and you will make better choices. If they’re truly partners, ask them and listen, when they’re giving you inputs on that kind of thing. You will get there smoother, and they will embrace it.”

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.