Creating a Five-Star Experience for Design-Build Clients - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Creating a Five-Star Experience for Design-Build Clients

This information came from a session during the 2023 ELEVATE conference and expo. Don’t miss ELEVATE in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Nov. 3-6, 2024.

In an industry where there are numerous landscape design-build companies to choose from, one differentiator that can help win and generate future referrals is providing superior customer service.

Choosing to develop a luxury, five-star experience can sound daunting, but it can be broken down into simple practices.  

Understand Your Client Base

Jeff Berghoff, founder & CEO of Berghoff Design Group, based in Phoenix, Arizona, says landscape companies need to understand the clients they serve and their lifestyle.

“If you understand your client core, you know what design level to provide,” Berghoff says.

Photo: Berghoff Design Group

His clients are the top 1 percent of the 1 percent so they work to show their client based they are knowledgeable in their craft. They hire a professional photographer to capture their properties and speak the client’s language. One ad they have says ‘Building beautiful gardens is our business, what you do on it is yours.”  

Berghoff says rather than highlighting every service they provide they simply describe themselves as ‘designers, craftsmen and caretakers of distinctive gardens.’  

Learn From High-End Hospitality Brands

Think of an opulent hotel and what elements create that special feeling of being catered to. Berghoff works to create a similar journey for his clients when they come to visit the company office. These guests have VIP parking. They are shown a clean and tidy supply yard, which conveys how the company will take care of their property to the same degree.

Berghoff says they often take their employees to breakfast and lunch at resorts so they can see the type of expectations their clients have.

Adam Hallauer, CEO & president of Designs By Sundown, based in Littleton, Colorado, adds that you need to think beyond the hard facts of the job and focus on the intangibles and forming a relationship with these clients. He says McDonald’s has customers, and design-build firms should have clients.

Hallauer explains that part of that luxury process is not asking ‘What would you like in your landscape?” but knowing the why behind their requests. Ask questions like “How do you envision spending time in this space with family?” to get to their core desires.

Don’t Fall Into a Style Trap

Frank Mariani, executive chairman of Mariani Landscape, says one key is to avoid developing a certain landscape design style where you can tell which company did the work. He says they match their designers with the best fit with the client.

They keep the outdoor furniture, design of the house, views, use of the space and path to doors all in mind when creating a design that is specific to that property.

“We’re there to create the wow,” Mariani says. “We are not the waiters or waitresses taking your order. We are the ones creating those delicious entrees for you.”

Think Big Picture

Hallauer says another way they ensure their designs are successful is by involving the maintenance team from the beginning. He says everyone is a designer and is welcome to speak up and say if they see something that could be done better.

Mariani says he introduces the maintenance team at the beginning of the team as well. He suggests talking to the client about maintenance early on, as they will ultimately be happier with the property if it is well cared for from the get-go.

Being anticipatory, rather than waiting for a client to ask for maintenance services, sets your team up for success with transitioning these accounts to recurring revenue.

Discuss Timeline and Budget

Making a point to communicate to the client clearly from day one will also help set yourself above other companies. Mariani advises sending brief updates on what’s been accomplished and what’s coming up as you progress on a client’s project.

Strive to be proactive in your communication with clients. Berghoff adds that if the client is calling you, you’re already at a disadvantage. One of the tricky topics is the question of the client’s budget but Mariani says the client creates the budget by listing what they want in the design.

Hallauer says they will tell clients that certain features cost no less than a certain amount so they can get a better feel for what they can expect the price of the project to be.

Berghoff says when working with clients who are going to spend the money no matter what, he says they always drive home the question of do you want a reputable firm or a low bid. Choosing a reputable firm serves as a form of insurance for clients.

For more content like this, register for next year’s ELEVATE in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Nov. 3-6.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.