Employing Effective Customer Surveys - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Employing Effective Customer Surveys

It’s commonly said that if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. This is one reason why customer surveys are helpful as they give you a snapshot of what you’re doing right and where you can improve.

“It’s a very valuable tool because you might think you’re doing great, but then you talk to some clients and you find out maybe you’re not hitting the mark in this one area,” says Garth Sager, director of sales and client relations for Chalet, based in Wilmette, Illinois. “Or quite the opposite, maybe you think you’re struggling in an area and actually you’re doing a lot better than you thought you did. There’s a lot of good information that can come out of it.”

Types of Surveys

Sager’s advice for others considering employing customer surveys is to look internally and ask what do you want to find out from your clients. He says they developed their survey questions as a team as different people had particular questions they wanted to be answered.

At Chalet, they have three types of surveys they send out currently. One is a benchmarking survey that is sent out annually to all of their customers. The other two are sent to design/build customers – one is after a project has been completed and the other is sent to potential clients who went through the design process but they never heard back from them.

Sager says the ‘ghost’ surveys are sent out periodically when the project has been proposed and they haven’t heard back from the client after a certain period of time.

Grosh’s Lawn Service, based in Clear Spring, Maryland, says as soon as the landscape project is completed they send the customer survey.

“This way if there is an issue, we can correct it the next day if possible,” says Tom Grosh, founder and owner of Grosh’s Lawn Service.

One thing you have to decide if you’re going to survey customers is the type of responses they can use. Chalet uses a mixture of open-ended responses and rating things on a scale of one to five.

“We require all fields to be filled in order for the survey to be submitted, but then again we also get some like xyz’s and blah blah blah or other gibberish in order to get through it, but that’s rare actually,” Sagar says. “Most people do take the time to fill them, even if it’s a short answer in the required fields.”

Sager says they’ll thank customers who leave four and five-level ratings.

“We tend to get a lot of praise, it’s an opportunity for clients to give us praise,” Sager says. “Some clients that are upset will use it as an open forum to rant, which is great. That’s the kind of stuff we want to hear if we’re not hitting the mark. Occasionally clients will send messages like ‘Hey can you make sure the crew brings this or that next week?’ Open-ended means open-ended and you get all kinds of stuff. But in general, I’d say the most common is praise and some complaints.”

Grosh says they offer four choices on some questions on the customer survey and others are just yes or no selections. Majority of the responses are positive saying the company completed the job on time and in budget, they would recommend Grosh’s to family and friends and they would give them six stars if that was allowed.

“When they respond to the customer survey, they respond very well with the four-choice option and the yes and no selection,” Grosh says. “All questions are always answered if the customer survey is completed.”

For a benchmarking survey, Sager says the questions shouldn’t change much so you can tell how you’re growing in certain areas.

“People might think I need to change our survey every year to keep it fresh,” Sager says. “I would hesitate to do that because you want to have consistent answers to see how you’re tracking.”

Currently, Chalet sends their benchmark survey out in January/February, but Sager says he’d like to start sending it in September.

“Ideally, you’re sending it out and you’re getting responses with enough time left in the season to make some changes before the renewal time comes,” Sager says. “That’s why we’re strategically looking to shift that up, to give us time to act after we’ve gotten responses to the survey.”

Participation and Incentives

Grosh says they have less than 30 percent participation for their surveys. They don’t offer any participation incentives as they want the survey to be free of any influence.

Sager says they offer gift certificates to their retail facility to get more people to respond to the design/build surveys but don’t have any incentives for the benchmarking client survey.

“For the benchmarking survey, for the maintenance survey, it’s pretty low,” Sager says. “It’s about 20 percent. We’re working on ways to increase that. For the design/build ones, the ones we’re actually giving the gift certificate that’s closer to 30 percent.”

Responding to Negative Surveys

Yet employing surveys do you no good if you collect customer feedback, but never act on what they have to say. If you ignore customer concerns for too long, it can even result in a lack of participation as it becomes clear nothing will change.

If Chalet receives ratings on the one- and two-scale or if there’s a lot of negative commentary this prompts immediate follow-up from Sager.

“When they give us a really negative one, you can almost kind of feel if they’re just venting and having a bad day,” Sager says. “Regardless, we reach out and what we tend to find out is that if it is just a bad day, and they’re venting and they’re not really that upset about their service when I do reach out to follow up with them, they don’t respond because they’ll realize they went too far. If they are being genuine, they usually have no issue getting right back to you.”

Grosh says they handle every negative issue immediately and correct the complaint.

“We are going to make whatever issue the client has right so why not deal with it promptly,” Grosh says. “This conveys that we care about our clients and any issues they may have. With existing clients, we do not require any money upfront to begin the landscape project. We are paid after the landscape project is completed to our clients’ satisfaction, which leads to a better experience for our clients and no issues with a negative survey or a bad review.”

Making Changes

Grosh says they’re always open to how the customer thinks and perceives things.

“We then look at how we can better implement the client’s request on a change if it leads to a better client experience,” Grosh says. “Some clients ask us to add additional services that are not inside of what we do best but based on experience it is usually way outside of our service offerings and we believe that most people would not look to a landscaper for those types of projects.”

Sager says they analyze the survey information as it comes in and look for trends. For example, if they had lot of complaints about their billing process Sager would discuss the issue with different department heads.

“We’ve really looked hard at our billing process based on some of our surveys and made adjustments from that,” Sager says.

Their survey touches on every department from billing to production and sales. They will break down the information by salesperson and go over with them what areas their clients are happy about and what areas they need to improve.

“We’ve made simple changes like sometimes you can tell after reading a survey you know it’s probably time to change their representative,” Sager says. “There’s a relationship thing here. Personality issues will come out in that survey.”

This article was published in the March/April issue of the magazine.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the content manager for NALP.