Sometimes you learn more from mistakes than you do from successes, says H. Jaclyn Ishimaru-Gachina, president and co-founder of Gachina Landscape Management headquartered in Menlo Park, California. That was the case when one of the company’s branches secured a difficult client. While the company was initially quite proud to announce they landed this very large HOA account, only three months into the work, they realized there was a misalignment with customer expectations. No matter what Gachina did, the HOA seemed displeased.
“It was a learning experience that we are not the best service provider for every site, nor is every possible client a good fit for Gachina,” says Ishimaru-Gachina. “Initially, we thought we could overcome the issues by jumping through every hoop. The lesson is to know your client and what their expectations are—and make sure they are aligned with your company values, best practices and proactive business approach.”
Ishimaru-Gachina shares more about how exactly to do just that.
Aligning Customer Expectations Lesson #1: Evaluate Early On
It’s important to attempt to determine, early on, whether clients’ values and expectations align with yours, says Ishimaru-Gachina. You can achieve this when the business development manager goes out to meet with a potential client. They should aim to answer some very important questions, including the following:
- Why is this job being put to bid?
- How inclusive is the RFP?
- What are the pain points or what are they not getting from their current provider?
- What plans do they have for the future?
- Will exactly will the job include?
- Are they educated on the options?
- Do they have realistic expectations?
That final question is key, says Ishimaru-Gachina. For example, if they require organic weed solutions, do they know it is more expensive, can take multiple applications, and the results will not be as complete as a synthetic option?
In terms of where things went awry with the large HOA contract, expectations were a big part of it. Ishimaru-Gachina says the client gave the company “goals that were impossible to achieve.” For instance, they would not approve irrigation repairs, but then the client would complain about the health of the plants. It was a never-ending battle.
Aligning Customer Expectations Lesson #2: Take the Opportunity to Educate
When there are expectation disconnects, Ishimaru-Gachina says it may warrant educating the client, which she calls a “great opportunity.” Sometimes the education can resolve an issue. In this particular case, Ishimaru-Gachina requested to make a presentation to the board to respectfully cancel the contract.
“In this particular case, because I was cancelling a contract that we had only been servicing for three months, I wanted the HOA board to understand why we made the decision,” says Ishimaru-Gachina. “We left them with a checklist of items we believed would bring the landscape back to the vision of the landscape architect. During the three months, our hands were tied by the landscape committee and we couldn’t use best practices. They directed us many times with conflicting instructions—do that here, but not there. They were not a partner in our success. Still, the decision was not made without much thought and consideration—the contract was worth well over $300,000 a year.”
Aligning Customer Expectations Lesson #3: Let Go of Difficult Clients
When expectations are not aligning, it’s time to let go. One benefit of that is what it can mean for the teams, says Ishimaru-Gachina.
“By making the hard decision, I supported them and showed that I had their back,” she says. “That goes a long way in building a strong team—and company.”
Of course, Ishimaru-Gachina says everyone has experienced difficult clients at one time or another. You can turn some difficult relationships into success stories—and good learning experiences for the future, she says.
“If you do decide it’s in the best interest to terminate the contract, do it professionally, with integrity, and leave on good terms,” adds Ishimaru-Gachina. “Eventually the property management company or HOA board will change and you may have the opportunity to rebid.”
Ishimaru-Gachina also says to periodically analyze the goals and expectations of your clients and make sure you are still aligned.
“I attended a Marty Grunder seminar within the first few months of taking over the company,” she adds. “He said to stay true to your purpose and mission. If the client doesn’t fit, and won’t, it’s time to part ways.”