This information came from a session during the 2022 ELEVATE conference and expo. Don’t miss the 2023 ELEVATE in Dallas on Sept. 10-13.
While the demand for landscape services has remained high, client expectations are also incredibly high. This can be a problem as there are a number of challenges landscape professionals face on a daily basis, including material delays, rampant inflation and labor shortages.
The first step to managing client expectations through these issues is by having open and honest communication. Don’t try to gloss over these problems and assume everything will work out. It’s also important to manage these expectations throughout the entire process, from the sale to the execution of the work.
Judson Griggs, head harvester with The Harvest Group, says everyone who touches the project should be aware of what has been promised to the customer.
Some of the ways you can mitigate issues with material delays or shortages include buying in advance, paying suppliers quickly and sourcing and stocking alternative products. When working with clients, be transparent about the lack of options and how they need to act now to lock in certain materials.
Griggs encourages finding additional suppliers to work with and to consider buying directly form the manufacturer as well.
When dealing with a landscape management client, and you are having to deviate from what was done in the past, explain why. Being proactive can help prevent customer dissatisfaction. For instance, if their preferred spring annuals are unavailable, but you’ve been able to find a close alternative, have the account manager reach out in advance to let the client know, rather than waiting for them to notice and possibly getting an angry phone call.
Similarly, let design/build clients know as soon as possible if there are material changes or unavailability.
While the current inflation rate is at 8.3 and down from 9.1 percent in July, this still ends up impacting all of your costs, from wages to fuel to material prices. You cannot eat these costs out of fear of upsetting customers.
Griggs suggests commiserating with clients as they are dealing with inflation in every other aspect of their life so they are more understanding as you gradually increase your pricing. Because of the constantly changing prices, Griggs says design/build proposals should only be good for 10 days.
He also advises including escalator clauses in your contracts to protect yourself from future inflation. Fuel surcharges are another option to preserve your profit margins.
If you have landscape maintenance clients pushing back against cost increases, thoroughly documenting the site before and after you took on the property can help illustrate just how much you’ve improved the site.
There are a number of factors causing issues with the current labor shortages, such as the H-2B visa program being a lottery and COVID driving many people to switch jobs rapidly.
Work to make your company a career destination and improve your company culture so you not only attract but retain your workforce long-term. Griggs says opting to mechanize your work where you can also helps prevent employee burnout.
Build the brand equity of your company through social media and advertising. Share the excitement and success of your team so more individuals want to join your organization.
If your labor shortages have increased your lead time for design/build customers, stay in contact with them after the sale to prevent buyer’s remorse from occurring.
Measure Your Success
You should not be waiting for an angry phone call to communicate with your client. Likewise, you don’t need to wait around to measure how successful you are at managing client expectations. You can gauge customer satisfaction with surveys, your retention percentage, contractor renewals, added enhancement work and more referrals.
For more content like this, register for next year’s ELEVATE in Dallas, Texas, on Sept. 10-13.