Let’s talk about the way you show value to the customers of your green industry business. Even if you think you’re already doing a great job, you might be missing the mark.

For an example, let’s look to another industry. Back in September, we had our local heating and cooling company come out to do its annual furnace tune-up. As usual, living in Michigan, we wanted to make sure our furnace was ready for the upcoming winter months.

At the end of the service call, the technician called me down to the basement to explain that, as he was adjusting the tube that connected the humidifier to the water feed line, it fractured and broke into pieces. He apologized and went on to say that he would order another part and come back out and install it.

Okay, the part was at least fifteen years old and mishaps like this will happen. I must admit that I thought I was going to have to pay for the new part and the installation fee as well. That is not how it turned out. What did happen was this:

Within a few days, a representative from the heating and cooling company called me back, letting me know that the part had come in and wanting to schedule the appointment for the technician to come back out and install it. Once he arrived, he quickly installed the new part. He handed me the bill, which was only for the cost of the part, a mere $15 (which I must say was cheaper than I could have purchased it online).

Here is my point. It became quite clear to me that the values of honesty and integrity guided this company’s service policy. It cost them more in time, labor and parts to have this technician show up and install the necessary part than I was charged. By allowing their values to govern their actions, it gave them the opportunity to build trust with me, the customer.

When you can continually prove to your customer that your company can be trusted, you build loyalty; the kind of loyalty that will prove to be quite profitable in the long run. In this case, you can imagine that when we are ready for a new furnace or air conditioner, this is the company we will buy it from.

Let’s analyze what principles were in action here that you can apply to your green industry business to build customer loyalty.

First, the technician was skilled in dealing with people. He could clearly communicate the problem and immediately propose a fair solution. Far too often, technicians in any field are usually more skilled at repairing equipment than dealing with customers. This quandary stems from their ability to be more left-brained (analytical) than right-brained (communicative).

In your small business, do you hire the right individuals for the right jobs? In other words, do you hire employees who will interface with the public or each other, and have the proper skill sets to do so?

It is easy to violate this hiring strategy, because many times in a green industry business, one person is wearing more than one hat. As a result, their job responsibilities include activities that they are not particularly good at performing, and originally were not hired to do. Being a seasonal business makes things even tougher. As you know, it can be even more difficult trying to hire the best employees when everyone else is looking for new hires at the same time.

Another reason why small business owners don’t hire the right person for the right job is because they don’t have a good system. Hiring expert Mel Kleiman says that, “What this means is simply having a system that gathers as much useful information about the job candidate, using their time—not yours.”

An example he gives is, “If you need someone with a friendly attitude and that type of attitude isn’t displayed during the interview, the applicant fails that test and you don’t hire them.”

If the job requires that the person start at 5 a.m., then schedule the interview at 5:00 a.m., and if they have trouble making it at that time, they have made the hiring decision for you.

Second, do you have policies in place that favor the customer? Too often, an unfortunate encounter with a few patrons who are trying to take advantage of your company, leads to the creation of policies that penalize all customers, good and bad.

For example, if a few customers write checks that bounce, it could lead to a policy that prohibits personal checks being an accepted form of payment from all buyers.

Stu Leonard’s Grocery Store chain has a policy that states that they will not let a few dishonest customers determine the way they will treat all of their honest customers. They make sure their policies are customer-friendly.

Finally, do you have policies in place that demonstrate that you trust your employees, based on their own good judgment, to make intelligent decisions when dealing with your clients? In some companies, there are policies that clearly demonstrate to the customer that management does not trust its representatives.

One illustration that comes to mind is when a retail store cashier does not have the authority to make a decision about whether or not an item is marked incorrectly. As a result, the cashier must delay the customer and everyone else waiting in line, and call over an “authorized” manager or supervisor to make the decision.

For a company that demonstrates how it trusts employees, we can look at the hotel industry. The Ritz Carlton Hotel chain empowers its employees to spend up to two thousand dollars taking care of a guest’s problems. That is some serious money being invested in pleasing its clientele and sends a strong message to its employees that management believes in them.

How about your green industry company? What are the procedures that are in place that you use to build customer loyalty? What are the business values that guide them? Do these values put your customers and your employees first? If they do, you are on your way to building a stronger, more loyal client base.

Editor’s Note: Tom Borg is a business expert who works with small and mid-size Green Industry companies. He shows them how to improve their ability to profitably gain and retain customers. He can be reached at: 734-404-5909 or tom@tomborg.com or visit his website at: www.tomborgconsulting.com.