Call it the season startup stumble: Companies that normally excel at customer service suddenly struggle as soon as the season gets busy. When the phone is ringing constantly and priorities are shifting it gets harder to be good and consistent.
In our business, there’s no way to avoid those busy times. However, better preparing for when things really start hopping and understanding what can happen when they do can make a real difference. Not doing so risks alienating even long-time clients.
What makes a customer leave? Many contractors fail to ask this question and focus their marketing efforts on finding new ones. In the short term, the impact of customer loss and churn shows up in places like Google reviews where departing clients blast their frustrations. (Don’t ignore these. Even a few bad Google reviews can really hurt your ability to get new clients.) In the longer term, losing those former buy-like-clockwork clients can lead to disaster when the market slows.
Here are a few of the most common reasons why landscape customers leave based on survey research:
Negative emotional experiences. Customers are emotional about their homes. Perhaps you can recall some who got agitated over a simple repair. It wasn’t a big deal to you but it was really important to them. Combine an important project with indifferent attitudes and broken promises and you’ve got a bad review in the making.
Often there’s a story-behind-the-story of how a project ended up in your lap. Maybe there was a marital dust-up about an unkempt landscape. Clients can be on edge when they call, so handle them with care.
No recognition of customer longevity or loyalty. Your best customers know they’re important to your business, based on the volume of work they bring or their loyalty, season after season. When they’re treated like newcomers, it stings.
Here are a couple of tips that will help prevent that: 1) Require phone personnel to ask, “Have we been to your property before?” When the answer is “yes” followed by a recitation of a long history, the only appropriate response is: “Mrs. Jones, we sincerely appreciate your loyalty. It’s great to have you as part of our customer family,” and 2) Make sure everyone answering your phones knows the names of your most important clients by heart.
Loss of communication. Often, clients develop their initial relationship with the owner of a contracting company or a key estimator who did the first site visit. Later, they find that person is now too busy to provide the personal attention they enjoyed in the past. When customers feel set adrift they leave.
Lack of response. This one is obvious but important: answer the phone. Schedule appointments right away and notify customers about missed appointments and getting work rescheduled.
Creating new problems. Crew members who leave a mess, break things or damage plantings won’t be welcomed back.
Work done incorrectly or left incomplete. There are two typical causes for this: 1) the customer’s requests did not get recorded properly or 2) the technician did not follow procedures or cut corners. Ensure that customer requests are captured clearly and read through completely at the job site. Don’t tolerate technicians who want to do things their way. Put a set of checklist-driven procedures in your rule book and remind your people that cutting corners always ends up in heartache.
Lack of “bedside manner.” Techs who don’t listen get bad reviews. Good customer service starts with the greeting. Require your techs to introduce themselves, hand over a business card and then ask “Can you tell me about the problem you’re having?” Remember, they get paid to listen.
Doing these things will help keep your clients happy with your service for years to come.
Jeff Carowitz advises landscape industry firms on marketing and business strategy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.