You’re an expert at what you do. But no matter how good you are at your job, translating that knowledge and expertise to a customer can be a challenge

Customer Service 101: Explaining Tree Problems to Customers. Photo courtesy of John Nash.

Customer Service 101: Explaining Tree Problems to Customers. Photo courtesy of John Nash.

This post will go through the most important steps of explaining tree problems to customers, and how to give them the information they need while offering friendly, professional customer service.

Get to Know the Customer

If you’re working with a new customer, spend a minute chatting with them to get a sense for how hands-on they want to be. Are they ready to trust and follow your advice? Or do they want to know as much as possible so they can make decisions themselves?

Knowing the answers to those questions early on will help you decide how detailed you need to be when explaining tree problems to them.

Use Common Language

You want to avoid talking down to your customers, but you don’t want to overwhelm them either. They may be brilliant doctors, accountants, writers, parents, etc., but they don’t know as much about trees as you do!

Stay away from industry jargon and abbreviations they probably won’t know. You can use technical terms, but you should explain what they mean.

You might skip some of the technical details if they’re not vital to a customer’s decision, but do take time to explain anything that will directly affect them. Talk about the health of the tree, how it will look when you’re finished, or anything else that could impact the property’s appearance, value, or safety.

Be Understanding

You probably started working with trees because you love them, so you know how attached people can get to their trees.

Trees hold a lot of memories: watching kids climb them, lying under their shade in the summer, trimming and caring for them year after year. Even just seeing a tree out the window everyday can make parting with it surprisingly heartbreaking.

When a customer’s tree needs to be removed, keep in mind that the news could be disappointing for them. If it is, let them know you understand and explain why it’s their best option.

You may even recommend planting a new tree to replace the old one.

Educate Customers

Just because customers don’t know the ins and outs of tree care doesn’t mean they’re not interested. Most people are naturally curious about what’s really going on.

Did you just spend hours pruning a tree that had been neglected for years? If the customer doesn’t mind doing a little DIY maintenance, you might take a few minutes to show how s/he can keep it from getting out of control again.

Or, if there’s a difficult decision to be made, you can empower customers to make the best right choice by fully explaining the problem. Just remember to avoid jargon and stick to common language.

Is the tree diseased? Explain what kind of disease it is (bacterial, fungal). How advanced is it and how does it progress? If you caught it early enough, explain the steps it would take to save the tree and what it would cost. If it’s a lost cause, they’ll probably want an estimate of how long the tree will last before it has to be removed.

Customers also like to know what the consequences will be if they don’t follow your advice. Most people will trust your recommendation more if they understand the reasoning behind it.

Use Metaphors

People love metaphors. Writers use them to explain things all the time. We can too, by relating tree problems to issues the customer knows about.

For example, most people don’t know a lot about tree health, but they have a pretty good understanding of human health.

Explain the similarities between a tree infection and a human infection. And how adjusting the tree’s fertilizer, soil, and watering conditions are like medicines that can slow the disease.

Working with Unhappy Customers

Working with frustrated, dejected, or downright irate customers is not fun, but it does happen every now and again. It’s good to be prepared. Here’s what to do:

Stay calm and rational.

It’s almost impossible not to get angry or defensive, but great customer service means putting that aside. It’s not about being a pushover; it’s about putting your feelings aside and dealing with the problem.

“I hear your concerns.”

Unhappy customers want to know that you’re listening to them and that you understand why they’re upset.

Tell them you understand their feelings.

Repeat their concerns back to them. (“I can understand why you’re upset — we told you the tree would last at least five more years, and now it looks like it has to be removed right away.”)

Should you apologize?

Maybe. If it was definitely your fault, there’s probably nothing wrong with apologizing. If it wasn’t your fault, or you’re not sure, don’t take responsibility just yet — especially if there’s a potential legal issue.

Either way, try to empathize and show how sorry you are the customer has to deal with the situation.

Offer a solution.

Your solution(s) should address their concerns and allow you to move forward with the project.

Give some options if you can. Here’s how:

Explain what went wrong and how you’ll avoid a repeat of the same problem.

  • If possible, offer to complete the project free of charge or at a discount.
  • Once the customer has had a chance to collect his or her thoughts, ask what you can do to make the situation better.

Here’s an example: “I’m so sorry you have to lose your tree so much sooner than we thought. I know this is a major inconvenience for you, so we’d be happy to give you a discount on the tree removal plus free pruning for your other trees.”

Explaining tree problems or delivering bad news is never easy, but I hope these tips helped. The truth is, people who care about their trees usually have a lot of questions. It’s not a bad idea to have an FAQ page on your website to answer some of the most common ones. Providing quality information on your website counts as good customer service too.