As crucial as ethical business practices are for any company, perhaps no industry benefits more than tree care. However undeservedly, the industry’s reputation sometimes suffers due to the misdeeds of the unprofessional minority. However, firms that place an emphasis on high standards win out, even in a troubled economy.
Establish a business practices policy
Formalizing company policies is one of those chores everyone intends to do, but one that often lands at the bottom of long to-do lists. Tending to regular customers, recruiting new clients and responding to emergencies seldom leave downtime for thinking about guiding principles.
Making that exercise a priority can pay off in several ways. Established policies help to avoid emergencies and aid decision making when crises occur. They document fair and ethical practices related to both clients and staff. A written policy, especially when included in marketing materials and on websites, demonstrates a company’s commitment to quality.
Involving employees in the policy development process encourages staff to buy into the plan. Outside experts, such as attorneys, accountants and risk management professionals, can contribute key elements that protect the company and its clients and staff.
Randi Busse, president of Workforce Development Group, Inc. in Long Island, New York, says establishing and implementing business guidelines is key to both recruiting and retaining clients.
“Customers like to talk, and the stories they tell are based on the experiences they have with your company,” says Busse, whose firm helps businesses improve the customer experience, increase client retention and maximize revenue through cross-selling and upselling. “Social media has made it easy for customers to talk about you and the experience they have with your company. If you don’t take good care of them, they’ll tell others, including your prospective customers.”
To begin drafting a best business practices plan, assess your company’s existing philosophy, policies, goals, strengths and weaknesses. Safety, customer service, human resources, image and professional ethics may be areas to consider.
If there is a key word in the tree service world, it is safety. That topic is a prime element of a company’s business philosophy, as well. Strong safety standards not only serve employees, but benefit clients and the company, as well. The ramifications of personal and property damages can quickly bring a business to a halt.
Industry leaders suggest that practices include initial and ongoing safety training, including proper equipment use and first aid. Encourage an environment in which all employees are proactive in recognizing and reporting hazards to superiors. The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) recommends that firms establish a policy of also notifying appropriate government agencies of unsafe practices or dangerous situations that may affect the public.
Busse says that superior customer service is one of the most vital elements of a winning corporate philosophy. She offers several tips to move your business to the top of the list.
Create an environment in which all staff think and act as company owners. Build trust and rapport among employees who will spread good will to clients.
When working with clients, personalize the experience to their specific needs and concerns. Along with your recommendations and estimates, offer a solid assurance of valuable assistance in solving their problems.
“Make dealing with your company easy,” Busse says. This can be as simple as always having someone available to field and return phone calls. Be locatable; offer your phone number, address and online information in all communications.
She says that complaints are gifts. Strange as it sounds, when someone gives honest feedback, you have the opportunity to rectify the situation and avoid business losses. Often, education or communication will turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal one. “Satisfaction is temporary, loyalty is long term,” Busse adds.
Along the same lines, customers do not make decisions based on pricing alone. The overall experience and how clients feel about it can be a greater factor.
“Take care of your customers or someone else will,” Busse says. “There is so much competition out there. You can stand out by the experience you provide to your customers.”
Outstanding customer service begins with positive employee relations. Staff members take their cues from management.
“Treat employees well,” Busse says. “The way you treat them is the way they will treat your customers. Empower your employees to make decisions that are in the best interest of the customer and the company.”
No plan of action is complete without well-advised attention to regulatory matters concerning employment practices. Professional associations, government agencies, accountants and attorneys can provide valuable insight.
Maintaining an impeccable image is a next step that enhances quality human resources practices and superb customer service. Clean, attractive staff uniforms and well-maintained equipment and company vehicles lend eye-catching appeal and serve as silent sales tools. A memorable logo and slogan displayed not only on signs, letterhead and websites, but also on uniforms and equipment, helps establish a company as the go-to “brand” for tree care. Employee guidelines for appropriate interactions, whether engaged in tasks or on breaks, also help send positive messages.
When drafting best business practices, policies regarding sales, finance and operations all come into play. Ensuring that knowledgeable people are conducting sales and estimating functions is essential. Written estimates, with terms clearly expressed, avoid future misunderstandings and negative word of mouth.
Ensure that financial management and handling functions, including payroll, banking, insurance and taxes, are performed by professionals who continually upgrade skills and knowledge.
Adhere to acceptable arboricultural practices and comply with appropriate associations and regulatory agencies. Facilitating the entire team’s professional certifications is a plus for any tree care firm. The ISA urges firms to avoid conflicts of interest and respect proprietary and sensitive information.
The ISA suggests that arborists and tree care professionals recognize their limitations and decline work that is out of their expertise and experience levels. A quality referral makes a better lasting impression than a poorly executed job.
When all is said and done, a well-planned business practices philosophy can translate into bottom line success.
As Busse says, “Customers do business with people they know, like and trust.”
Read more: Enhancing Your Company Image