What separates the good tree care companies from the great ones? The good ones from the average or mediocre ones? Two things: quality workmanship and outstanding customer service. Attending training classes, achieving International Society of Arboriculture or state certification, participation in manufacturer briefings and hands-on learning from veteran arborists are all important ways to learn and improve skills that guide superior tree work.
Retention and overall satisfaction are the key objectives in terms of customer service. Unless you’re in a very small market, there’s usually at least one or two other tree care companies that you’re competing with. Every tactic that can be utilized is one more tool to take advantage of in the quest to be a profitable operation.
In most cases, customer service is a part of the overall picture. But is it as thorough as it could be? Probably not. Inevitably, there are steps omitted and communication pieces overlooked that could make the difference between a happy customer and one that pays the bill, but next time looks elsewhere. Improving customer service is a two-fold process — considering actions taken before, during and after the job and looking for holes or deficiencies overall.
Before the job
Do you answer the phone by saying “Joe’s Tree Service,” and leave the customer to figure out if they’re talking to a live person or a recording?
Do you explain your training, years of experience and credentials? Not only is this information reassuring to clients, it also provides an opportunity to plant the seeds of obtaining possible future work from this client and owners of adjacent properties.
Do you take the time to gather as much information about the tree, site, previous treatments from other services and adjacent properties and trees? The answers to these questions produces information power, which translates into good service before the sale.
Do you visit the site, take notes and write up a plan of work with estimated prices associated with each step? This is important for you, but even more important from a customer service standpoint; communicating all of this clearly to the customer is crucial. This takes time and patience, but in the end, greatly reduces confusion on their part. Always finish the prework discussion with, “Do you have any other questions for me?” Clarity up front with tree work specifics and prices for each is worth its weight in gold.
Do you work out a scheduled time for the work to be done? It’s important to be sure that the customer knows the specific time and date so that they’re not surprised by your presence on the site; after all, showing up with a big truck, ropes, chain saws, a chipper and a four-person work crew is a bit unnerving for most. The customer might need time to arrange for a new place to park their car or to move the dog from the front yard to the back.
From the customer’s perspective, the job itself can sometimes be unsettling as well. Tree work is usually noisy; big tree limbs fall to the ground, chain saws are running, branches are shredded into mulch or a big mound of soil and wood is left after a removal. After all, tree work is not something that most people have done every day. Sometimes customers just need to be reassured that everything is going to be OK and that their property will look and function better after the work is done.
During the job
Admittedly, doing the work that has been agreed upon should be the focus on the day the crew arrives. But that doesn’t mean customer service completely goes out the window that day(s). Certainly, a pleasant greeting doesn’t take long and can go a long way to reassure the customer that they’ve made the right decision to do business with your company.
When making the greeting, be sure take the advice of famed corporate trainer Dale Carnegie and use the customer’s name. Carnegie’s assertion was that “the sweetest sound that a person will hear is their own name.” Follow the greeting with a brief reminder of what’s going to happen to the tree – even if it’s a removal. Avoiding confusion and underscoring expectations is good customer service. Along those lines, if a change in the work plan is necessary, the greeting is a good time to let the client know. Telling the customer after the fact that you had to remove about a third more of the crown than had originally planned leaves all sorts of doubt in their mind. They’ll be wondering if you made a mistake in your initial analysis or if you’re going to charge them more now that the work has changed.
After the job
So, the work is done and it’s time to move on to the next customer, right? For most of the crew, yes. But for the foreman or someone in the company familiar with the specifics of the job, taking 10 minutes to call or send an email the next day is well worth the time. In my work as a university educator, I’ve made it a point to contact the client after a tree assessment just to see how things went. Since I’m not the one doing the actual tree work, I usually call or email about three weeks after my consultation to allow time for action on their part. My goal is to find out if they took some sort of action that I recommended – hired a tree service, marked it on their calendar to have the tree treated at the proper time the following year or any another question they may have. I’ve found that at least 80 percent of my clients were genuinely impressed that I took the time to call them back and check in on their situation.
Again, who else does this? If other tree care companies in your market don’t follow up, it sets you apart. If they do, it keeps you on par with them and prevents them from obtaining a competitive advantage.
Another way to reach out on a regular basis is to put customers on your newsletter list, either electronic or hardcopy. Hearing from you frequently during the year communicates your level of interest. It also keeps your name in front of them so that the likelihood of them contacting you for the next tree job increases.
Looking for holes
As well as focusing on service before, during and after the work, actions taken in other aspects of tree care service can pay off big-time. The following are common mistakes made by tree care companies. Each can be made to greater or lesser degrees, but all are important considerations:
- Inaccurate diagnosis: It’s hard to correct insect problems when the cause is really a fungal pathogen.
- Poorly designed and executed websites: If a website requires a visitor to spend 10 minutes clicking on this and that before they get to where they want to go, they’ll go somewhere else. Regular updates are crucial; each time something changes, such as price or new or discontinued services, the website needs to reflect the current offerings.
- Slow follow-up to customer inquiries: How long does it really take to call someone back?
- Bland or outright [rude] employees: Who wants to do business with a grouch?
- Poor practices: Improper cuts, overspray, debris on the lawn after a takedown, product containers left behind – these types of details are just plain bad tree work.
- Damage to property: Scratches on parked cars, cut sprinkler lines, beat up shrubs, chain saw grease on the lawn, etc. – all of these and more should never happen.
- Lack of capacity to resolve customer concerns: If the customer complaints, how is it handled? Is there an honest evaluation of the work, or is it ignored hoping that they grow weary and leave you alone? Is the customer always right, or not in some cases?
As you examine your customer service practices as a company, you’ll undoubtedly find that a few improvements can be made. Taking steps to make changes will improve relationships with customers and increase profitability of the company.