“This is a customer business,” says Jerry Leary. “And, the customer is always right,” he says, reciting an old adage that rings true today. Customers still want that relationship – they want to work with providers they trust and professionals who are knowledgeable. Leary is president of Lawn Pro in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and after 37 years in the lawn care business, the average customer has been with his firm for almost 20 years.
He always takes the time to address clients’ questions. “They are putting all of their faith and confidence in us,” he says.
Here are seven strategies that Leary and other lawn care operators across the country use to keep their customer retention rates high.
1. listen to the problem.
Pay attention to how many times you interrupt a customer’s feedback during the next call. Rushing into a solution is common; it’s human instinct. But that doesn’t exactly help a client feel the love.
“If a customer calls, I shut up,” Leary says bluntly. “I want to listen to every word they say and then after they finish, then I respond. You don’t win if you let them talk through half a sentence and then go into your ‘tirade,’ so to speak.”
2. Squeeze in face time.
Emails can feel abrupt and get misinterpreted and text messages might feel terse. “If I get a sense that a customer is having an issue that is bigger than what can be resolved easily over email or phone, I schedule time to meet in person,” says Eric Campbell, lawn and yard care manager at Guilford Garden & Lawn in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In person, “you can gauge a person’s tone better,” Campbell says. “When we meet in person, we can talk out any concerns.”
3. Remember your manners.
A thank-you note can go a long way toward earning a customer’s appreciation. In today’s digital age, the snail mail consists of bills or advertisements. A hand-written note is a rarity.
Leary sends holiday cards in December, and mid-season he sends thank-you notes. If he hears back from customers, he asks them, “Is there anything you’d like us to do for you?”
“This tells me if we need to tighten up with them and help them out,” Leary says.
4. Give them options.
Customers won’t seek other service providers if they can get what they need in one place. That’s the theory that drives Robert Louiso’s diverse lawn care operation, which provides landscape maintenance, snow removal, landscape design and installation, firewood and car detailing. Louiso also owns a garden center and nursery.
Last year, he started his own operation. It’s one more way to cater to the high-end clientele in Cincinnati, where Louiso Lawn Care and Landscapes operates.
5. Auto-renew contracts.
In some areas of the country, it’s common for lawn care providers to go through an annual renewal season where all contracts are signed. But this isn’t the case everywhere, says Ted Glaser, president, Summit Lawns, Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Where we are, it’s understood that you’ll be renewing, so in the fall we send out letters with the last invoice of the year, thank them for the season and says, ‘See you again in spring,’” he says.
In February, Glaser sends out a letter that notifies clients of prepayment options. “We also use this as an opportunity to upsell spring services and say, ‘We were servicing your property last year, and we’ll see you again soon,’” he says. That letter gives clients a chance to let Summit Lawns know if they will not renew versus going through an actual renewal period.
6. Make it easy to pay bills.
If you can give them tools to make working with you easier, you’ll increase customer satisfaction. Leary noticed this after he implemented a credit card payment option.
While only 10 percent of his customers take advantage of it, when a client asks if he or she can “charge it,” the answer is yes. And, customers like to hear yes.
Sure, there’s a fee for processing credit card payments, but Leary says he plans for this when pricing services. “So, I’m not losing that – the price is built in,” he says. Clients who want to pay by credit card are happy they can “earn points” or whatever the motivation for charging the service, he adds.
7. Use software.
“For commercial clients, customer retention comes down to how strong the relationship is, who we are competing against from a price standpoint and their property goals,” Glaser says.
Using a CRM software helps Summit Lawns stay on top of client requests and issues so that all matters can be addressed quickly. The software automates communications, as well.
“We can send newsletters, emails and text to clients regularly,” he says. “Using software to manage client relationships on the commercial side has been really helpful for us.”