How To Provide Killer Customer Service

Here’s a step-by-step process to assist contractors in improving customer retention through killer customer service.

Everyone knows that providing killer customer service is the key to growing your company’s reputation. But are you aware of how it will help grow your company’s bottom line?

If you could provide higher levels of service, you would:

- Reap more referrals who buy at your margins
- Have fewer go-backs
- Waste less time with client complaints
- Collect your money easier
- Retain your clients longer
- Become more efficient with each account
- Enjoy more forgiveness when you do make mistakes

If you could raise your client retention by just 5 percentage points, imagine how much faster your business would grow—both top line and bottom line. The question is: How do you achieve such high standards of service?

Below are five simple techniques that are proven to create higher levels of service and profits.

1. Set Your Standards High

The top hotels in the world are awarded 5 Stars when they give “the best” customer service. You too will be awarded with more business at higher margins when you give killer customer service in a professional and consistent manner. But what will it take to motivate your employees to operate consistently at this high level?

Let’s look at the hotel rated No. 1 in the world for service, The Ritz-Carlton. They use a simple technique. They have created a list of “gold standards” that every single employee learns, adapts to and operates by. Their gold standard contains rules like:

- I give a warm, sincere greeting, looking the customer in the eye and using their name
- I anticipate and fulfill each of my customer’s needs
- When a problem arises, I take ownership of the problem until it is solved
- I give a fond farewell and warm goodbye, using the customer’s name

These standards could work in the Green Industry. Then, you need to consider some standards that apply specifically to your business:

- I return phone calls and emails within the hour, and always by the end of the day
- I find a way to say “yes” to all of my customer requests, even if it means finding another solution
- I keep my customers informed every step of the way, and I reach out to my clients proactively to keep them informed, so they never have to reach out to me to check on progress

These are just examples of killer customer service standards. You need to pick and choose the ones that make sense for the size of your firm and your niche in the marketplace. But remember, shoot high and you will reach high.

2. Make Your Standards Come to Life

It is one thing to develop official standards, but it is a much different thing to actually make these standards come to life in your company.

Following the motto, “what gets repeated, gets remembered,” Ritz-Carlton picks one standard a day, and has every employee discuss how they will apply that standard to their job. The hotel staff gets together in small groups and has a quick conversation around the standard. If Ritz-Carlton can do this with 38,000 employees, you can do it too. If once a day seems too daunting, then try it once a week.

The key to long-term success is to create standards based on your company’s core beliefs, your managers’ experiences and your customers’ input. Once you create your standards, get feedback on them from your staff. Buy-in is the key to execution—and consistent execution is the key to killer success.

3. Consistency Is King

Consistency means that the owner/leader must walk the talk, otherwise the employees will not. In practice, your standards must be discussed (in some form) and practiced every day. For you Northerners, this means discussing your standards both in-season and off-season.

4. Listen to Your Customers’ Needs, and Build On Them

When I visit a landscape contractor, I often make sure we invite their clients for lunch. When looking for ways to better manage and grow your business, you can’t beat hearing from your customers.

For example, I facilitated a customer focus group for a client in the Midwest. We had commercial clients, condo association clients and homeowners. Here is what the clients told us they value:

- Quick and effortless communication, which includes the contractor having a BlackBerry or other smartphone
- When they reach out, they love that the owner or account executive reacts quickly
- When mistakes happen, they are kept to a minimum and handled immediately
- Honesty, where the contractor acts like a consultant and helps the client make decisions that are in the client’s best interest
- Expertise during the sales process, when the salesperson knows what he is talking about and shares ideas to make immediate improvements
- Lastly, they value, well, value; in this case you have to manage expectations—this is not about having the lowest price

Keep in mind that you likely have multiple client groups to focus on. It often helps to build a culture around the most demanding clientele.

5. Wow Your Most Demanding Clients, and the Rest Will Follow

When I spend time with very wealthy homeowners, I am constantly surprised at how they value some of the most basic characteristics:

- Do you look professional, approachable, trustworthy and competent? I find that the wealthier the client, the more important professionalism is. If you want to get the attention of someone responsible for managing commercial sites, this is also very important. Professional appearance includes the basics such as clean, neat trucks. Professional uniforms include the pants, shirts, hats and outer clothing (like UPS guys wear).
- Are you impressive in the first meeting? Do you put on a good show, have a lot of knowledge, and have clear standards that you operate by?
- Is your staff polite? Do you use polite language? Do you look the customer in the eye? Do you respect their time, making it a point to call if you are going to be even four minutes late, for instance?

Why go to all this effort of providing killer customer service? Because clients who receive killer customer service will shop you around less, and brag about you more. Clients who are wowed by you are more willing to pay your margins.