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Archive for the ‘customer service’ tag

Class and candor for unhappy clients

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Ben Bowen at Ross NW Watergardens in Portland today has a good read on negative Yelp reviews, and the frustration that comes from dealing with these anonymous and unfiltered review sites.

Short version: The company got a bad review from someone they’ve never done work for.

Longer version from Ben:

What makes this really frustrating is what we didn’t do. We didn’t prune the wrong bush. We didn’t burn the lawn. We didn’t install a leaky water feature. In fact, we never did any work for the person at all.

W.S. left us a 1 star review based on a missed appointment. I believe I know who W.S. is. And I think I know what happened. If he had left the review using his name I would certainly reach out to him.

To W.S. I would like to say: “I’m sorry that I missed the appointment. I obviously misunderstood our last email exchange. Can I send you a Starbuck’s card for your trouble?”

Ben handles this with class and candor. He wrote a great piece for us earlier this year about dealing with unhappy customers, and it’s nice to see him practicing what he preaches.

It’s a great, quick read, and you can find it here.


August 13th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

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Naked apologies: the art of pleasing an unhappy customer

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Ben Bowen (no relation), the landscape manager at Portland’s Ross NW Watergardens. He’ll be contributing to From the Field more this year. I encourage you to check out more of his stuff here.

Is there a business that doesn’t have to deal with unhappy customers?

I asked myself that question and immediately thought of my local humane society. Who could possibly be upset with the folks who rescue abandoned cats and dogs? Curious, I looked up some reviews online. Sure enough, they had a high number of glowing reviews – and a handful of dreadful reviews from genuinely upset customers. If a non-profit that saves puppies can’t keep all of its customers happy, what chance do the rest of us have?

Managing your customers’ complaints isn’t about your landscaping expertise or even your business acumen. The whole thing relies on your interpersonal skills. Here are three simple tools to get you headed in the right direction.

1. Look in the mirror. It’s easy to say that you make mistakes. But can you own up to specific errors? When confronted by a client who is unhappy with your work, assume the client is correct. Try to understand how you or your company caused (or at least contributed to) the client’s issue.
Haggling over blame is a waste of your time, energy and any goodwill you have built up with the client.

2. Master the “naked apology.” This is not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Be quick to apologize. And if you are going to swallow your pride, you might as well make it work for you. Give a “naked apology” – no justifications or explanations attached. Just say the issue is your fault, you’re sorry and that you will make it right. Clients will respect you for it.

3. Examine your bedside manner. A recent study found that while all doctors make mistakes, not all get sued for malpractice. Which doctors get sued? The ones who make mistakes and had poor bedside manner. Doctors who took a little extra time with a patient, could make a joke and appeared to care were much less likely to be sued – even when they made major errors.

We can all learn from this. Take just a little bit of time to really talk – and listen – to clients. Be nice. When problems arise your client won’t feel that she needs to punish you with a bad review – or worse.

Yes, customer complaints are an unavoidable part of business. Sometimes it’s clear cut: A customer has a problem that you can fix. Other times you find yourself with a problem customer – a client you just can’t seem to please. Either way, if you approach your client’s issues with skill and art you can keep them, not just as clients, but as happy clients.


January 22nd, 2013 at 8:11 am

Weekly round-up

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Here’s our weekly digest of interesting stuff from the web. Have a great weekend!


August 17th, 2012 at 12:46 pm

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Take five minutes and read this post at Jason’s blog about a contractor whose client started dictating terms to him.

It’s a good way to start your week.


July 2nd, 2012 at 12:44 pm

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Customer appreciation

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Phew, two weeks later and I’m almost caught up from a two-day stay in Spain. The Manitou Group (they own the brands Gehl and Mustang) flew customers, dealers and select media (of course L&L was there) to Spain to give an update on what was going on with the company. You can read more about it here.

But the trip got me thinking. I’m sure the company spent a lot of money on this event. Sure, it’s a way to promote some of the things they’re doing, but it also showed the customers they appreciate their business. While most contractors can’t afford to fly customers on a vacation getaway, there are little things you can do. Gift cards, discounts and even a free mow or application are great ways to show customer appreciation. And if you can afford flying customers to a exotic location, go for it (and invite the media…actually just invite us.)

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June 13th, 2012 at 10:15 am

Don’t be binary

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One of the ways computers communicate is a system called binary code. It’s a way to represent commands or text with numbers (in this case, ones or zeros) instead of letters or other symbols.

It’s an efficient and simple way for machines to function. The problem comes when one of those ones or zeroes gets chopped off, or a series of them gets dropped somewhere in the internet ether. Then, instead of the correct function – or something similar to the correct function – you get nothing.

It’s why computers are so good at many things, but if you type the wrong command in, they don’t work. People can behave this way, too. Ask someone for directions or where to find the milk or how much a patio costs, and if they don’t know, you’ll get one of two answers.

You might get the binary answer: “I don’t know.”

Or you can get the human answer: “I’m not sure, but I know someone who does. Hold on a minute and I’ll find out for you.”

It’s easy to be binary, but really frustrating for your customers.


May 30th, 2012 at 1:28 am

Unfriendly skies

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Don’t tell Marty Grudner, but in May, Frontier Airlines will stop serving its beloved chocolate chip cookies.

The sugary treat that for many years had delighted weary passengers is going the way of … pretty much every other nice thing that used to be associated with air travel.

Save for the elite class of business traveler (who are hard to see what with all the chickens flying around back where I sit), most of us have seen benefits and extras like Frontier’s cookies disappear from airlines and many other services we purchase.

That’s why doing small things for customers can go such a long way to cementing a relationship. Send a hand-written thank-you note. Call a few days after the first application to make sure the service was good.

These things don’t cost a lot, but they’re worth a ton.


April 12th, 2012 at 12:10 pm

How deep do you want your trenches?

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Jim McCutcheon told me this story a few weeks ago.

He was at a meeting with a developer in Atlanta that was known for its focus on green building, specifically LEED certification. In the meeting along with him and the client were a few other landscaping companies, most of which he knew. But one guy, down at the end of the table, he’d never met before.

The group was talking about the pros and cons of the LEED system, the developer’s challenges on this project and the cut-throat nature of the Atlanta real estate market in general, when the guy at the end of the table spoke up.

“How deep do you want your trenches?” he asked.

McCutcheon’s point here is that you have to have to speak your customer’s language – and that language isn’t always the language of landscaping. It’s not about the shiny brochure with pictures of your trucks. It’s about asking the right kinds of questions and learning about their business.


March 15th, 2012 at 1:05 pm

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The cheese walk

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Every property that you service – from a small residential installation to a Class A commercial property – has a cheese walk.

The cheese walk is where the homeowner walks her dogs, what the property manger sees when he looks out his window, where the executives (the big cheeses) park and walk into the building.

It’s the part of the property that is the most-seen by the most-important person.

I heard the term from Jim McCutcheon, owner of HighGrove Partners in Austell, Ga. His crews visit the cheese walk on some properties as many as 20 times a week.

“We have to understand our properties to that level,” he said. “If we screw up the cheese walk, we’re done.”


February 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Ho, ho, mow

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No, we’re not proposing you dress up as Santa to mow your  customers’ lawns. But … then again … there have been worse ideas. Dressing up as Santa to service customers’ lawns is something most people would probably remember. And it’s an idea straight out of Santa’s play book: Be unique.

In a blog post, My Creative Team points out that the four reasons Santa’s brand is so strong is he is: consistent, unique, customer-focused and viral. By focusing on and pulling off these specific steps year after year, Santa has made a name for himself with little marketing effort.


Santa has never spent a dime on advertising. He has used good public relations tactics to develop, manage and maintain solid relationships with marketers who advertise for him. Consider the Coca-Cola ads featuring Mr. Claus. Think of all the newspaper inserts that carry his picture during the holidays. Then, there are all those helpers in department stores everywhere.

Everyone knows one of the most cost-effective ways to market is word of mouth. If you stand out and provide great service, your customers will do much of the work for you through referrals.

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December 2nd, 2011 at 4:42 pm