by Sally Colby

Purchasing trees, plants and landscape materials is a personal experience, and most consumers devote a significant amount of time prior to making buying decisions (especially for big dollar items). Delivering the perfect tree involves more than a healthy specimen that thrives in its new environment – it’s a fine blend of excellent customer service, skillful tree handling and proper planting.

Many homeowners are purchasing trees, plants or landscaping services for the first time, and the chances of them returning for future purchases depends on their experience throughout the selection, delivery and planting process. Trees and other large items are a significant investment, and most customers will have put considerable thought into purchasing such items for their properties. While some customers begin searching for the perfect tree or shrubs armed with their own research, others know little or nothing and need more guidance throughout the process.

Creating a relationship with a customer is the key to a successful sale and installment, and begins far ahead of delivering a tree or sending a crew to complete a landscaping project. An integral part of the relationship and good service is knowing the customer and making sure their first impression is positive. Understanding why a customer chose your business and what they expect to see when they arrive can help the entire team deliver desirable products and a good experience.

Retaining satisfied customers costs less than acquiring new customers, and repeat customers tend to spend more. The way in which customers are treated by staff and crews reflects your company brand, mission and values.

Staff are the face of your business, which means initial and ongoing training is essential. Customers remember both positive and negative interaction with employees. Because customers often see staff interactions, address any staff issues privately. Train staff to respect one another, no matter who is responsible for a particular aspect of the business. All employees should be aware of and understand customer service goals.

All staff should be familiar with products and willing to answer customers’ questions. Staff should know how to promptly and politely redirect any questions they can’t answer. All employees should be trained and retrained as necessary regarding policies. Tangible rewards for employees who provide above-average service is a worthwhile incentive and investment.

Customers appreciate knowing what to expect. Return and replacement policies should be clearly stated and promptly honored. If planting services are offered, customers should be aware of what the service includes.

Any signage leading to and on the business property is advertising, and should be neat and easy to read with clear information. Maintain the farm’s website and any social media and post updates to keep customers informed. Follow comments and posts on social media to get a snapshot of who’s visiting online and provide timely responses to questions. Be sure any promises or guarantees on your website or social media are honored as advertised.

Monitor social media reviews of your business and respond to both positive and negative reviews. Address any negative reviews with a plan to correct what went wrong. In many cases, a negative review can be turned around with a prompt, positive response coupled with action.

Some states have an inspection policy for known insect pests and disease pests, and that can become a selling point. In some cases, customers request trees that aren’t suitable for their area or their property, so be prepared to offer alternatives that match their needs. Every tree sold should come with care information including how and when to water, fertilization requirement and, in some cases, pruning instructions. The sales team and/or landscape designer should be familiar with the growth habits and best conditions for customers’ selections to ensure the mature tree will not interfere with neighboring properties.

When customers purchase an item that will be delivered and perhaps planted, be clear about the entire procedure: how long between the order and delivery, when to expect delivery and what to expect at the time of delivery. Make sure customers know who to contact if they have questions about any aspect of the process and encourage them to be present at delivery and planting.

Be clear about guarantees that involve tree survival, which should be provided in writing. Unless otherwise agreed upon, customers should receive exactly what they chose and paid for – no surprises at delivery time. If delays or supply issues make it impossible to deliver what the customer expected, contact them promptly to make alternative arrangements.

Ideally, someone familiar with the sale should visit the customer’s site prior to delivery and planting to be sure the site is accessible and appropriate. At least one crew member should be familiar with the customer’s property, including where the tree will be planted and confirmation of planting site.

Crew members should be prepared to explain the planting procedure and answer questions about planting depth, fill, watering, post-planting care and other details for a particular species. At least one crew member should be able to communicate clearly with customers to answer questions at planting.

Prior to delivery, be sure the customer’s property will allow easy access to all equipment. Crews should arrive with the equipment necessary to complete the job properly and be mindful of potential property damage. Equipment used for delivering and planting trees should be clean, in good working order, sized appropriately for the job and used carefully to avoid damage to the customer’s lawn and existing plantings. Crews should be well-trained regarding appropriate safety measures during unloading and planting.

Allow customer input at the time of planting and be sure tree placement is satisfactory prior to final fill and watering. If staking is required, be sure the tree is properly centered to provide roots with stability for a good start. The customer should understand the importance of not mulching above the root collar.

Make sure crews are aware of any underground sprinkler systems to avoid damage to such systems. Everyone on the crew should be trained in post-planting procedures such as cleaning up excess soil on grass and repair any damage to lawn or property.

If more than one tree will be planted, such as a privacy screen, crew members should understand how to measure properly for the appropriate distance between trees, according to species, to allow for growth. For trees and shrubs planted near property lines, obtain customer confirmation regarding such lines and be careful to remain well within the boundaries. It’s the customer’s responsibility to make sure the location of a planned screen is accurate according to property lines, and that information should be clarified at the time of purchase and installation.

Respect, patience, willingness to adapt, clear communication, ownership of problems and dealing promptly with issues contribute to good customer service and should be embraced by all employees.