Did you ever play the game “Telephone” when you were a kid? The first person tells a short story or shares a long sentence to a second person, who then passes on the message until it reaches the last person, who then says the message out loud. The final message is usually very different from the initial message, and everyone has a good laugh.

In your company, miscommunication with clients — or your staff, for that matter — is no laughing matter. Communicating with clients is essential to the success of a lawn care business, especially in these times of increased environmental scrutiny.

On one hand, today’s lawn care client can be more sophisticated and knowledgeable than ever before. The internet offers a staggering amount of information — and misinformation — on every aspect of lawn and garden care. In fact, people easily can become overwhelmed by this information.

Furthermore, when people make a decision, they want to be reassured that it was the right one. A simple follow-up can make a huge difference in client retention. And the more personal that follow-up is, the better.

PHOTO: ISTOCK

First steps

With spring in full swing, chances are your phone is ringing off of the hook. Even with the advent of the internet, the telephone is still the No. 1 means of communication between most small businesses and their clients.

“Most of our customer contact is still by phone,” says Bob Devine, manager at Central Connecticut Lawn Service in Berlin, Connecticut. Celebrating its 25th year in business in 2015, this independent company has grown to more than 12,000 customers.

Jack Robertson, owner of Robertson Lawn Care in Springfield, Illinois, gets most of his initial contacts via telephone as well. “We have what we call Dandelion Monday each year,” he notes. “That’s when the first dandelion flowers appear over the weekend. That’s our busiest time of the year and the phones never stop ringing.”

Because the telephone is usually the initial means to customer communications, it is essential to make the best first impression possible.

“For this reason, it is important for anyone who answers the telephone to go through training so that employees have a good understanding that what they do affects the customer experience,” says Patricia Lotich, founder of The Thriving Small Business (TSB), an internet small business consulting firm.

“Employees should use a telephone script and the phone should be answered the same way every time,” Lotich recommends. “This can be achieved by developing customer service standards and establishing employee goals that are tied to customer service objectives. Telephone training is critical to that first initial customer contact.”

In general, the shorter your script, the better. Lotich suggests your greeting contain four important items:

  • Greeting. Keep it upbeat and brief: “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” sets a positive tone.
  • Acknowledge a customer’s value by thanking them for their call.
  • Have employees identify themselves.
  • Offer to assist the customer.

Put it all together and you have, “Good morning. Thanks for calling Perfect Lawn Service. This is Bill. How can I help you?” Short, sweet and to the point.

Be sure that Bill or anyone else who answers the phone can actually help the customer.

Keep a manual with procedures, costs, timelines and other pertinent information that can be easily accessed. Remember the old saying: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Digital & written communication

With more and more customers using the internet, it pays to at least have a working presence on the web and in social media. “Most of our customer contact is still by phone, but more people are using email each year,” says Devine. “We’ve seen a bit of an increase through our website as well. We also have a Facebook page. I think as time goes on, as our core customer base changes, we’ll see more communication with our customers through the internet and social media.”

“Facebook is an option, but it’s not do-all, end-all,” says Robertson. “If we have 5,000 likes and can only potentially service 500 of them, having a lot of likes isn’t a big deal. But it is a tool, and we use it. I put a dandelion post on the Sunday before Dandelion Monday. We have giveaways and promotions on Facebook that have hundreds of people participating. But how effective it is as far as increasing sales, I honestly don’t know.”

“For me, Facebook has not been real big, especially after the changes they made to it,” says Gregg Hinegardner, owner of First Class Lawn Care LLC in Bridgewater, Virginia. “I would rather do a blog post on our website to communicate to our existing and potential customers.”

While technology can be a big help in bringing customers to your lawn company, it isn’t the most important factor and is no substitute for the personal touch, according to those in the business.

“Now they can order the estimate from us at 11 p.m. while they are sitting on their couch,” says Robertson. “But they can also cancel you at 11 at night. If you live by the internet, you can die by it, too. Frankly, I prefer the telephone.”

Although it may seem like a throwback, written communications are a great way to connect with clients. “I always write a little note on my invoices that tells how much I appreciate their business,” says Hinegardner. “I also write a welcome back letter in the early spring to let them know that the prices will stay the same and offer them any of our other services.”

Robertson is also a fan of the written word. “We leave a customer service sheet after every application and on the back of it is what we call the ‘Turf Times.’ It’s updated every week with current conditions and what customers can expect to see. It’s a proactive way to keep in touch,” he says.

Finally, there is no communication method that Hinegardner likes more than face-to-face interaction. “I love to be able to catch them at home for a brief chat,” he says. “People appreciate it so much when you to listen to them and hear their concerns.”

Robertson couldn’t agree more, and does a promotion to entice his clients to come in for a face-to-face talk. “When we send out a major mailing in January for the coming year, we enclose a flier for a free rain gauge if they come into the office,” he says. “That gives us a chance to interact with them very well. To my mind, there’s nothing better than face-to-face.”

As Central Connecticut Lawn Service has grown, so has the scope of its work, in part because of interactions with clients. “We’ve found that once you have an open line of communication, customers often ask for more services,” Devine says. “For example, flea and tick control, overseeding and invasive plant control are all requests that we have received.”

Robertson prides himself on his multiple approaches to client communications. “After 39 years in business, I would say we communicate as well as any company in the nation. Could we do it better? Yes, of course,” Robertson says. “That’s why we are constantly looking at how and what we communicate. An informed customer is a more knowledgeable customer, and that makes them a more satisfied customer.”