Appreciation programs help businesses stand out

Photo Courtesy of Foothills Landscape Maintenance.
Nate Caldwell, co-owner of Foothills Landscape Maintenance, helps deliver a catered lunch to one of the company’s Customer of theMonth winners.

The customer is always right—but, the customer doesn’t want to just be right, they want to be recognized, celebrated and cheered. Perhaps that explains why some in the industry have adopted the practice of honoring their customers with gifts and awards.

Carlos Johnson got the idea from corporate America. “I used to be a drug representative for a major pharmaceutical company, and having spent 15 years in corporate America, it was common to give rewards to customers. So, I took that concept with me when I started working full time in the maintenance business,” says Johnson, who now operates Johnson Enterprise (www.mississippiyardcutters.com) in Jackson, Miss.

Johnson offers a Yard of the Month promotion to recognize several customers each month. “I never want to single out just one customer as having the best yard, so my wife and I and some of the guys will draw five names each month. Of those, one of the yards will be the most outstanding, so they’re featured on the Johnson Enterprise Web site. But, we also have prizes for the four other customers, anything from something for their home to a garden tool,” he explains.

The winner also gets a gift certificate or a discount on landscaping services, and has a “Yard of the Month” sign installed in their yard for that month, a practice that many homeowner associations follow to help recognize landscaping excellence. In particular, Johnson says that customers really like having the sign in front of their house, and, “It’s an advertising tool for me, too,” he points out.

Johnson likes the system of drawing names, saying, “I just don’t like to single anyone out. Of our 320 customers, over the course of a year, everyone is going to have their fair chance.”

The Yard of the Month program isn’t the only way that Johnson has found to reward and recognize his customers. He also offers a referral program, with kickbacks for customers who refer new customers. “About one year ago, I started offering just $10 or $15 discounts to help them fill the gas tank, for example. People really appreciate that, especially in these difficult economic times,” he explains.

In Houston, Texas, Jeff River Law has found a different twist on the Yard of the Month promotions. He selects a local senior citizen—someone who is not a customer of his Kabloom Landscaping (www.kabloomlandscaping.net)—and provides a free garden fix-up. “We’ve been doing it for two years,” he explains. “People will e-mail us and nominate a senior neighbor or friend.”

Law got the idea several years ago when he secretly renovated the garden of an elderly neighbor. “I snuck in and did it anonymously, but I know she really appreciated it,” he says.

Recently, one of the elderly recipients of this special treatment wrote to Law to say, “I want to thank you for adding so much beauty to my front yard … I keep going out to look at all the new plants and flowers. I just had a visitor and she loved my new garden. You have made my golden years more golden. I feel lucky and special.”

Law showcases some of the refurbished gardens on his Web site, but avoids marketing this activity. “It’s not something many of our customers really know about. It’s mostly word-of-mouth, and we’re trying to make it as genuine as possible. We want to do something nice, without promoting that we’re doing it.

“Our preference is to plant a small garden for them, but we’ve also done some cleaning up and painting. At Christmas, we bring them poinsettias and small gift bags,” says Law. Offering the program is not without its challenges. “We’ve run into some seniors that don’t want the service. They’re proud, and they don’t want something for free, but generally, the program is very well-received.”

Two years ago, Foothills Landscape Maintenance (www.flmcolorado.com) in Fort Collins, Colo., began offering a Customer of the Month program. “It was my wife’s idea, based on the customer loyalty program that Hewlett-Packard offers,” explains Nate Caldwell, co-owner of FLM.

The company has a sizeable number of commercial accounts, as well as a long list of residential accounts. Both groups are included in the program. “We draw customers’ names, one commercial and one residential, pretty much at random throughout the season,” says Caldwell. Residential customers are usually given a $30 movie pass. “For commercial customers, we’ll either cater lunch at their office or take them out to lunch.”

Photo Courtesy of Johnson Enterprise.
Johnson Enterprise in Jackson, Miss., honors four to five customerseach month with small prizes, as well as an overall Yard of the Monthwinner (such as that shown here) that is featured on the company’sWeb site.

Customers appreciate the gesture, and it helps develop both business and personal relationships, adds Caldwell. “Anytime you can be in front of your client or with your client, especially when it’s not in the typical working environment, it goes a long way,” he explains. “You can put faces to names and they can do the same with you. It’s not a complaint call, it’s a fun time together over lunch.”

Caldwell says many businesses offer customer recognition programs, and his commercial clients in particular appreciate FLM operating in a professional manner and doing the same. “It helps us stand out,” he states.

It helps expand the company’s name, as well. “For example, some of our commercial clients are property management companies,” Caldwell explains. “We may do work for ‘Julie’ in that company, but there may be six other property managers in the office. So, by bringing lunch for the whole company we have a chance to introduce ourselves to ‘Patty’ and ‘Peggy’ and everyone else. It’s an informal setting, and it gives them a chance to evaluate us in a nonbusiness environment.”

In addition to the prizes and lunches, Foothills Management recognizes winners of the Customer of the Month program in its company newsletter. “We’ve talked about putting up a Customer of the Month sign on the properties this coming season, as well,” says Caldwell, which he notes is sometimes easier to do on residential properties than on commercial accounts.

The monthly newsletter goes to all customers and includes landscape tips along with other information and, usually, a profile of an FLM employee. “We don’t do the newsletter as much for the content as for a way to stay in front of our customers,” Caldwell explains, adding that the Customer of the Month promotion serves the same purpose. “With times as tight as they are, anything you can do to keep up customer relations, and be in front of your customers, is important.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 13 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.