The business of being grateful

Many years ago, we were looking for a landscaping company that could help us add some punch to our front yard. We wanted to create a xeriscape in one area of our yard, and a butterfly garden in a different section.

Through some friends, we found a landscaper who had an interesting proposition of using drought-resistant, local, native plants. His designs worked with the local environment, not against it, and this resonated with us.

He was working in the area and came over one afternoon to talk about our project. I explained our vision of creating two “isles” in our front yard with focal points, butterfly-attracting plants, and succulents. Once I was finished, he proceeded to explain his vision for our front yard.

While I thought his design ideas were cool, we were not ready to spend that kind of money. Rather, we wanted to start with a small project, that was very important for us, and see how it all worked out, before transforming our entire landscape into an extension of the Everglades.

He seemed disappointed, but finally focused on these two areas only. We talked about plants, and materials, and he came back with a design we liked. He managed to mention that, because of the size of the project, his services wouldn’t include an actual sketch of the design. Sure, no problem. When it was time to schedule the installation, he once more made us feel like our meek project was something he would need to fit between some of the [more important] larger projects. Actually, he didn’t make us feel that way. He flat out said it.

The installation went well, and we were very happy with the results. But we would not be interested in working with him again. Why? Because though we were satisfied with the delivery, the process of getting there was not pleasant, and he didn’t make us feel good about our project.

This experienced has helped me tremendously become a better service provider because it taught me a very important lesson in customer service.

Listen to your customer

What do you think will happen if a client asks for a quote to translate a letter and you come back with a proposal to translate their entire website? What if this client wants to test your services with this letter and then intends to send you more, steady work? Or maybe not even the client knows whether he will need further assistance in the future.

But one thing is for sure: Not listening to what your customer is requesting and deciding to do things your way (or pushing the envelope) is the best way to drive customers away. First, you need to get to know your client to then figure out the limits and perhaps make suggestions in the future, but first, you must develop a relationship with the client.

Big client, little client

Sure, we all want to hit the jackpot and have one or more clients who will become a steady source of income. But the reality is that the ratio of big and steady clients vs. small and steady clients isn’t always what we envision.

Not every client will pay your monthly bills, but all your clients make up your portfolio and are a potential source of referrals—multipliers of your income.

The feel-good factor

A client requesting a service wants to feel good about his project. No one wants to feel their project is a nuisance.

During those times when we’re incredibly busy, receiving a request for a minimum-fee project may, in fact, be a problem for us. And perhaps we truly can’t take care of it. But let’s pause for a moment, and make sure we

  1. take time to respond to the client
  2. don’t answer in a way that could hint we’re “too busy for them”
  3. provide an alternative for the client, whether it is asking for more time or referring them to a colleague.

This last point is extremely important because providing a solution tells your client you care, and you truly want to help.

And just for the record, I apply this policy to the few agencies I work with as well.

Above it all, I make it a habit to show all my clients—big or small—how grateful I am that they have considered my services. It doesn’t matter if I have provided services for this client for several years, or if it will be a one-time gig. Remember, we all want to feel good, and being the recipient of someone’s gratitude is a good feeling.

Every now and then, when I look outside my window and see my beautiful xeriscape, I am reminded of the story of how it came about, and I give thanks to the landscaper who taught me how to be a better professional.


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