How to Share Bad News with Landscaping Customers
The difference between an error and a catastrophe is often how well you manage the final outcome. Despite your best efforts, there may come a time when things won’t go as planned and you will need to communicate negative news with your landscaping customers. The problem could be as simple as a delayed landscape installation, or as complicated as having to make a last-minute plant or tree substitution.
If you find yourself in a sticky situation, it’s best to go into your call with a plan. Here are some crisis management tips for landscaping businesses when dealing with bad news:
Minimize the ‘Sorry’ Situations
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but you know that already. Between the human error and Murphy’s law, have a contingency plan in place for when things inevitably take an unexpected turn in your landscaping jobs.
Well-organized processes are crucial. This could come in the form of a basic landscaping checklist of things to remember for every job, starting from the sales cycle, going through to the operations planning, and into the execution phase.
Additionally, it’s great to have a back-up plan for known vulnerabilities of your landscaping business. For example, you might need safe drop-off points in the event of extreme weather, have established relationships with workers who can come in if you need a last-minute set of hands etc.
Not sure where to start when putting this type of plan together? Think back to the last few jobs that went wrong for your landscaping business. Target what exactly led to the problem. Presuming you solved things, incorporate the solution into your contingency plan. If you didn’t, what could you have done differently?
You’ll notice the pattern of where things go wrong for your business. Crisis management is mainly anticipating a breakdown and having a solution ready and waiting.
Prepare for the Call with Your Customer
Let’s say everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Now you must take control of the situation and own the error.
The natural response is often to jump on a call as soon as possible. However, before contacting the customer, it’s better to understand how the error occurred in the first place. Who caused it, how did they cause it, what’s the story, and gather all relevant information. The goal isn’t to point the finger at anyone, but to understand the situation.
Next, call a quick team meeting to update everyone about the issue that occurred.
At this point, come up with possible solutions. Don’t waste time dwelling on the issue, you need to move forward.
Once you have a solid plan in place, get the required pre-approval from everyone involved. Depending on the size and scope of your landscaping company, you might need to run your plan by your finance team, your legal department, or just your operations manager to get the go-ahead and avoid any further issues. After all, now isn’t the time to make promises you cannot deliver.
Determine the Strategy for the Call
Some mistakes can be costlier than others. Consult the list below to determine the level at which the mistake occurred. Only then can you figure out the subsequent strategy you’ll need going into the call with your client.
- Customer mistake:
If the mistake is made by the customer, communicate that clearly without blaming them.
They wanted a rushed 1-day turn-around? This is where you should have managed unreasonable customer demands and warned them about the potential consequences.
- Your mistake:
If the mistake is made by your landscaping company, be sincere and understanding in your apology. Customers understand that mistakes happen, but they don’t want to be punished for a mistake out of their control.
- Third-party mistake:
Your clients chose to go into business with you, not with your vendors or transportation partners. Don’t pass the blame onto them because it will most likely fall on deaf ears. Come up with a short-term fix, but also ensure that you will get to the bottom of things so this doesn’t happen again.
- Unforeseen circumstances:
Things happen and sometimes you just need to give your people a moment to get it out of their system. Let the client express their frustration without hitting back and do your best to come up with a solution!
Guidelines to Follow During the Actual Call
- Apologize, but don’t cower. Keep a confident tone throughout the call.
- Own the error. Don’t shy away or avoid the conversation. Own the mistake. One misstep won’t make your landscaping business crumble.
- Own the solution. Don’t approach clients with problems, offer them solutions. Be direct and explain what your landscaping team is doing to solve the issue.
- Negotiate. Be prepared to negotiate how you correct the problem and any possible financial compensation you intend to suggest. Will you split the cost, absorb it, or pass it on the client?
The choice you make here can be closely tied to whose mistake it was as seen in the section above. Sometimes, absorbing the cost of a small mistake is worth more in the long run.
At the end of the day, you will need to break some bad news to a landscaping customer eventually. No matter how they take it, you’re going to get through it. Even if their answer to the situation leaves a lot to be desired, you never know what they’re experiencing in their life that caused this reaction.
Today your landscaping business is giving the bad news, tomorrow you’re the ones getting it. It’s best to handle both situations with grace and empathy. Like a palm tree, sway with the winds, but don’t let them knock you over.
Stressed out? Here are some ideas to prioritize and schedule landscaping jobs during the peak season.