What your client really needs and wants

March 18, 2013 -  By

By Chris Weigl

One of the best ways to keep your customers happy, as well as gain their repeat business, is to make sure you understand what they really want when they ask for your help with their landscaping.For example, if you ask what kind of landscaping they need, almost everyone will say they want a low maintenance landscape.
Then when you ask about what kind of plants they want, many will say they like evergreen hedges or a perfect lawn, which are high-maintenance choices because of the constant trimming needed to keep them looking neat and in shape. So already there is a conflict between what they say they need and what they want. It is your job, as the expert, to pay close attention to what they say and try to read between the lines.
Take your time
When you first meet a prospective customer, you need to spend at least an hour with them for your initial consult. This is the most important hour you will ever spend with them, and it is critical you arrive with a relaxed attitude and do not try to rush through the process. You need to build their trust, and the best way to do that is be genuine and show you are really interested in them and their needs.
Take a slow walk around their property with them and discuss what they like and dislike about their current landscaping. As you walk, take notes about what could be improved, or areas that merit discussion.
Ask them if they like to work in the yard and how much time per week they could spend maintaining it to get a better understanding of their commitment.
A good question to gain insight into what they like is to ask if they like any of their neighbor’s yards. If they say they like John Smith’s landscaping down the street, take a walk over there with them and discuss what they like about it.
If they say “I like it because it always looks neat and well kept,” that translates to: “I am a control freak and like everything neat and tidy.” If you plant wildflowers and sprawling, free-flowing plants, they will absolutely hate it. Grass and manicured shrubs are probably more their style.
If they say “I like it because they have lots of flowers and color,” that translates to: “I am a creative person and like nature.” If you plant perennials and flowering shrubs, they will probably be happy.
These are just generalizations, of course, but you can see the importance of getting to know your customer.
Use a questionnaire
As a former garden designer, the tool I found most helpful was a questionnaire. After walking around the property, ask whether you can go inside to talk. Once inside, really take a close look at their house. Is it neat and clean, or messy and disorganized? Do they have a lot of art and books? Do they have a modern decorating style? Do they have pets?
All of these visual clues can give you insight into their personality, and matching their landscape to their personality is the key.
Sit down, make a little small talk and pull out your questionnaire.  The questionnaire should include questions such as:
  • Do you have deer in your neighborhood?
  • What colors do you like, pastels or bright colors?
  • Are there any plants you dislike?
  • Is there a place in your yard that is always wet or dry?
  • Do you prefer a formal garden or an informal garden?
  • Have you ever seen landscaping you did not like? What didn’t you like about it?
Here is a link to download a PDF of a sample questionnaire to help you with your assessment.
After the questionnaire, inform them you are going back outside to take measurements, and you will meet with them again soon to present your estimate and landscape design.
Do your assessment
Take measurements of areas needing landscaping, including details such as where the windows are, gutters, electrical boxes, mulch or rocks, hardscaping such as walks or driveways, and plants and trees that will remain.
Write down lighting conditions, wind and water conditions, and measure soil pH if you have a pH meter. If not, it would be a good idea to take a soil sample to your local county extension office to be tested. My local office only charges $1, for example.
Bring plant samples
After you have completed your design and estimate, meet again to discuss your plans, this time bringing with you samples of the plants you plan on using—or if samples are not available, books with photographs of the plants. When they see what the plant looks like, watch their faces. If you can sense they are not excited about your selection, you need to know this and work with them to find something they will like.Explain your plan and tell them why and how you made your decisions.  Again, don’t rush them. Take your time and let them ask questions.
A common landscaping problem is that many people do not realize how large a plant will grow. This needs to be made very clear at the planning stage. If a plant is prone to aphids, caterpillars, rust, or needs a lot of water, you need to tell them this. It is your job to give them a healthy landscape that will last. Your reputation is at stake.
If you just take the time to get to know your customer instead of rushing to the next job, you will be rewarded with a happy customer who will gladly provide you with referrals. And it is these referrals that will help to grow your business and keep it strong.
Chris Weigl, a former owner of a gardening service, is a freelance writer specializing in the horticulture industry. She is offering a free report “Fun and easy ways to market your business with Pinterest,” at her website, writerchrisweigl.com
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