Personal relationships have always carried a lot of weight in the nursery and greenhouse industries. For many of you, the long-standing relationships that distinguish your growing operation are based on handshakes that took place decades ago. But with new generations and new owners stepping up to the plate, keeping your nursery and greenhouse customers loyal and satisfied is more important than ever before.
These seven simple reminders for strengthening customer relationships can help you and your staff reinforce existing bonds and connect with new customers, too:
- Know your business. New technologies and increasing competition are changing the face of your industry. That’s why every employee who comes in contact with your customer base needs to understand your company’s ins and outs. By exposing employees to different aspects of your business—from sales reps to growers to customer service folks—you lay the groundwork for informed collaboration and cooperation. That mindset can make the difference in keeping customer satisfaction high.
- Know your customer. Stop and think about the wide range of customers that your growing operation serves. Yes, they all may be looking for plants, but the similarities may stop there. Garden center retailers have very different needs and expectations than landscaping firms. Commercial landscapers and residential landscapers have very different client and maintenance goals. Taking time to understand your customers and their businesses can help you build strong, lasting bonds.
- See through their eyes. It’s not always easy, especially during seasonal rushes, to prioritize what’s happening on your customer’s sales lot alongside what’s happening on yours. Remember: their success is your success. Keep your customer’s viewpoint front of mind. Strive to see the season from their perspective. Listen to their concerns. Clearly communicate that you understand their business and your own. Your expertise can reassure them they’ve made the right choice.
- Keep it positive. We’re all familiar with the saying that the customer’s always right. That adage should hold true—even when the customer’s wrong. Whatever challenging situation arises, it’s up to you and your staff to keep the conversation and the relationship rolling in a positive light. Be attentive and seize the opportunity to retain and strengthen their confidence. Instead of dwelling on what’s wrong, focus on what’s right. Staying positive reinforces that you value the relationship—so they will, too.
- Don’t overpromise. Good intentions can backfire if you and your staff can’t follow through on promises to your customers. This circles back to understanding your business and what you and your team can deliver any given time of year. Failure to fulfill your promises, even for reasons beyond your control, can instill doubts about integrity and trust. Don’t risk those essentials to keep a customer happy for the moment. Keep it real and keep it honest. Your customers will see, hear and appreciate the results.
- Be consistent. Your customers need to know and understand how your company handles situations, from ordering and last-minute changes to delivery and follow through. Whatever your standard operating procedures are, be consistent in how they’re explained and carried out. Customers need to know where you stand and what to expect, especially if they need to ask for a favor or a major exception to your rules. Knowing they can count on consistency matters. And that goes for plant material, too.
- Be sincere. When you genuinely care about your customers, your authenticity and sincerity come through. Whether you’re chatting by text, giving greenhouse tours, or sitting down together over lunch, your customers want to feel you care. If an apology is ever due, don’t delay it. If misunderstandings happen, confirm—don’t assume—everything’s resolved. When you’re grateful for a contract, let them know how much their business means. A sincere, simple thank you says a lot.
Though nursery and greenhouse businesses are changing, relationships are still the foundation on which your operation’s success is built. Take time to strengthen relationships with your customers, old and new. And when the opportunity arises, follow the lead of generations of industry leaders—add a heartfelt handshake to the deal.
At ICL Specialty Fertilizers – Americas, helping you succeed is what drives us to make a difference every day. Please follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn, and let us know what’s happening in your business and how we can help you succeed. We're committed to creating a world where plants, people, and possibilities can thrive.