25 Nov The Downside of Providing excellent customer Service in the landscape Lighting Business
By Mike Gambino
We pride ourselves in the above-and-beyond service that we provide our clients. And like it or not, we’re there for those weekend and late night phone calls, texts, and emails to solve the inevitable crises that come up after hours. We go the extra mile to make sure things get done, even when the cause has nothing to do with the equipment or installation that we provided.
In fact, I often tell new clients that we are going to be the only company that will be there on the project before, during, and well after construction has completed, and that—especially for larger jobs—we are essentially “married” to each other now.
The landscape lighting design build trade is a small “mom and pop” niche people business, we all try to present ourselves/our companies as the absolute authority on all things landscape lighting. And for the most part, this five-star-level service has served us well. We garner a level of trust with clients that few other trades can. And where people generally loathe dealing with the red tape and long waiting times of dealing with large companies and speak with disdain about experiences at big-box stores, they are almost always pleased to interact with us and share their experiences with friends.
But lately, we’ve seen kind of a drawback from this in that our reputation for great service is resulting in lots of phone calls about issues with items that we didn’t sell and don’t profit from.
The replacement bulb I bought isn’t working after only a few weeks. (OK, why didn’t you buy one from us and have us install it in fact why are we not maintaining the very expensive landscape lighting system we designed and installed for you?).
My gardener knocked over one of “your” fixtures can you come and put it back in “when you are in the area”. (“when you are in the area” is code word for do not leave a bill.)
My wireless control system isn’t working. (This was installed by your A/V people)
My lights just don’t look right in fact they are much dimmer after the gardener threw mulch down in the beds you need to come here and see what’s wrong. (OK, either you, or have the gardener hose off the lenses or we can come out and do it and leave a bill).
A client who called recently encapsulates the issue. I was on the phone with him once again troubleshooting a problem he was having. I said, “Mr. Client, we’ve discussed this issue several times before, and I keep telling you that it has nothing to do with the lighting system we installed it is the control system; it is a controller/timer problem and you need to call the company who installed it to get it resolved. The on/off operation of the outdoor lighting is controlled along with other amenities in your home and we did not supply, install or program it. ”
The client’s reply? “You’re just easier to call. I know you’ll respond quickly, won’t put me on hold, or transfer me, and that you’ll help me with my problem right away.”
Sure, it’s a great reputation to have, and being first in the client’s mind when it comes to landscape lighting is mostly a great thing. And while these are often simple fixes, they can require 10–15 minute conversations over the phone—conversations that we don’t bill for or get paid on other than in goodwill. If you have four or five of these calls in a day, then you’re talking about some fairly serious time in lost productivity.
It seems like there are really only three ways to handle these kinds of calls:
1) Suck it up and help the client, hoping it pays off in sales dividends down the road.
2) Help the client and then send them a bill for our phone time.
3) Refuse to offer phone support on items we didn’t sell and offer a truck-roll service call.
Obviously there is room for discretion here, and some clients will have garnered more free “phone time” than offers. And some—like property rental owners and their rental clients (a topic for a blog on its own)—might not get any phone time at all.
The difficulty is drawing that distinction in the client’s mind between what is and what isn’t “ours.” Regardless of the fact that almost all of our equipment bears the Gambino logo, we sometimes get blamed for products and services we did not specify, supply or install.
While the issue might be that their off-brand light bulb replacement purchased elsewhere isn’t performing and dies prematurely, in the client’s mind the problem inevitably traces back to something we did.
I don’t think you installed it correctly.
It’s something with your lighting system.
It’s something with the transformer you installed.
This landscape lighting blog is published by Mike Gambino of Gambino landscape lighting inc. all rights reserved. Mike is a professional landscape lighting system designer/ builder and has been designing, installing and maintaining landscape lighting systems for more than 20 years. Mike resides in the Los Angeles area with his wife and 2 sons. To visit his website go to www.Gambinolighting.com . To inquire about hiring Mike please click here .
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