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Client Service: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.


Ann's yard without landscaping

Earlier this year, I joined Elasticity as vice president of accounts and was asked to lead the client service practice. Every week we get together and discuss the main ingredient in any agency or service: the clients.

Clients are great. Need them all day long. They come to you with a need that you can meet or a problem you can solve. You have fun doing that. Then they pay you U.S. Dollars. Lather, rinse, repeat. Usually.

I’ve recently had some lessons in client service from being a client myself. Last year we bought a new house, one which was supposedly “move-in ready”. (Utter horse shit, by the way; nothing is move-in ready.)

In general, the house we bought met our wants and needs. The one thing it lacked entirely was a yard or any landscaping of any kind. But you don’t have to live in your yard, and if you can hire someone to do the work, it should be relatively easy, right? You’d think.

Anyway, as the spring started we got itchy to get stuff done, and we contacted a landscaper that came recommended by our local nursery. He came out, saw a vision for our crappy little yard and painted an amazing picture. I could imagine myself on my new brick patio with a little water fountain and lovely plants. Very Zen. Within a week, a super nice guy from his team was out to measure and dream up a design. A week later, we were to get a plan and contract. That ended up taking a bit longer. An annoyance, but nevertheless, we were sticking with him because he really seemed to get us and to know what he was doing. Besides, with two little kids and two big jobs, we don’t have time to shop this stuff around. Well, that was May. We’re now at the beginning of July, and work has still not started.

So, the other day I sent a little note imploring him for an update and commitment of a start day. I got a semi-bitchy reply about the rain and weather-related delays. As it has been raining nonstop in Missouri for the last two months (sorry, California), I’m willing to understand that. That said, a little communication would be nice, right? And, frankly, if you can’t do it or not in my time frame, at least honesty is appreciated. At least return my phone call since you’re not busy working? I’m trying to pay you green dollars.

Frustrated by the lack of updates, I contacted another landscape company. They returned my call within two hours. Gave them the details of what I need and was told candidly that they were looking at a two-month lag in doing the work. But she did offer that they are communicating regularly with clients about delays that are just out of their control. I appreciated the refreshing approach.

And it’s not just Mr. Landscaper. We have a plumber who has broken appointments with us or blown us off entirely on days that we stayed home to meet him. When you share these miseries with friends, it’s almost universal how dudes working on your house can completely suck at customer service.

If we did this in the agency world, we would be replaced faster than Don Draper can pour a drink. But for some reason we have to give a pass to professionals in other fields. Ridiculous.

The point of this rant is to make sure we learn lessons in good client service from my own crappy experiences:

  • Communication goes a long way. There are things that are out of our control, and while we don’t like delays or other unexpected slowdowns, if clients are at least kept informed in a friendly manner, they’re a little more likely to understand.
  • While I’m forced right now to stick with the landscaper and plumber because the project is down the road and we’ve paid a deposit, the next round of landscaping and plumbing (and there will be more) will not go to these jokers. Not even getting considered.
  • Finally, I wonder why there aren’t more college grads going into the trades. Clearly these people are in such demand that good customer service is completely optional. Young people: While agency life looks good on an AMC show (and in reality is pretty fun), if you want to really be master of your domain, become a master plumber.

One other note: In all of this, it would never, ever occur to me to say to Joe Landscaper: “Hey, I know we’re just doing a patio, fence and plantings in the back yard. But while you’re here with the backhoe and the dudes digging stuff up, would you mind digging up the front yard for free so that we can do the rest ourselves?” Nor would I ever expect Joe Landscaper to say to me: “Hey, we’ve got the backhoe here. Need anything on us?” Not so in the marketing world. Another reason, kids, to consider a trade.

One Response to Client Service: The Good. The Bad. The Ugly.

  1. As a college graduate, former trades person (who worked on Ann’s previous home), and consummate customer service rep I truly appreciate this post. The trades offered fulfillment for me for many years. That said, the consumer’s desire to gain something for nothing happens in all industries. Ann is just one of the few classy enough not to expect people to work for free.
    I (still, in a completely different industry) politely tell people daily how much something will cost and then gently break their hearts when I can’t include the complimentary chocolate frosted cupcake. Along with the giveaway let-down, I am dedicated to keeping them well-informed and I have been awarded several jobs due to a lack of communication by my peers.
    It can be dirty work during the process, but when the final product is rolled out there is nothing more fulfilling than a satisfied customer with a positive opinion of your service… and the request for freebies is but a memory!

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