Client Retention Strategies for Interiorscapers

Unlike a utility, the interiorscape business is much more of a luxury service than a necessity.  I always try to remind myself of this and make every effort to keep my client needs first. Anytime my service becomes a bother, it gives clients a reason to cancel or bid out to one of the many other interiorscapers in the city. Here are some avoidable—but common—client pet peeves along few different client retention strategies that can help you keep them.

No Response

Whether it’s an email or voicemail, most clients understand if you’re unable to respond immediately. What aggravates them is when there is no response within 24 hours or longer. With instant and reliable communication technology today, it’s rare when a business owner is unable to be reached. Some exceptions could be that you’re away on vacation, or had a family emergency or a sudden illness. In such cases, set up an automated email response with an appropriate reply that also contains the contact information of the next person in charge. Whatever the situation may be, if the client at least knows you’re not intentionally ignoring their needs, they will be much more sympathetic.  It’s the “not knowing what’s going on” that can quickly drive a client away and feel neglected.   

Cell Phone Interruptions

Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I get annoyed when someone is carrying on a conversation for everyone to hear while standing in line or checking out of a store.  Just imagine how annoying that phone conversation is when you’re at work, trying to concentrate. Clients find it extremely rude when vendors come into their workplace with constant text notifications or personal calls. Normally, I’ll set my phone to silent any time I enter a client’s building and encourage my staff to do the same.  I routinely remind them to double check their settings. I myself have forgotten and have had my phone go off while in an executive’s office. It’s extremely embarrassing. However, the only thing you can do is apologize and make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

Damaging Property

Obviously, a client is going to get mad if you or your staff does something major like accidentally backs the truck into the building (which I’ve seen happen before).  Incidences like this are generally rare and that’s why it’s key to make sure you have good liability insurance. What happens more often is small property damage that can happen when not careful. 

For instance, certain plants such as aglaonemas leave a sticky residue when cut. They can easily stain surrounding walls if the technician isn’t careful when removing them; especially if you pull it off the stem in haste or frustration.  Plants in the ficus family like robusta and lyratas also contain a milky white sap that have ruined generations of company shirts. I’ve tried scrubbing, bleaching, using vinegar and so far, I haven’t figured out how to remove those stains.  If the sap is destroying clothes, it’s also going to ruin any cloth furniture or rugs that it touches.  

I’m not always the most graceful person, and it’s easy to be tired and a bit clumsy while pushing around a heavy cart or water machine inside a client’s building. If you bump into a wall with a metal edge you’re bound to leave a dent or mark.  I had a client just repaint their walls and while installing new plants, the cart tapped against the paint. Luckily, there was no visible damage. Especially since I didn’t want to explain to the office manager that I just ruined their brand-new accent wall.

Besides dents, I’d say the most common blunder an interiorscaper makes is spilling dirt. Whenever you’re handling soil inside, it’s always a risk to keep it contained.  I’ve had quite a few incidents over the years with plants falling over inside a building and it’s extremely embarrassing and stressful every time it happens. Whenever I have to move plants around, I take extra precaution to avoid a messy situation. For example, I always place a thick plastic trash bag around the container and cinch the ties a tight as possible around the trunk.

My other rule is to never water the plant before delivery and keep the soil as dry as possible. If you’ve ever spilled wet or damp soil onto carpet, you understand why I have that rule.  Wet dirt on carpet is a nightmare to remove. Whenever I’m doing an install, I always carry a small dust buster along with a brush and dustpan just in case. If you do happen to spill wet, soggy, dirt on carpet, let it dry before trying to clean up. Otherwise, you can make a muddy mess that’s even hardier to fix. 

Debris

Leaves left on the floor is one of the most common client complaints. It seems so simple to put all your plant trash into a bag, but every once in a while I get a call that leaves were dropped and left.  This tends to happen when a tech is trying to handle too much at once, and misses the bag, not being careful or thinks they can fit everything into their pocket.  While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, it can be aggravating to housekeeping staff and employees that have to pick up after you.

As a rule, I always try to look behind me and make sure I didn’t miss a stem or leaf.   A compact EZ hand held sweeper is a great tool to pick up all those little pieces of dead ends or loose dirt. Lastly, don’t use your clients’ trash receptacles for your compost material. It irritates housekeeping staff because that’s extra trash they have to deal with and it makes your clients upset because most have to pay for their own trash removal.

Using a few of these client retention strategies and taking care to avoid these common client pet peeves not only keeps you in good graces, but also makes your service a seamless part of your client’s daily routines. What other client retention strategies have worked for you?

Sherry has been part of the interiorscape industry for over fifteen years, starting at an entry level job at North Florida's largest greenhouse and currently owning two horticulture companies. At UMaine, Sherry majored in English where she worked part-time writing scripts for a local college TV studio.

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