A Plantscaper’s Guide to Managing Client Expectations
It happened! You called a prospective client and asked for an appointment to talk about adding live plants, and they said yes. So now, how do you proceed? Designing with live plants is an art form. It’s very subjective! Often, coming to an agreement with your client about what they expect from you is the key to closing the deal.
A long lasting business relationship is based on meeting your client’s expectations from the start. If your client knows your work well and you’ve been recommended, then there is already a level of trust between you.
Let’s consider the prospective client who knows little about our industry. You must educate this client on plant and container options. But more importantly, you must explain what your company promises to do so that the plants will be a thriving, living enhancement to their space.
After thanking the person for their time and interest, ask the following questions:
- Why do you want live plants in your office?
- Have you worked with an indoor landscaping company before?
- What is your budget for this project?
- What are the areas you want to accent the most with live plants?
Next, explain briefly how your company plans to create their unique indoor plantscape. Realize that we are all providing a service first, then live plants second.
The client’s investment is not only in plants, but in you and your team. The customer needs to hear that you plan to work hard to make them happy, but that there are some boundaries. For example, we are very clear from the start that we guarantee free replacement of all plants for the life of the contract. This is what we call Guaranteed Maintenance. However, we also explain that we do not cover theft, damage from water flooding, impacts or any severe temperature changes in the building. Clear communication and setting those client expectations from the start helps to avoid unrealistic ideas about the service we provide.
After we agree on terms, we explain that we will need one contact person to work with. We ask that if people have any issues with the plants to go to the contact person, who will then contact me. I want my clients to come directly to me with problems so my team has the opportunity tofix them. We also ask our contact person to send an email to everyone asking that they refrain from watering or moving the plants because we are caring for them.
When a plant is ailing, everyone in the building from security guard to the janitor, even to random people in elevators will say, “Good thing you’re finally here! Did you see the plant on the 4th floor? It looks like it’s dying.” Of course you haven’t seen the plant yet, you just walked in! Plus, it’s most likely not dying. However, it’s usually best to respond with, “Why thank you for telling me! I’ll take care of it right away.” A good plant tech is a good actor! After a situation like this, always follow up with your contact person and let them know you have handled the situation. If you can’t solve the problem with care, replace the plant immediately.
Clients moving plants around is a challenging problem. One building manager sent me a picture of a bone dry Maria aglaonema with yellow leaves and faded flowers. Someone in the building had moved it to accent a new furniture arrangement, but didn’t tell our contact person. Luckily, we saved it, but it’s an example of how easy it can be to lose one plant in a building of 100 or more plants. If a client says they need plants to be moved for special events or parties, then recommend planters with casters for easy rolling.
The most challenging client expectation is absolutely perfect plants. While we strive to give our clients beautiful plants, it’s time to accept that each plant will not always look perfect.
This is one of the hardest things for me. I really care about what my clients think of their plants! You will never be able to have plants that have absolutely no brown edges, no yellow leaves, or no imperfections. Sometimes it’s a gradual process of educating clients on what is realistic. Some clients love the plants no matter what! Others will need more attention and communication.
Over time, your goal is to become a trusted member of the client’s team. This is very rewarding in a way that money cannot buy. Just remember, the right plant in the right place will reward you with incredible slow and steady beautiful growth.
Plants make us happy, so share your joy with clients! Point out the beauty of new leaves. Show a client how a dracaena dropping lower leaves is actually showing a lovely growth habit in making a trunk. Show the incredible variegation of a Brasil Philodendron leaf, and show how no two are alike.
The recent surge in plant popularity is one of the most challenging things we have ever had to deal with. Some desired plants are simply not available. Communicate those challenges, and set client expectations that select varieties may not be available at this time. Then, it’s time to shine plantscapers! Show your clients your creativity. Try a new plant variety to create the look you want, and show your excitement about the popularity of plants! This increases the value added to the purchase they have made with you.
Finally, after you have walked through that new account with your happy new client and communicated expectations, ask them, “Why did we get this contract?” The answer may astound you. What a great way to grow your business and relationships!
By managing client expectations and keeping clear communication top of mind, you’ve laid the foundation for a long term relationship.
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