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Empower your frontline team to connect effectively with customers.
frontline customers

Have you ever answered your office phone and found a very upset and angry client, who begins to vent at you over a recent interaction with one of your frontline workers? Unfortunately, it happens over and over again each and every day in the green industry.

Truth be told, some green industry companies don’t spend a lot of time, if any, teaching their frontline team members how to effectively interface with their customers. Using a football analogy, I have always told my clients your frontline personnel are the “final five yards” of your company.

Everyone else on your team can do everything right, bringing the ball down the 95 yards of the field. But, if at that point, the ball handler fumbles the ball, the whole team is in deep, deep trouble.

Building customer trust

George and Michael LaForest, father and son team and co-owners of Apartment Services in Livonia, Michigan, know firsthand the importance of having your foremen and frontline workers interface effectively with customers. In a recent interview with George, he explained how important it was to build trust from the very first encounter.

“Two initial touch points with our clients that we emphasize are the appearance and cleanliness of our trucks and our employees being in uniform,” George says. “Many of our clients are cemeteries, and with that comes two sets of customers: the cemetery managers and the mourners visiting a gravesite.”

Their employees show respect and compassion for those who are visiting their loved one’s gravesite by not blowing grass in the direction of that person, or simply not mowing that area until after that person has left.

If someone approaches them for information about where to find a particular gravesite, they will patiently listen to them, and then very courteously direct them to the office or to the proper person.

If the property managers want to vent about something they feel is not right, George’s frontliners will stop and patiently listen.

The first step is often to just listen to the customer.

If there is any damage to a cemetery marker or gravestone, it is reported immediately to the cemetery office, where action is taken to repair or replace it immediately. Even when workers notice damage they were not responsible for, they will also report it to the cemetery manager. This builds trust and prevents the crew from being blamed for damage they did not commit. If there is any type of a complaint regarding their crew or their work, it is addressed within 24 hours. The foreman will keep in contact with the manager until it is completed.

Building trust, cultivating and keeping solid relationships with their customers has been extremely important to Apartment Services’ success. It has been the cornerstone to growing their company in an extremely competitive market.

The lifetime dollar value of each one of your clients is enormous, yet it is so easy to lose them over a simple incident. It is imperative that you do everything possible to ensure a positive experience each and every time each one of your team members interacts with them. You can’t afford to leave it to chance.

Improving customer impressions

It has been said your frontline team gets only one chance to make a good impression with clients and customers. But literally every day they are making a new impression, each building on the last one. Let’s take a look at how you can develop your team to effectively interface and engage with clients and help them develop a positive customer relations building experience.

The first step to build the people skills of your frontliners is to create a structured approach that your leadership team will use to teach their employees the best way to interact with their customers. Don’t skimp in this area.

A structured approach doesn’t have to be formal. Manuel Gonzales, a production manager for the Brightview Landscape Services branch located in Pleasanton, California, recently shared some of his insights on training their frontliners with me.

One of the approaches he takes is to match the skills and work ethics of each team member to the type of job they will be working on. That way, they find the employees enjoy their job more and it results in better performance with lower turnover.

Gonzales spends regular time with each one of his employees on the four crews he manages. He uses the “walk and talk” method. This means, he walks along with his employees on the job site, answers questions and teaches a specific skill set and mindset. He helps them to use the specific situations as learning opportunities.

He makes it clear to them that one of his goals is to teach his people something that is going to help them in their overall career.

When it comes to interfacing with their clients and customers, one of the things Gonzales teaches his team members is to first listen to the customer. He says, “Many times, the concern can be resolved quickly by just responding to the client’s need to be heard. Refraining from interrupting the person can be a very effective tool in getting all the facts.”

He reminds them that good eye contact with the client or customer is critical. Establishing trust and rapport is much easier when nonthreatening eye contact is maintained throughout the conversation.

The next step Gonzales teaches is to do what they can to solve the problem. If that is not possible, they should call him. Many times, using the video chat feature on their phone, some of the problems where a second pair of eyes is needed can be resolved easily.

The evidence that his approach works are the regular comments they get from property managers that tell him his crews are “easy to work with.”

When you stop to think about the cycle of service that your customers experience when they do business with your company, it is critical that the approach your frontline personnel use is professional and reassuring to the people you serve.

As always, it comes down to the last person the customer has contact with. If that last impression is positive or negative, it depends on the employee. Remember, in the eyes of your clients and customers, your frontliners are the company.

This column originally appeared in Irrigation & Green Industry magazine.
Tom Borg is a team performance and customer experience expert who works with green industry organizations and their leadership teams to help them connect, communicate and work together better without all the drama through his consulting, training, coaching, leadership instruments and job benchmarking tools. To ask him a question, please call 734.404.5909, email or visit his website at

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