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Ask 10 people to describe the qualities that make up a professional and reputable tree care company and you’ll likely get 10 very different responses. Chances are, however, their answers will all have one thing in common -- they will all describe an experience.

Customer Perception Shapes Company Image

By Randy Happel

Ask 10 people to describe the qualities that make up a professional and reputable tree care company and you’ll likely get 10 very different responses. Chances are, however, their answers will all have one thing in common — they will all describe an experience.

Your brand is only as strong as how you’re perceived, and given how closely tied perception is to experience, the importance of your customer’s first experience with your company can’t be underestimated. First impressions crystallize in an instant, and are extraordinarily hard to change down the line. Simply put, your first impression can make or break your company’s image. So what exactly are customers looking for in a good customer experience? And how can it be achieved?

“There are exceptions, but the vast majority of people are looking for something they associate with professionalism,” said Mike Wagner, chief executive officer with White Rabbit Group, a brand consulting firm headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. “Consumers may not have that exact word in mind, but professionalism is definitely what they’re looking for. It’s one of those things they can’t always describe or define; but know it when they see it — or don’t.”

That’s true for any industry, but especially for the tree care industry, where companies face added pressure to set themselves apart from less-than-scrupulous fly-by-night companies whose actions have tainted the public’s view of the industry, according to Todd Roorda, tree care sales manager within the environmental products segment at Vermeer.

“It’s the actions of a select few that paint an unprofessional picture of the industry as a whole, because what people consider reprehensible is what people remember,” said Roorda.

Don’t let your company’s perception be overshadowed by industry misnomers. A little extra attention to detail can help your company stand out. Here are some tips to ensure you’re sending the right message about your business and preserving the all-important customer experience.


First impressions; lasting perceptions

Your marketing materials are often your customers’ first introduction to your company. Utilizing the professional services of an outside marketing or communications agency can help ensure you put forth a cohesive image. But, ultimately, you don’t have to have a large marketing budget to establish or reinforce your brand.

The key is determining the logo, colors and design elements that will identify your company, and using these elements exclusively throughout all of your marketing materials to maintain consistency. This encompasses not just ads and brochures, but also your website, letterhead, billing materials, signage, e-mail signatures and employee attire. Additionally, invest in the highest quality materials your budget allows, from the design to the weight of the paper. It’s a detail your customers will notice, and is a reflection of your commitment to quality in your work.


Put your credentials front and center

Once you’ve set the stage with your branding, don’t forget to put your credentials front and center. In an industry the general public knows little about, credentials help establish your credibility and earn a potential customer’s trust. Certifications and membership in industry associations signal your commitment to the latest knowledge and techniques.

According to Vic Bernardini, general manager of ValleyCrest Tree Care Services, this is why all ValleyCrest arborists maintain active memberships in the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) and the Tree-Care Industry Association (TCIA).

“These organizations provide great training resources for our company that allows our employees to gain up-to-date knowledge and expertise, learn best industry practices, hone tree-care skills, and achieve an overall level of professionalism that our customers expect,” said Bernardini.


What you see is what you get

Sometimes your marketing materials won’t be a customer’s first impression. Instead, it will be an interaction with your employees in the field. It’s important to remember that how your employees present themselves is also an extension of your brand. The appearance of your crews in the field is a marketing tool in and of itself — especially given the highly visible nature of tree care work.

“A lot of times, tree care companies will be on a jobsite and neighbors will stop by and tell crews about potential work,” said Roorda. “So if the crews on the site are approachable, they may end up opening avenues to grow business that may have resulted simply from their being present and cordial on another jobsite.”

Consider what a potential customer will see when viewing your crew at work. Clean, consistent uniforms for the entire crew, and equipment in good working order uphold a professional image. Impress upon your crew the importance of following safety measures and wearing personal protective equipment even when they think no one is looking. Also, consider providing crew members with basic customer service training. It will serve them well not only in interactions with prospective clients, but also in resolving issues with current clients as well.

And don’t forget that the final condition of your jobsite speaks volumes long after your departure. Although customers understand that a certain degree of disruption is likely unavoidable, they also expect a site to be returned to the best condition possible upon completion.

“Leaving a jobsite in a poor condition will likely prevent that company from doing repeat business,” said Roorda. “The condition a company leaves a jobsite says a lot about a company’s overall operational philosophy. If they make the effort to restore a site to as close to original condition as possible, it leaves a very favorable and lasting impression in the customer’s mind, and can result in additional referrals.”


Demonstrate your commitment to safety

Last, but certainly not least, remember that safety is a top concern for customers, too. Proactively communicating to your customers that your business carries the proper insurance and makes safety a priority is paramount to earning their trust.

“We have a moral obligation to ensuring all of our personnel go home safely each night,” said Bernardini. “It’s important for all types of service providers to follow industry standards and furnish crews with personal protective equipment, build safety education into our weekly routines, and reward crew members that exemplify professionalism and safety.”

If you haven’t already, implement a formal safety program, and don’t be shy about sharing it with your customers. Behavior-based safety is an important training tool to help minimize the severity and frequency of many different job-related incidents. Be sure to incentivize, reward, and celebrate employees who successfully apply their safety training. And, to keep your safety program on track, conduct weekly meetings or teleconferences where all near-miss and real-time accidents are reviewed, with commentary on how each could have been prevented, and identify corrective actions to prevent future incidents from occurring.


Randy Happel is a features writer at Two Rivers Marketing, Des Moines, Iowa.

Article provided by Vermeer, Pella, Iowa. Vermeer and the Vermeer logo are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.



Appearance shapes perception

First impressions form lasting opinions, and are often difficult to alter once established. Here’s a checklist of factors that shape perception:

Marketing materials — Consistent branding and appearance, well-designed, quality reproduction.
Employee conduct and attire — Courteous, conversational, responsive, knowledgeable; clean, neat appearance and well-kept wearables and uniforms.
Condition of equipment — Well-maintained, damage-free.
Office, shop and lot appearance — Clean, orderly, uncluttered and organized.
Jobsite protocol — Minimal footprint and impact on completed jobsites; safe, courteous and professional work behavior.

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