How is customer experience different from customer service? Find out in today's episode. Plus how to make sure that each of your customers knows all of the services your company offers, so they can buy them from you, which will maximize their average customer lifetime value. Plus how to implement an excellent customer experience using automation, so it doesn't actually cost a ton of time and money.
Hey, everyone. Jack Jostes here. Welcome to The Landscaper's Guide. This podcast is all about serving the snow and landscape industry with inspiring ideas for sales, marketing and leadership.
Today, I interview Clifton Muckenfuss, who is a really interesting person who built up and sold an exterior remodeling company prior to buying a boat and doing all these interesting things. I hope you enjoy this conversation. If you do, make sure you subscribe at landscapersguide.com/podcast, so you never miss an episode.
All right, everyone. Welcome back to The Landscaper's Guide. Today, I'm excited to interview Clifton Muckenfuss, who is the founder and CEO of Building Raving Fans, and the director of coaching at WinRate Coaching. Clifton, welcome to The Landscaper's Guide.
Hey, Jack. Thanks for that introduction. I'm excited to be here and be with you today and your audience.
Yeah. We share a mutual client, Scott Callenius from Forever Green Landscape, who has been on this show before. He's a big fan. Tell us a little bit. What's some of the work that you're doing with Scott, and what else didn't I say in my introduction that people should know about you?
Who Is Clifton Muckenfuss?
I've been working with Scott for about a year now. To watch him transition into really a CEO role, his mindset has really changed from the beginning of our engagement. He's delegating more, and really investing back into his team. He's really become hyper-focused on culture and growing his team. These are all things that we started working on back in January of this year.
Our clients, Jack, at WinRate Consulting, as part of the Champion Circle, we start with foundational principles. That's core values. That's mission vision. Your why. Why does a business owner get up every single day and do what he or she does?
So really, to see Scott embrace that and make the investments into his team, it's just been ... He's been a great case study for us, and he speaks very highly of you.
What you may not have mentioned there in that intro is I grew up in rural South Carolina, very small town. My grandparents did a lot of farming. My granddad was a small business owner as well.
I went to Clemson University, which is also in South Carolina. Got a marketing communications degree and an advertising minor there. Worked in corporate America for a period of time. Before that, made some pretty bad decisions in life, as a lot of young people do. Those decisions, however, did provide me with a perspective to appreciate everything that I have now.
After graduating, moved to Atlanta, Georgia, worked in a few different industries, in IT, worked in the valet parking industry. Then fast forward a few years. Most recently, in 2010, I started an exterior remodeling company in Raleigh, North Carolina.
As we spoke earlier, my journey into construction is really different than most. A lot of people are on the tools. They're working. They're either hanging siding or installing windows or just doing the trade themself. That natural next step is, "I'm going to start a business." Whereas myself, I knew zero about the trades. I knew zero about construction. In fact, I'm okay admitting I still don't know how to read a tape measure, five H two. I just don't ... That's just not how my brain works.
But what I've been told I'm good at, Jack, and I think your listeners will probably appreciate this, is really how to deploy tactical empathy with homeowners. We were a predominantly residential remodeling company. The thing I excelled at is really understanding what was causing that homeowner pain, why I was there across the kitchen table. When I can get someone to relay to me what the true reason for their pain is, if we have a solution for that, then we can ease that pain.
As a new business in 2010, with $0 really, I started my company on literally the size of a Post-it note. In fact, it was three of us sitting at a table at a brewery, and I asked the two other gentlemen for $1,500 apiece to start that company. 4,500 was going to be the initial startup. My one buddy, after listening to the plan, looked at us and says, "You're crazy." I'm like, "Cool. Go get yourself another beer. Now, I need 1,750 from you."
We launched our company on 3,500 bucks, with a business plan on the size of a Post-it note. So as you can imagine, Jack, we had zero marketing and advertising budget.
I can remember the Ferrells. You always have these customers that stand out in your mind. The Ferrells gave us our first chance. I remember knocking on that door, and they gave us an opportunity to have a conversation. Somehow, we connected. They gave us a chance. We did the install. Over the next seven to eight years, we did over 70 projects in their neighborhood.
The programs that we put together, and we'll probably get into some of that, but the things that we did relating to client experience and how we stayed top of mind to them, they just couldn't forget us. So their neighbors took note. They wanted the same type of experience.
You know this, Jack, I'm sure, but people will generally pay more money for a service or even a product for a better experience.
Absolutely. The experience is so important, especially in something like exterior remodeling or landscaping, or some of my clients who are listening do interior remodeling. That's where the experience, I think the stakes are even higher.
Really, the experience that we deliver to our customers, I believe is the reason they would pay more for our service than someone else. You're both going to do ... You need to deliver quality, but how you deliver quality and take care of the client is everything.
One of the things that we do, and I know that you also do, reputation management with Building Raving Fans, is asking for client feedback. We do that along the way. At the midway point is one of the areas where we ask for that feedback. We just got a Google review from one of our clients who mentioned the experience he was having and how great it was. We haven't even finished. So I'm with you on that. I believe it's key for retaining clients and earning referrals.
I'm curious. What is the tactical part of tactical empathy? What do you mean by that?
Yeah. Just being very deliberate, asking a lot of questions. I think that most salespeople go into a conversation with a prospect with one thing in mind. That is to sell them something and get as much money out of them as they can.
Tactical empathy is actually reversing that mindset, and going into a conversation with, "How can I help this person, truly help them solve their problem?" Money aside and just asking questions. "Hey, Jack, what's important to you in a commercial landscaper," as an example, if I'm talking to a property manager. "How important is it that you get weekly status reports?" "How do you like to be communicated with? How often? What method?"
I would ask, and my team would ask, these types of questions before we even talk about siding, roofing, windows, doors, landscaping, tree service, enhancements. "Let's make sure that we're going to be a good fit together before we even talk about your main problem, why you had us out." So we're going to ask a ton of questions.
Some of the feedback we got, Jack, and I actually love this, but some of the feedback I would get when I was selling in the home, and then as I got out of in-home sales is, "Gosh. You ask a lot of questions." That meant I was doing my job. That meant my team was doing their job.
So what I mean by tactical empathy is really getting involved into the emotional side of things.
I like it. I agree with that. It's something that we coach our team at Ramblin Jackson on.
One of the people that I study is Dave Kurlan. Have you heard of Dave Kurlan?
I've heard that name, but I don't know much about Dave.
Yeah. He wrote the book Baseline Selling. One of my coaches, Wayne Herring, introduced me to him. He said that when you're selling, that it should be 70% the prospect talking and 30% you asking really great questions. A lot of times when I'm in a sales environment, I think about, at the end, "Well, where was I? Okay. I was at 40%, maybe I need to shut up." I found that visualizing that pie graph and thinking about that, and you really should be asking questions ...
Also sometimes letting people know, "Hey. We may not even end up being a fit for what you need." Then you can still help them, and also get out of there if it's not a fit for you.
Because I think one of the challenges that I find with a lot of landscapers is they feel like they need to sell to everyone. They feel obligated, because it's a referral, that they need to go through with all of these conversations, and maybe even creating estimates or designs even, when they know it's not a fit.
Did you ever have that experience, or do you ever find that other tradespeople have that experience?
Jack, you are 100% on it. I remember when I first started my company, and then even probably two years in, if somebody asked, "Hey. Can you do this?" our immediate response was, "Yes, absolutely. Absolutely," Even if we knew we weren't set up for it.
We executed because we found a way. We were incredible problem solvers. But here's what I soon realized. If I tried to be everything to all people all the time, actually I could be of true service to no one.
But you're exactly right. I think that, as business owners, we work so hard to deliver that wow experience, and then we get that referral. We're like, "Oh my gosh. Mrs. Smith gave me that referral. She's put her name on the line here. We've got to help."
What I learned is, and I actually train some of our clients as well on this, is if you're not set up for it, and you know you cannot deliver an exceptional client experience, you're doing yourself and the client a massive disservice by even having the conversation.
Instead of spending time going through something you know you can't execute and you know you won’t deliver, it's best to just simply say, "You know what, Mrs. Smith? I greatly appreciate Mrs. Ferrell's referral. As much as I would love to help you, unfortunately, we're just not set up for that. My reputation is going to be at stake if we try that and fail. It's just not a proposition that I'm willing to risk."
I love it.
You gotta be willing to say no. No is a complete sentence.
I want to back up for just a moment. You said 60/40 or 70/30 on the speaking and questions. I have found that if you ask a prospect a question and you don't have anything else to say, guess what the next best question is. "Tell me more. What made you say that? What makes you feel that way? Help me understand that a little bit more." "Why? Why did you say that? Why do you feel that?" You get five whys out, you get to the true answer here.
But yes. I've seen it happen many, many times. One thing we cannot get back is our most precious asset, and that's time. It took me a long time to realize that. But if I know we're not a good fit, I'm not going to waste your time or ours.
In fact, in a selling presentation, I'm going to give the prospect permission, and it goes like this. "Jack, listen. As we talk today, I hope that we're able to solve some of your problems, but I want to give you permission that if at any point in time you feel as though we're not a good fit, I want you to raise your hand. I want you to stop me and simply let me know, 'Hey. I don't think we should move forward.' Does that sound fair?"
I love it.
I've never had a single prospect ever say to me, Jack, "No, that's not fair." So when I get their commitment that they will do that, it's perfect then to say, "Now, Jack, now that you feel comfortable, I also want to let you know if I also determine that we can't serve you, I'm going to stop the meeting, and I'm going to let you know. Is that also okay with you?" Do you know how much time I saved in my life by doing that? Countless hours.
Door-to-door Sales Training
I love it. That's something that I learned also. I learned it ...
Prior to pressing record, I learned that you, like me, had some experience with door-to-door sales. I'm curious. Did you learn any of that in your door-to-door sales training, or where did you learn about that method?
There's Sandler who calls it the ultimate upfront contract. I learned from my sales manager at the dairy farm, I was a milkman, to call it a verbal agreement. But it's ultimately ... I talk to my team about putting no on the table early.
I like it, because then if it's a no, if we need to come back to it, "Hey. Earlier when I mentioned if I wasn't able to help you, I might need to let you know that, what I've learned is that you need a service we don't even offer." Then you could build in whatever else you said about your reputation. "Would it be okay if I referred you to somebody that specializes in this?" Boom. Now, I'm out of there. I didn't blow any relationships, and I've saved the time.
Where did you learn about it?
Before we get into that, I'm going to just address the, "Would you mind if I made a referral?" Making a quality referral to someone is actually still serving them.
That's what I think that too many landscapers or contractors are like, "I don't want to refer anybody out because," number one, they may not know that person. But you've got to go through a process of building a strong referral network, number one. But number two, actually making a referral is a way to serve someone. I let them know that as well upfront.
But to answer your original question, my door-to-door sales was Yellow Pages. I don't know the demographics of your audience, but most people don't know what the Yellow Pages are. That's the original search engine.
Oh, they know.
Oh, they do know. Okay.
Yeah, for sure.
That's the original search engine.
As far as the original search engine goes, a lot of my clients have been around. Maybe some of them are even the second or third generation owner. I've come to learn ... One of them has Alpine in their name. The reason was to rank at the top of the list in the phone book. That's where we see ABC Plumbing, or A1 Landscapes, or All American 1, 2, 3, or whatever. So for sure, the Yellow Pages. Yeah. That's an interesting thing.
One of my clients, they're the owner, the founder rather, at this point. His question was always, "Hey. How are the phones?" That was the question. The new owner, his son, is like, "Well, actually, Dad, we designed the website so the phone doesn't ring. We schedule people online to our calendar. It eliminates a lot of wasted phone calls." So the phone book, yeah, it's amazing how much things have changed from the phone book era.
But those were some of your experience was selling Yellow Pages ads to businesses.
Yeah, absolutely. Before I got into selling Yellow Pages, I worked in the mortgage business. When I moved from Florida up to Raleigh, North Carolina in the mortgage industry, my girlfriend at the time, who's now my wife, I moved there with her, and the mortgage crisis was in full swing. We had just moved to a new market. That company shut down. So I looked at my girlfriend at the time, and she goes, "What now? New city. You convinced me to come here. You have no job. What now?"
I didn't know what to do, Jack, but I said to myself, "Okay. Well, cool. What are the two things that people generally hate to do? Cook and clean." So from my apartment community, I went and created some flyers, from the business center, and I created a cleaning business.
It was that entry into entrepreneurship where I was able to then connect with business owners, and I really said, "What's important to you in a janitorial service? How important is it that you have someone here all day long, in your car dealership, cleaning up, to make sure that you look like a five star dealership?" So it was some AT&T and then it was just repetition.
How To Deliver a Wow Experience
Yeah. I love it.
Well, tell me about delivering wow client experiences. For people listening, we've talked about how important experience is. What are some of the ways that maybe landscape companies can deliver a wow experience?
Yeah. I'm going to give you something here that I think your listeners, if they go take action on this, can really help them out. That's to spend some time what I call going through a customer journey or mapping exercise.
We've got to, first, have a baseline understanding that customer service is different than customer experience. Customer service is the response to an individual event. Customer service is doing what's expected. Equate customer service to manners, being polite, just doing what you should.
Here's the problem. Customer service produces satisfied customers. Jack, your listeners and your clients need to hear this. A satisfied customer's a liability, man, because a satisfied customer is not the one that's going to be going out and championing, and being a raving fan for you.
So we've got to create exceptional customer experiences from every single touchpoint. How they interact with you online. Do they get all of the videos and all of the information on their website upfront? What's the user experience from their website? What happens when they reach out to you? Do you send them ...
Let's say, for example, it's a remodeling project, and that person's interested in a siding replacement. Perhaps if they select what they're interested in, they automatically get a PDF, How to Select the Best Siding Contractor. Maybe it's a commercial landscape bid, and they get automated PDFs and brochures about how to make the best selection for a commercial landscaper, what questions to ask your commercial landscaper. You're giving them all of this information upfront.
Then what happens after they call you? Do you have scripting, or do you have multiple people answering the phone? What's that journey look like? Then okay, how about when we set the appointment? Do they get an automated email with a video from the sales rep, or even better, from the owner? Do they get an automated text message? What happens?
These are all things that can be implemented really low cost to send out.
How about when you're on the way to an appointment? Contact that prospect. "Hey. It's Clifton with ABC Landscaping. I'm on the way to your office. Is there anything you'd like for me to know? Would you like for me to stop and get anything? Have you had lunch? Have you had breakfast?"
I know that might sound crazy to some people, but do you know how busy people are in the property management space? Sometimes they get to work, and their phones are blowing up, and they look at their calendar like, "I got a meeting with Jack in 30 minutes. I haven't eaten a single thing." But if Jack called me on the way and says, "Hey. I'm on the way. Have you had breakfast? Do you need anything? I could stop by the store," those are things that are different. Guess what. Those are things that people remember.
Then after you meet with them, do a demo, do a presentation, do you send a thank you card? Every single one of our prospects got a thank you card. Now, we've automated that process since, because we had a lot of prospects, and that was a lot of handwriting. But we've automated the thank you cards with automated technology and things like that, with robots and stuff, which is pretty cool. But do they get thank you cards?
What about if they agree to do business with you? Does someone from your client experience team pick up the phone? "Hey, Jack. Welcome to the family. Just want to let you know you've made an amazing decision. We can't wait to work with you."
For people listening who use something like Service Autopilot, or if they even have Constant Contact or MailChimp or ... ActiveCampaign as the tool I use. Some of my clients use HubSpot. That could be an automated email. One of the things that I love that you mentioned was the use of video. Video is something that we use personally at Ramblin Jackson in our client experience, and then we're coaching our clients on doing it.
Because especially if you sell a landscape design service that might take multiple months, when people get to a later phase, and they forgot that they're at the plant selection phase or the material selection phase or whatever it is, and the impact that can have on the timeline, and a quick little video that's like, "Hey. We're at the plant selection phase, which means that we're going to select these plants. We need to order them." All those little things can be templatized and automated, and they're inexpensive.
The thank you notes. We do a ton of thank you notes. I'm all about it, man. Some of them are actually handwritten. They make sense to spend the time.
There are services. I actually had somebody who attended one of my events message me on Instagram. They're like, "Hey, dude. Did you write this, or is this automated?" I was like, "Well, since you asked, this one actually was automated." So it's hard to even tell in a lot of the cases.
I love it. I love those little touches along the way. Help people feel good about working with you.
Absolutely. Jack, one of the things you mentioned about video ... We created an experience before our sales team got to the house, where the sales rep would send out an automated video introducing him or herself, setting expectations in advance. "Hey. When I get there today, here's what we're going to do. This is the process."
Then when we got there and we did that, guess what we did. We immediately established trust. Immediately. I told you what we were going to do, and now you've seen firsthand that I've executed on it.
I just sent bacon to many of my clients.
Who doesn't like bacon?
I don't know. I don't know. If you don't like bacon, something's up.
But yeah, for sure. Sending gifts and rewarding people. For landscape projects, I actually just had a newsletter article about this, there's so many obvious gifts. If you do an outdoor kitchen for someone, one of the things I use is a wireless meat thermometer. They're $100. Send somebody something like that.
We'll put links to everything you just mentioned in the show notes, everyone, so check that out.
Clifton Muckenfuss, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Jack, I greatly appreciate the time. Go be great.
There were so many nuggets in today's show about having a verbal agreement where you're putting no on the table, and giving your client permission to tell you no, and giving yourself permission to tell them no. And serving people through referrals.
Selling to the right customer is so important to delivering a great experience for not only the customer, but also your employees. When you're spreading your team really thin, saying yes to everyone, it can contribute to employee retention and culture problems. So say, "Hell, yes," to your hell yes customers, and politely refer people who are not a fit for what you do. I love that.
And the customer experience, some of the things we talked about are sending gifts or even sending emails with videos. All of these things are very helpful ideas.
Thanks so much to Clifton for coming on the show.
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My name is Jack Jostes. I look forward to talking to you next week on The Landscaper's Guide.