A Lesson In Customer Service

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If you’ve never Googled yourself, you’re in for a surprise. You’re bound to stumble onto articles or comments you’ve written, groups and organizations to which you belong and at least one old photograph you figured was long gone years ago. Having your life story available to the world is a little unsettling at first, but your information is also the key to reestablishing old friendships, promoting your work or referencing facts of your past.

A Google search can be equally beneficial to your greenhouse operation, connecting Web users − potential customers–to your site. But users can only be connected if you have a site for them to visit. And in my hunt for basic information about some of our Top 100 Growers, I discovered a handful of them don’t even have websites.

Even more astounding, when I tried to reach a few Top 100 Growers by phone, it was impossible to circumvent their automated phone systems and get an actual person on the line. I also found a few growers don’t have their phone information available on the Web. All of these are problems.

Why The Web?

Fortunately for the growers, my frustration is as an editor/reporter, not a customer. When I visit grower websites and make phone calls, it’s to round up information to tell a story. Growers are free to share their stories, or they can say thanks anyway. They should not, however, turn potential customers away–but that’s what they’re doing because of a lack of information on the Web, an automated phone system without end or an unreturned call.

If I’m agitated simply trying to round up statistics for a report, how do you think customers who are serious about doing business with you feel when they can’t even track down a receptionist?

The bright side is most Top 100 Growers–and even some small and mid-sized growers–understand the importance of websites and basic customer service. Woodburn Nursery & Azaleas, ranked 19th on our Top 100 Grower list this year, has a simple, yet effective website at WoodburnNursery.com that other growers should look to as a template.

You don’t need all the bells and whistles of an ESPN.com to share your greenhouse operation’s story, a list of inventory and contact information. That’s what Woodburn shares. Keep your site simple to start so you at least have somewhere current and potential customers can turn, and build as you go–just as you would any other aspect of your business.

An argument growers use against the Web is that they have an established customer base that won’t be changing anytime soon. So why, they ask, would they build and maintain websites?

One possible answer: The Web today is customer service at its most basic. We rely just as much on websites, email and other computer-based services as we do contact in person and by phone. Not having a website today is along the lines of not having a phone. Imagine the potential you have on hold without one.

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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