In my years of experience in the landscape industry, I’ve come to believe account managers can be one of the most important differentiating advantages for our companies. After all, they are the face of your company to your clients and represent the “special sauce” of your organization.
In the world of landscape account management, there are many balls to juggle. On one side, we’re responsible for building client loyalty through delivering great customer service. On the other side, we have to focus on the crews to make sure they’re trained to produce the work in a safe and productive manner. Combine these responsibilities with a large book of business and our challenging labor climate, and the job can become a bit challenging at times.
For many years the role of the account manager was handled by one person. As the industry has evolved many companies have begun to split the duties into two separate roles or positions.
One position faces the client and is responsible for managing the client relationship. This person is called the client relationship manager or CRM. The other role faces the crew and is responsible for training and productivity (field operations manager or FOM).
Both models have merit and challenges. Let examine the pros and cons of each.
One person model
When one person handles the client relationship and the crew productivity, he is in control of the resources and assets that can enable him to respond quickly to client requests and quality concerns by scheduling or dispatching a crew to solve problems. In addition, he or she can easily close the communication loop with the customers by letting them know when service requests have been completed.
The simplicity of this model offers some obvious benefits, but there are some inherent flaws. The weakness of this model begins with the sheer volume of responsibilities and tasks the account manager has to manage daily. Between the many customer requests and sometimes under-trained or undependable labor, the account manager can become torn as to which direction to focus on any given day. When the crews are in need, the customer may suffer; when there are customer issues, the quality and productivity of the crews may suffer.
Our personalities add to the complexity. We’re all designed with inherent strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are more people oriented and others more production oriented. When the rush of the urgent comes into play, we gravitate toward our strengths and away from our weaknesses. Customer-minded people will tend to retreat to client relationships, while production-minded people will grab the pruning shears and head out to help the crews at the expense of the client relationship.
Some companies have begun to realize that it’s difficult to find superhuman account managers who handle both areas well. They have chosen to focus individuals’ talents toward their strengths by splitting up the role.
Two person model
By breaking out the duties into two roles, owners are looking for more focused client relationship attention that, in theory, allows for better relationship building, more effective customer service and the ability to sell more enhancements. By dedicating resources to field operations, the objective is to be more effective at training crews, managing quality and managing safety and productivity.
The weaknesses in the dual role model is twofold. First, communication between the CRM and the FOM is critical and is the key link to ensuring the client’s needs are met. This concern can be mitigated through proper procedures and communication protocols. Second, it’s in the economics. The idea is that 1 + 1 needs to equal 3. In other words, we can’t just add additional overhead to be successful. The dual model needs to allow our team to sell and produce more higher quality work, retain more clients and produce more gross profit.
Which model is best for you? That depends on your current market, type of work and bench strength in your account manager ranks.
Remember, your account manager is the face of your company and should be one of your greatest differentiating factors in business. Be sure to put your best face forward this year.