On-Farm Customer Relations
Customers visit your farm or ranch for the experience. Direct your attention to the best ways to make your visitors/customers feel welcome and comfortable. You want them to return as well as to tell others about your operation. Remember that your best promotion tool is word of mouth.
Staff training is an essential component in ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction. Staff must be knowledgeable about your operation, your services and products as well as the amenities available in local area. They should become familiar with area attractions, local restaurants and accommodations. Also, your employees should be easily identified by their dress and nametags.
This Community Data Bank quiz is designed to aid in assessing both your staff's and your knowledge of the local community:
Community Data Bank
Can you answer the questions tourists most frequently ask about your community and the surrounding area?
- Are there any museums or historical sites in the community?
- What kinds of lodging accommodations are available?
- Can you recommend a good place to eat?
- Are there any local activities or special events occurring in the next two days?
- Where can I get service for my car?
- Where will I find tourist information?
- What and where are the local recreational activities and parks?
- Are there any other local tours available?
- Where are the local retail stores located?
- What is it like living in this community?
Source: Michigan State University Extension Bulletin E-2064, 1987.
Welcome each customer with enthusiasm and a smile.
For example, say "Hi, my name is_______. Welcome to _________."
Ask how you can assist them. Say, "How may I help you? May I direct you to_____?" Be pleasant, courteous and sincere.
Explain what your facility offers, for example, "The produce stand featuring our own ____ is here, the tour meets over there, and the bathrooms are around the corner."
Always have time for your customers.
Be sure to post prices for products and services so that they are easily visible to customers. Use simple per item or per pound charges. State the methods of payment you accept (cash, check, charge). Also state your return check policy.
Vary product quantities and sizes. Indicate whether you provide recipes, recommendations for preserving the product for long drives, and whether or not you ship your products.
Educate your customer. Assist them in selecting the best product for their needs and explain what qualities are more desirable for different purposes. Answer questions about how the product was grown and processed. Explain what makes your product better or different than others on the market?
Place smaller sale items on higher shelves making these items more difficult to reach/shoplift. Popular items should be placed in constant view of the cashier.
Recipes and Handouts
Check with your commodity board for recipes and handouts. Some commodity boards also have promotion posters to add to your display.
Work with a local chef to develop and offer recipes for the commodity you sell/promote. Also search the web for recipes.
U-Pick operations need signs delineating which area of the field is available to pick, how to pick without damaging the plants, and where to walk between the plants to cause as little damage as possible. You may want to post a sign about over-picking that says, "Only pick what you intend to buy.
However, if you discover you picked a little extra, please bring the extra produce to us. Please do not throw it on the ground."
Customer Mailing List
Consider using a guest book where visitors can add their names to a mailing list. The mailing list can later be used to send your newsletter or reminder notices.
Monitoring Customer Behavior
Organize your store, facility or U-Pick operation so that there is only one entrance and one exit to monitor. For a U-Pick, this may mean temporary fencing or ropes around the field with the entrance/exit located near the parking area. Eliminate the opportunity for customers to walk directly from the picking area to their cars. If you suspect a customer has shoplifted, immediately contact the local authorities and provide the car license number, make, model and a description of the person. DO NOT try to stop the person yourself. This only upsets you and the customer and may result in an argument or worse in front of other customers.
To reduce the risk of car theft or break in, employee parking should be separate and away from the public parking area.
Improvements in customer satisfaction require good listening and communication skills. Find out what visitors like. Ask them how you can improve your services. Have short, easy to complete comment or suggestion cards that customers can drop in a suggestion box.
Create a self-assessment checklist for yourself and staff. Meet regularly to review your performance.
Dealing with Customer Concerns
Visitors are sometimes in search of empathy and a solution to their own problems. If they have complaints or concerns, listen to their problems or frustrations without interruption. Ease the situation by remaining calm and attempting to understand the problem completely. Calmly ask questions to ensure that everyone understands the situation. Suggest several options and give the visitor the courtesy of making their own decision.
This Fact Sheet was produced by Desmond Jolly, Cooperative Extension agricultural economist and director, UC Small Farm Program; and Denise Skidmore, member of the Agriculture and Nature Tourism Workgroup.