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View Full Version : Bad Customer Warning signs?


fga
02-18-2004, 07:22 PM
Is there something you see or notice on an estimate that makes you think twice? Like last year, this couple pull up and tell me they live a few blocks away and that they see i do great work. It took about 3 weeks for us to finally meet for an estimate (i wanted her there, so no ????). her grass was about 3 feet tall, no exaggeration! She complained about the previous guy alot. I'm thinking to myself, why did this lady wait so long waiting for and not get someone else? Now I know, she burns each guy she gets every year, I just wasn't told by the other LCO in the hood. What other signs are there the grass being out of control(in a nice neighborhood).

turfsolutions
02-18-2004, 07:45 PM
#1 sign, they put price ahead of quality, especially if they try and talk you down.

PLI1
02-18-2004, 07:47 PM
Someone that won't sign a contract.
Like you said before, when the customer complains about the last LCO they hired, or the guy who painted the deck ect.. Don't ever think you are special and they won't think up ways to complain about you either.
Someone that is only concerned about low price, and not much about quality of work.
Someone who appears topheavy in their spending habits. Ie. Huge house, 2 brand new fancy cars in the garage, but they use a picnic bench as a dining room table and hardly any furniture in the rest of the house. I've seen this many times where people try to look like millionaires on the outside, but in reality they are in debt up to their a$$.
Sometimes its hard to smell trouble on the horizon, but many times my gut instinct has saved my butt. But on the other hand I've done work for people I was extremely leery of and they have ended up to be great customers. I guess what I'm trying to say is I think many times you can avoid trouble, but there are times when you think you have gotten yourself in trouble and end up delightfully surprised and other times you will get stiffed from someone you would never have thought of. Thats part of the joy of business ownership.

Tonyr
02-18-2004, 08:32 PM
What turfsolutions said....

locutus
02-18-2004, 08:35 PM
Add no pay, slow pay to that list.

DUSTYCEDAR
02-18-2004, 08:43 PM
anybody that pulls up to the curb and wont get out to talk with me can kiss my *** when i get there and see super tall grass is a second strike and if they even mention price before i get to it can find someone else

Turfdude
02-18-2004, 08:44 PM
Try to find out why the other LCO wasn't acceptable. If it was not showing up, they may not have been paying their bills. If they've been through 6 guys in 6 years, then this is also a sign.

LawnPerfect
02-18-2004, 08:44 PM
If they drive a Kia then I always quote high. But somethimes this bites me in the a$$ and I get stuck with them anyway when they accept it.
I used to work as a service advisor at a Ford and Kia dealership. Three words- KIA OWNERS SUCK!

Tonyr
02-18-2004, 09:00 PM
I better not get that 1.5 ton payload Kia truck I was lookin at then LOL! Just jokin with ya :)

goodbeus
02-19-2004, 06:01 AM
Experience...after being in business for a number of years, you'll notice a pattern for these dead-beats...I usually charge high and make them pay up front before I do anything...new clients I make them pay up front as well, seems to weed-out the dead-beats...

TwoBrothersLC
02-19-2004, 06:26 AM
I keep wondering is there isn't a useful way to communicate with the other LCOs about customers. I know we are competing, but there are just some things that should be common knowledge. I wouldn't want to wish a couple of my "former" customers on anyone.

gator-town
02-19-2004, 06:56 AM
Experience...after being in business for a number of years, you'll notice a pattern for these dead-beats...

though contracts are the best way to do biz if you have any doubts about getting paid either blow them off completely or do it on a cash per visit basis ... it is always flattering when out of nowhere someone walks up to you and wants you to sweat in their yard ... hell, this is what we do and it did not cost me a dime to advertise ... just do not wait till you have made 6 visits to realize all that sweat was for not ... if you are a contract only LCO then make it so ... if a contract is not what they want, them as a client is most likely not what you want ... my last proposal was to a lady who was changing LCO's because she did not understand their billing practices, that is, they send an invoice and she sends a check ... bid that one high ... no call back yet ... experience in dealing with people for many years has hardened me to the fact that it takes all kinds of people to make this world and if you live in it long enough someone will get by your instincts and your only recourse is to sharpen your skills or take it up the ars .

jajwrigh
02-19-2004, 07:00 AM
If people won't sign service agreements, and try to get you do extra things for the same price they are going to be trouble!

mow2nd
02-19-2004, 07:44 AM
You never really know..........good luck

Rick Danger
02-19-2004, 08:46 AM
If someone calls me and says they are shopping for prices, I don't even call them back. Also, if they say the last guy they hsd was too expensive give them a nice highball and say the hell with it.
In general, my rule is whenever I have a bad feeling about a job or a potential coustomer, it's right about 90% of the time. I try to go with my gut feeling.
I also agree with Dustycedar, if they pull up in their car, honk the horn and expect you to drop what you are doing and run over there, you probably don't want to work for them.

Gabriel Turf
02-19-2004, 09:00 AM
When you pull up to a property and it looks bad you should know that that level of quality is what the customer will accept. Don't expect to try to sell them services down the line to make the prop look nice. If it already looks like crap it will take you two years to make it look really nice and start to get referals. Move on to the next customer.

The only time I find this not to be true is when the person has just moved in and they are wanting the yard to be renovated.

lawnworker
02-19-2004, 09:30 AM
The top five for me are these. Note, potential Customer's comments are in quotes


1. "I only want it cut once a month"

2. "The last guy did it for twenty"

3. " The last guy I had won't answer the phone or return my call"

4. You look at the back yard and it is half dirt

5. "I will call you when it's ready"

brucec32
02-21-2004, 02:55 AM
Originally posted by PLI1
Someone that won't sign a contract.
Like you said before, when the customer complains about the last LCO they hired, or the guy who painted the deck ect.. Don't ever think you are special and they won't think up ways to complain about you either.
Someone that is only concerned about low price, and not much about quality of work.
Someone who appears topheavy in their spending habits. Ie. Huge house, 2 brand new fancy cars in the garage, but they use a picnic bench as a dining room table and hardly any furniture in the rest of the house. I've seen this many times where people try to look like millionaires on the outside, but in reality they are in debt up to their a$$.
Sometimes its hard to smell trouble on the horizon, but many times my gut instinct has saved my butt. But on the other hand I've done work for people I was extremely leery of and they have ended up to be great customers. I guess what I'm trying to say is I think many times you can avoid trouble, but there are times when you think you have gotten yourself in trouble and end up delightfully surprised and other times you will get stiffed from someone you would never have thought of. Thats part of the joy of business ownership.

You lead with "wont' sign contract" Oh puhleese. You're just ill that you get resistance from people when you request signed contracts.

I've had many customers that were fantastic and never had signed contracts. Many people are distrustful of us because of so many bad apples. I don't blame them. I wouldn't sign for a year's worth of anything with someone I have never dealt with before. But being cautious about entering an agreement doesnt' make someone a bad customer. And most of these contracts are for such small amounts and troublesome to enforce that you're not going to force someone to pay up anyway. I've had less than $500 of bad debt in 12 years. If you did the work, you don't need a contract to collect. And if someone doesn't want you on their property, no contract is going to make them continue to pay you when they don't want you.

I would venture that demanding signed contracts on small residentials costs LCO's more in lost sales and revenue than it ever saves them in cancellations or bad debts. It's a HUGE negative when selling. I hear the words "I'm so glad you didn't want me to sign a contract" a lot. It allows me to charge a little more than the guy who hits them up with all sorts of demands and conditions.

People who do bad work need contracts more than people who do good work.

brucec32
02-21-2004, 02:56 AM
The number one, all time, bad sign is........

someone who calls to get the lawn mowed and doesn't ask about your price. Why? Because they don't plan on ever paying you anyway.

goodbeus
02-21-2004, 06:50 AM
I agree with you bruce about clients not wanting a contract...I have very good clients who pay by the cut and rarely have a problem...usually after a few months or so, they get tired of paying every week and either sign a contract or become invoice clients, who pay at the beginning of the month before I do anything:D

GarPA
02-21-2004, 07:27 AM
1. too much discussion over price

2. the reason they give you why the last guy is no longer doing the property is vague or seems fishy

3. you have to chase them more than once to sign the agreement

4. you detect they kind of look down their nose at our industry(this might be the worst one of all in my experience)

cush
02-21-2004, 09:34 AM
They say they don't have money but ask if you will take a check. lol:D

Hodge
02-21-2004, 09:42 AM
The call and ask for a "on the phone" estimate and then try to get you to lower the price.... even if you have not see the property yet.

bobbygedd
02-21-2004, 10:11 AM
what hodge said, and what gar said about "chasing them" for a signature. if they are reluctant to sign, they must have something up thier sleeve.

PLI1
02-21-2004, 10:35 AM
bruce32, are you saying that if you landed a 50K landscape installation job, you wouldn't make them sign a contract. I happen to like to cover my a$$. When a customer doesn't pay, having a signed document protects me much more than heresay and a handshake. As far as weekly mowing customers, my contract states they can cancel if they wish during the season if they want to. I don't like anyone to feel like they are stuck with our service if they don't want it. Many of my customers I've had between 10-25 years. Contracts have worked well for me. If they don't for you, well that's your business.

dkeisala
02-21-2004, 10:35 AM
Originally posted by Turfdude
Try to find out why the other LCO wasn't acceptable. If it was not showing up, they may not have been paying their bills. If they've been through 6 guys in 6 years, then this is also a sign. I always ask why they weren't happy with their last lco and how much they were paying. If they find this too forward, I simply tell them I want to make sure that if they should select us to provide their service we have a clear understand and open line of communication so these past problems don't repeat themselves in the future.

As far as extremely tall grass, I think this is a pride thing. If you let your lawn get THAT out of hand before doing SOMETHING, you don't really give a crap what the place looks like. Those are the people that are going to put the screws to you when it comes to price.

dkeisala
02-21-2004, 10:51 AM
Originally posted by PLI1
bruce32, are you saying that if you landed a 50K landscape installation job, you wouldn't make them sign a contract. I happen to like to cover my a$$. When a customer doesn't pay, having a signed document protects me much more than heresay and a handshake. As far as weekly mowing customers, my contract states they can cancel if they wish during the season if they want to. I don't like anyone to feel like they are stuck with our service if they don't want it. Many of my customers I've had between 10-25 years. Contracts have worked well for me. If they don't for you, well that's your business. Contracts seem to be a source of contention on this site. The topic rates up there with which truck/engine/mower/power tool do you prefer. I've yet to decipher a clear agreement on any of these topics.

The negative side of the contract debate seems to be that customers hate contracts. Well, so do I but you can't get a cell phone with out signing one and who doesn't have one of these? A properly worded contract is a tool of protection for the customer as well as the lco. It is a document that should spell out what is expected of both parties. Then if questions should arise down the road, you have a point of reference. A proper contract shouldn't be weighted towards one particular side. It's poorly written and lop-sided contracts that give them a bad name.

I don't attempt to lock people into a yearly agreement but require they sign one anyhow. I use levelized billing and I want to make sure I get compensated for all services rendered. Hey, people die, divorve and move on short notice. Simply give them a fair way to get out of the thing while protecting your ability to get paid and no one should have any problem signing a contract.

GarPA
02-21-2004, 02:03 PM
I;ve said this so many times it makes my teeth hurt...if we change the word contracts to something like "agreement" that usually reduces their fear of the word contract. We have never had a problem with agreements with new customers. Its all in how we present it. Pointing out that the agreement outlines exactly what we will do for you, when we will do it, and what the fee is, should not be a problem for any nw customer. I know if I were hiring a guy who I dont know, from who knows where, to maintain my landscape, for the better part of a year, I;d sure as hell want the details in writing. Agreements work for both parties..if you sell it that way

dkeisala
02-21-2004, 02:37 PM
Originally posted by GarPA
I;ve said this so many times it makes my teeth hurt...if we change the word contracts to something like "agreement" that usually reduces their fear of the word contract. We have never had a problem with agreements with new customers. Its all in how we present it. Pointing out that the agreement outlines exactly what we will do for you, when we will do it, and what the fee is, should not be a problem for any nw customer. I know if I were hiring a guy who I dont know, from who knows where, to maintain my landscape, for the better part of a year, I;d sure as hell want the details in writing. Agreements work for both parties..if you sell it that way Contracts or agreements require due diligence and specific performance on BOTH parties parts which give the client an out if the service provider they sign on for ends up not providing the services as agreed. If this is the case, the lco would be in breach of contract and the client is therefore released from that agreement. It is important customers know this as this offers them a very important element of protection.

brucec32
03-01-2004, 04:37 PM
Originally posted by PLI1
bruce32, are you saying that if you landed a 50K landscape installation job, you wouldn't make them sign a contract. I happen to like to cover my a$$. When a customer doesn't pay, having a signed document protects me much more than heresay and a handshake. As far as weekly mowing customers, my contract states they can cancel if they wish during the season if they want to. I don't like anyone to feel like they are stuck with our service if they don't want it. Many of my customers I've had between 10-25 years. Contracts have worked well for me. If they don't for you, well that's your business.

Of course not. Maybe my point of view is different. I'm a solo lawn maintenance operator and thought this was the forum for maintenance, not the landscaping forum. Landscaping and big dollar maintenance deals are another thing altogether. But If I get stiffed for half a month's work (the most that is technically possible with my billing system) it won't be more than $200 or so anyway.

PS; oh yeah, it's not like I don't put the "agreement" in writing. I have a quote form where all the specs and conditions are clear, as well as a payment terms sheet they get which spells that out. I simply don't require them to sign anything. Since that spooks them. If there's ever a question, I can whip out a copy of the quote form and show they what we agreed to.
The bill arrives on the 1st for that month. It's late after the 15th. Service is suspended after that till I'm paid. And if they're habitually late I find another customer. I've had a few cancel with short notice over the years, but very few, and I'm not so starved for cash that I didn't appreciate the extra time off anyway for a week or two until I filled the slot again.

Contracts are fine, and are necessary in a lot of situations, like in big dollar situations. But I can sue in small claims court anyway for the work I do, with or without a contract. And if they claim I didn't do the work no piece of paper is going to tell the judge I did, only that I was supposed to.

Remember the topic here. Someone being wary of contracts doesn't make them a bad customer by any means. And I'm telling you from experience and observation, hitting people up with all sorts of legalistic looking demands and conditions when you're trying to sell them a service that 50 other guys are providing in your same area just means you'll have to work that much harder to get the business. And a handshake deal also does a lot to show the customer that you are confident that they will be happy and satisfied. Why do you think Health Clubs try to lock new customers into long term contracts? Because they know they will lose interest and not want to use the service after a few weeks or months, that's why!

As for having customers 10-25 years, you just made my point. These people you don't need a contract with anyway. And the ones who you do need contracts with to keep them honest are the very ones for which in many cases a contract isn't worth anything anyway. I know that I'm not going to court to make Mr. Smith pay me the $100 he owes me after he cancels with no notice. And I'm certainly not going to think the judge will force him to pay and me to mow the lawn until the notice period is fullfilled.

I have observed guys who have not mown a single blade of grass for pay before waving their newly minted contracts in customers' faces. Many of them come here and complain that business is too competitive and it's hard to get customers. Gee, I wonder why? I got enough customers to make a living my first year and have barely had to advertise since then. I think at least part of that is due to the fact that I made a good presentation, including not hitting prospects up with any negatives like contracts. So instead of having a 30% close rate, it's more like 80%.

My point is that while they may be nice to have, insisting on them for what I think here is the typical customer (small/medium residential) is probably counterproductive, even though it may help you sleep better at night.

I find keeping a good handle on Accounts Receiveable is a better way to make sure you dont' get screwed. Some guys with contracts rely on them for security while letting customers get 90 days or more behind. Now that's scary.

MWHC
03-01-2004, 04:58 PM
Well said brucec32.

impactlandscaping
03-01-2004, 05:34 PM
On the commercial side of things: Be wary of properties that change ownership or management companies on a frequent basis.Case in point-I get a call from an apartment complex, 350 units, for a full maintenence package-Mowing, fert program,mulching, color rotations,shrub trimming, and tree skirting.Called a few buddies who do spray service only to sub out the fert. program, and no one would take it b/c of being stiffed by the different management companies on more than one occassion.I also talked to a friend who did the mowing at this site before, and he was stiffed on four month's of work.$ 40K sounds good until you have to work even harder to chase your money down. Gut feelings tell you to skip on this kind of PITA, so I did.

trying 2b organic
03-01-2004, 07:30 PM
good post bruce and after reading what garpa and others have said in the past I went with a Service Agreement that clearly states that one policy is that they cannot cancel a cut when I show up at the door but they can cancel the service with notice anytime and only owe for all work completed to that date.

I feel re-assured that this is the way to go for residential.:cool:

Premo Services
03-01-2004, 08:18 PM
Originally posted by turfsolutions
#1 sign, they put price ahead of quality, especially if they try and talk you down.

DITTO DITTO DITTO DITTO, for eternity

Or how about the one that will be getting the estimate in the spring and after you give the price, he tells you that you can come every two weeks :eek: :mad:

Lawn Dog2001
03-01-2004, 08:39 PM
If when you go to the estimate they have a Gas shutoff notice taped to the door Run!!!!!!!:eek:

That honest to God happened to me once. I didnt even knock at the door after I saw it. I just got in the truck and peeled tire halfway up the street leaving!

LLMSERVICE
03-01-2004, 09:38 PM
The first sign is if they want to haggle. I walk away from hagglers.

The second is if they have grand installation ideas...than add, "...but I don't want to spend more than $250.00."

The third is any sign of financial instability. I had a client years ago who racked up the bill and claimed she needed the money to pay for cancer treatment instead of paying me. Considering we have free health care in Canada, that one didn't carry very well with me. She almost had a convincing "I didn't know it was free" look on her face too.

If they don't make me suspicious and I sign them up, the final sign is they try to haggle when they get the invoice.

Nova
03-03-2004, 12:02 AM
If you give them the estimate in November and they call you back in February.