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2nd Customer Comlaint of the Year... how would you handle it?

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by Mower For Less, Sep 1, 2005.

  1. Mower For Less

    Mower For Less LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 823

    Alright, got a different customer this time. Earlier in the year, he put some Lexan over his little basement escape door pit on the side of the house (I hope you guys know what I'm talking about? Its code on all new construction for basements to have exits - thats the one I'm talking about). He had animals getting into it, and couldnt get back out, so he covered the whole thing with clear Lexan. Did this in the early spring. Heat of the summer came, caused it to expand, and cracked it in 2 places. Nobody else goes by there but us, so he thought we did it. I looked at it, and it was pretty clear it was a stress crack from the expansion of the sun beating on it all day, and no ability for the mounting locations to give. I was in plastics for nearly 10 years before moving to running my own business, so this is a subject I speak on with some authority. Well, due to lack of evidence on his part, and reasonable doubt that I may have been telling him the truth, he dropped it.

    Now, a couple months later he finds some damage on one of his glass block windows. Looks like a rock or stone flew into it, causeing the outer pane of glass to crack and spider web. Being that glass blocks (I think) are 7 layers thick, damage to the outer layer is really nothing more than aestetic, but it is a new house he just had built last year, so I can understand him being upset about it. Replacement is almost impossible without replacing the whole window, and that is really not necessary, nor is he asking that be done. However, the way he approached me on the subject has me a little irritated. He accused us of being careless, cutting too fast, and causing all this damage to his property (the Lexan, and now the Window). He said next year he will probably end up doing the lawn himself because there will be less damage that way.

    This is my take: It was an honest accident. Things happen. It was most likely a pebble or stone flung with the trimmer that caused the accident, because we usually mulch the whole yard. Even a homeowner with a trimmer could have done the same thing, its just the circumstances of the enviroment. I was not with my crew the day this happened, so I cannot attest for sure that is the case, but that is my best guess. The Lexan was not our fault, we did not do it, and I cant make him believe this apparently. We are NOT careless when we cut, we cut at normal speeds, we do not tear up the turf, and we do a nice job. Obviously my commercial mower is going to do the job faster than his 21" push mower, but I do no opperate recklessly or any faster than most LCO's.

    How do I convince him this was just an accident, it was not the result of careless or reckless behavior, and that I am sorry it happened? I would also like to convince him that the Lexan cracked due to its mounting, and through no fault of ours, but I think that is futile since he mounted it himself.

  2. sheshovel

    sheshovel LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 5,112

    Don't bother,don't say anything,just tell him it was a accident and sometimes these things happen and if he would like you to pay for the broken block you insurance should take care of the damage.If he drops you next year oh well .This guy is going to continue to find every little thing he can and blame your crew for it I would give him notice and drop him like a hot balloon.
  3. befnme

    befnme LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,413

    sheshovel is right.it sounds like he intended to drop you for the next anyway.i think he was just looking for all of the excuses he could find to justify his actions.he prob wants to save a few bucks and you give him someone that he can point the finger at and convince his wife to let him buy his own mower. :D
  4. chimmygew

    chimmygew LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 576

    If it were me and I had a new house with a broken window, I would want it fixed. I would turn it in to my insurance and have itfixed if itwere me. Take the high road. Word travels fast if you break something and don't fix it.
  5. Mower For Less

    Mower For Less LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 823

    Just so were all on the same page, these are obscured glass block basement windows. They are mortared in to the cement walls of the basement. Replacement is a big ordeal requiring busting out of the whole window. Its not that it can't be fixed, anyting is possible. But he and I both share the same feeling I am sure that replacing it could cause more damage than not replacing it. The cement is painted, so that would all need touching up as well to match. Its really an ordeal that I am sure he dosent want to be in.

    The question was not whether or not to replace the window, my concern is his thoughts that we are reckless. I picked him up as a customer last year, did about half a season of mowing (after house was just completed), and did his snow plowing through the winter. No complaints on any of that, but now this year he is getting very strange.

    And he already owns a mower, trimmer, and crappy blower.

  6. gorknoids

    gorknoids LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 316

    one of those injector-style windshield repair kits? Even if you had to back it up with a........Lexan plug?
  7. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    In my first few years I had my share of customers AND neighbors who for some reason ANYTIME something is broken, they ALWAYS blame the lawnguy. It didn't dawn on me for a year or two that it really was like that: EVERY time something broke, I got the blame...

    Much like yourself even thou I work solo, you never can be too sure as to how or who exactly broke it... Yes sure it IS possible I was doing my job with my mind somewhere off in the 'zone' and something breaks or gets broken and it WAS my fault but I honestly did NOT know it... Possible, but unlikely.

    To stop the bs about the ones who think I wouldn't tell... if I KNOW I broke it, I ALWAYS inform the customer at the time it happens. But then that is not the case here, or we wouldn't have a problem.

    One day it dawned on me it was ALWAYS from a small percent of the clientele while the LARGEST percent *NEVER* had a problem, and over time I understood said clients were the SAME people, meaning it apparently was not as random as I had at first thought because the LARGE percent of customers NEVER complained ... Thus if it was really my fault, then the problem would spread evenly throughout the customer base and if THAT were the case then I *might* be ok with it.

    If it were the case of a brain-dead maneuver, this COULD happen but it would be an exception, so like once every 5 or 10 years I would understand but no, over time I realized it DID happen just a LITTLE more often than it really should. I used to get all concerned and go out and look at their 'problem' and then comes this crap about who is going to fix it and one day it REALLY pissed me off and I had had enough of this. From that day on, I had a new rule: I am NOT responsible for anything that is broken due to ANY reason (except gross or intentional negligence which is a bit I reserve for special situations where I know I broke it and even then I can say I am NOT responsible such as in the case of toys and garden hoses and whatever is left out).

    They can kiss my tail with this stuff about 'well it HAD to be you', if I can not remember doing it, forget it. If I did do it, it's still MY choice and I'll fix it IF I feel like it, to be quite blunt.

    Now because my equipment traversed near or even OVER something that is now broken doesn't mean I did it. I had some guy accuse me of breaking a sprinkler (a neighbor at that) and because my mower came near it, I must've nicked it... I really had not done it, I could still see the tracks of my wb's tires so I told him flat out I was not responsible... He went on about lawsuits as I got into my car, and left. My regular customer questioned me about it, I answered these questions as best I could and she's still my customer today and I suspect she doesn't like her neighbor, either (lol, yeah see how THAT works? :)

    And yes, I will LOSE a customer over this issue and would just as soon LOSE the customer right THEN and THERE (and without PAYING or doing anything about the repair) as like some people already said, once it gets like this with someone, chances are in the future I'm going to lose the account anyway.
  8. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    To give you a great example of why *I am not responsible* I had a yard had to have been 1.5 if not 2 acres WITH a sprinkler system. Oh so then what I did not know at the time is the HOMEowner is responsible for MAINTENANCE on the system as over the course of the years, sprinkler heads will stop functioning and said maintenance is NOT cheap especially in this case, the guy must've had like 75-100 sprinkler heads.

    Yeah, so THIS guy was of the opinion that when a lawnguy breaks a head, the lawnguy replaces it AND of course there are some who will so as to enforce the customer's belief and it might not be a problem IF the customer(s) truly have always done said maintenance, keeping in mind that after about 15-20 years, EVERY single sprinkler head NEEDS to be replaced at the tune of about 50 dollars each, 75 times 50 = 3,750 dollars, likely the company would discount it a bit for ALL of them, it would still run somewhere around 2,500 - 3k.

    But you see, hire a lawnguy to cut the grass at $50 (yeah cuz they're cheap to boot, see it all really goes hand in hand) a cut and since these sprinkler heads don't exactly fail to function ALL at once, only one maybe two at a time MAY not recede back in the ground after the system shuts off and the chances are about, oh, 50/50 that ONE or TWO heads MIGHT be stuck in the UP position *AND* I would not see it in time and run over it, and break it so really, 10 percent chance per cut or so, just for argument's sake.

    So, 20 cuts/year at $50 = 1,000 dollars a year, hell yeah, you can HIRE a lawnguy and when you do the math, you can hire said lawnguy for 10 YEARS at this rate before you lose any money when compared to doing it yourself (cost of own lawnmower + fuel) and in that time, you get your grass cut AND your sprinkler heads replaced (likely most of them if not all) at the tune of:
    10 thousand dollars - 2,500 = 7,500 dollars over TEN years instead of 2,500 in ONE year AND grass cut, too, while the lawnboy takes a beating because of course there is money lost and guess WHO takes said loss?

    Now 20 cuts x 10 years = 200 x 10 percent is only 20 sprinkler heads IF you're that lucky (what if 10 or 20 are stuck in the UP position sometimes) and so maybe it doesn't exactly add out but then that's why doing the maintenance in the first place is the proper thing to do AND if you're going to be the lawnguy for 10 years it is likely he'll keep you beyond that, seeing how the deal is so sweet anyway.

    Of course then the guy informs me that 'all I need to do is walk the yard before I cut it to check for this,' a comedy-like process which takes 15-20 minutes and was NOT included in the estimate and WHEN I informed him that it would cost a few dollars extra, of course he was not about to go for it (most of these type of folk like to stick it to me AFTER we've gone through the entire estimating rigmarole and AFTER I've already service the lawn once or twice as this makes it HARDER to get rid of them and they know this or for some other reason it's part of the plan).

    Last but not least, and this is where a good portion of my attitude towards rich folk stems from, this guy had a 300-to-400 thousand dollar house. The only good thing comes from it is at the time this came around I was just about getting my fill of the crap anyhow, so I only replaced ONE of his sprinkler heads before I caught on, and left never to return.
  9. Mower For Less

    Mower For Less LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 823

    That might work, I will check into it. I have had a similar crack in one of my basement glass block windows for 7 years now and it has not spread of got worse, or even fogged up for that matter. So thats why I say the damage is really aestetic, and only visible from the outside at that.

  10. Remsen1

    Remsen1 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,020

    Topsites, I too am very skeptical of customers who report broken items and while I am willing to repair, or touch something up, I am extremely hesitant to replace anything. The only cases that I will replace property without question is when I know I broke it, and I know I f'd up (not just something that comes with the territory) and in these cases I tell the owner, before they find out for themselves. The reason for skeptisism is the same as yours, if I'm cutting somebody's lawn for $30, but every third or fourth time they claim I broke something that costs $50, then I'm not making crap mowing the prop, so they'll have a hard time getting anything from me this includes my time for free no free mowings as a remedy. So far I have had pretty good luck by having the customers sign acknowledgement that I am not responsible for damages unless it was a case of extreme and obvious neglegence. I've had to redirect a couple to this policy for small items here and there and I think they realize that they're not going to get anywhere so they stop trying. I wonder what would've happened if I gave in, in anyway shape or form? So far I haven't damaged anything major or been accused of it either and I only lost one customer. I do a seasonal walk through on each property, to check for broken/damages prior to the season starting or prior to a new customer, just so we don't get off on the wrong foot, but I don't do this with every mow. I also tell them pointers like "I can only get so close to vinyl with the trimmer" (try to sell growth inhibitor) "don't leave anything in the grass", "If you're really particular about a few blades of grass on your car, move it" (I do discharge away from cars for 2-3 passes, but they will still get the occassional clippings on them), "occassionally objects will come flying out of my deck, not just the discharge side. Stay inside, keep your pets/kids inside. I haven't ever broken anything or hurt anybody because of this, but if it does happen, It doesn't mean I was neglegent, it's just the nature of the act", "I WON'T mow or trim if you or your's are within a clear line of site and closer than I feel safe.", "I won't string trim within an unsafe distance from any vehicle or valuable property." These are all reiterations of the acknowledgement. I think it helps to show that not only am I not going to be responsible for costs, but that I am careful to go out of my way to avoid these risks and help the customer to help me avoid these risks.

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