Mowing programs... Your terms vs customer terms

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by grassmasterswilson, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. greendoctor

    greendoctor LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 9,975

    Well said. Truthfully, I would run far and fast from a professional in the business not telling me what I need, instead asking me what I want. If I knew what I wanted and how to get it done, I would be doing it myself.
  2. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    Well, it's not a "My way or the highway" attitude. It's a "I'm not going to allow you to dictate terms to me that are not good for my company." attitude. There's a big difference.

    I learned early on there were certain accounts who were just so cheap that the way they wanted me to operate was really not beneficial to my business, my schedule, my profitability, my family or my company's image. So my goal was to get rid of those accounts and just get accounts that WERE good for all of those things.

    In every business, someone will always dictate the terms. It will either be you or the client. In most businesses, the business dictates the terms. If customers always dictated the terms of the relationship, most every business would eventually go OUT of business.

    But dictating the terms isn't the same as offering great customer service or handling special requests. It just means you're not going to do the special requests for free, every time. Or that you're not going to let someone take advantage of you in a way that costs you real time or money or harms your company image.

    So here are some examples of ways we dictate to our clients and why:

    Payment Terms We set our clients up on Auto-Pay, where they have it come out of their account every month automatically, on a date they choose. Why? Because back when I used to invoice all of our customers I found that almost 50% of them wouldn't pay us until AFTER the due date. Everyone here knows what I mean by that. To this day, you still see threads almost weekly about how to take care of the "late-payers." I have to pay my bills and payroll on time and I cannot do that if my customers don't pay me on time. So I wasn't going to allow my customers to ruin my finances just because they didn't want to make my payment a priority. I took charge of that. And it saved our business.

    Weekly Accounts Only Early in our business I started realizing that the EOW thing really wasn't working well for me. The grass was 2x as long when I'd get there, there was more to blow on all the hardscapes, the lawn looked like crap (which made my company look like we weren't doing our job) and I was only making 50% as much with these clients as I was with the weekly customers. To boot, I found the EOW people were more cheapskates. They didn't want to go for mulch, spring clean-ups, fall clean-ups, etc. So they just weren't as valuable to my company and my family income as the weekly clients were, who cared more about their yards and were more apt to add extra services that helped me and my family out.

    Well Kept Lawns We mostly take on lawns where the client WANTS them to be well-kept and looking great. Because otherwise, it makes our service look bad, like we don't do a good job on maintenance. Customers that don't want to pay for fertilizer, in-lawn weed control, or don't water their lawns in the summer are not customers I want to service because as the neighbors look over they're thinking, "Hell if I want THAT company caring for my yard! Look how bad their lawn looks! Weeds all over the place, lawn half brown, and it doesn't even look as green as our lawn!". I don't want customers looking at lawns we maintain and saying that. I want the lady across the street saying, "Honey, I think it's time we get a lawn service. God bless you for trying so hard on the weekends to care for it. But you're too busy. I'd rather have you spending time with the family. Besides, look over at the Miller's lawn over there. It's always perfectly edges, always lush and green, there aren't any weeds in the lawn. They have this service and they told me it only costs $XXX.xx per month. We can afford that. Can I call them?" Having yards that look amazing helps ME grow my business more easily. Which keeps my kids in the school I want them in, keeps me able to afford to expand, have a nice big shop, live in the neighborhood I want to live in, and so on. Having accounts where the lawns look bad don't help my business or my family.

    Year-Round Accounts Only This is a little bit of a tough sell in our area. I'd say only about 40-50% of the people who hire out for their lawn care in this area really WANT a year-round service. For one, they don't see the value. For two, they're cheap. Now, I could take on those accounts too. But then in the winter we'd see half of our business disappear. And that's not real conducive to running a good, stable business. I realized early on that if I was really going to have a stable income and profitable business, I couldn't do it by losing most of my income for 4 or more months every year. But in addition to the financial part, there was another problem seasonal accounts presented. If they cancelled in late October, when the lawn stopped growing so fast - and then hired me back in April (they always waited too long to call and start up service again) then I was left with a huge mess to start the year off with. And they were resistant to paying for a spring clean-up. They wanted me to simply "resume service". Except that now the lawn was 10" tall, there were still leaves all over the lawn and beds from fall, weeds all over the place, moss had taken over the lawn, and it was pale yellow because nobody had fertilized it in almost 6 months. So they'd have a good $500-$1000 worth of clean-up and lawn restoration to do, before I could get back on their "regular service". They would have been better off to have just kept me on all winter to take care of those things. The landscape would have been always kept looking great and the cost would have been about the same. So for their sake and my own, it made since to only do year-round accounts. Those who don't want to do the year-round thing are just going to learn the hard way next spring that there will be an expensive clean-up and their yard will look like crap for several months. I'd rather have customers who have already learned that lesson and WANT someone year-round to keep things looking good. They help me feed my family all year long and their landscape stays looking great all year long. It's a win-win.

    We Decide The Day of the Week I also learned early on that it was a huge FAIL to allow the customer to dictate which day of the week they got service. For one, everyone wanted Thursday or Friday. And then what are you going to do with the rest of the days of each week? You just want to mow only two days each week? But the bigger problem was that when we allow people to dictate to us which day of the week, it makes out schedule totally inefficient. For instance, a customer on one part of town requires service on a Friday. But all of our crews are across town on that day. The closest crew is 20 minutes away from his house. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it. But if I accept his request to do it on Friday, now I have a crew driving 20 minutes to his house and 20 minutes back. Our typical drive time between accounts is 1-3 minutes. So now we're wasting at least 34 more minutes of drive time than we would normally be on that day. 34 minutes x 2 workers is over an hour of labor. Not to mention the 2 gallons of gas we used driving there and back, at $4 a gallon. In the time that it took us to go over to that guys house and back, I could have done TWO homes in the same neighborhood in which we were already operating. And it would have cost me much less in gas. It's just not smart. I'd be losing money on that account. In your case, you may not be losing money if you have very little overhead. But we definitely would be. We have to keep our routes efficient in order to make a profit. If I cannot make a profit, I'm not doing myself or my client any good, because I'll eventually be out of business doing things that way.

    There are lots and lots of other examples. But I think you get the point. There are really good and valid reasons why LCOs dictate certain terms to their customers. policies on dog poop in the yard, kids toys in the yard, hauling away debris, cost for additional requests and much more, etc. there are lots of things where we have to take charge a little or else we'll get taken advantage of.

    You might be able to bend over backwards for every client now, being a SOLO Op. or small company. And maybe you're okay with them using up time you could be spending with your family or costing you a little money here and there. But if you ever grew and had several employees, you'd find those same policies would be very detrimental to business. This business, at least on the medium and larger scale, requires extreme efficiency and diligence, to keep it stable and profitable.
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2013
  3. Roger

    Roger LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,940

    The title of the thread carries a notion of "we" vs. "them." Some of the posts follow that notion as well, others not.

    I think the matter is not so cut and dry, rather more about "our" and "we." No, this does not mean some things are best known by the customer. But, it does mean that if the LCO intends delivery of custom work, then there must be some flexibility. "My way, or nothing" is not a custom approach. I realize some (many?) choose not to deliver custom services, rather "one size fits all." I think somebody mentioned the differences in working solo.

    If you are able to meet/exceed the customer's expectation, why not take that perspective? In many cases, the customer has little, or no expectations, so the "one size ..." works well. But, if a customer's need or expectation is made clear, and can be met without difficulty, why not adapt?

    I just exchanged with one my best customers, "... are you hosting a Thanksgiving event, and do you need a mowing right before the event?" We are at a time of the season when regular schedules are no longer useful. But, if having a fresh mow on Wednesday next week is important to them, and I can make it work, then why not accommodate? Is this letting the customer dictate, or me dictating? The answer back was "we are leaving for a few days, so it does not matter, but I really appreciate you thinking of us and asking ..." This customer has given me many referrals over the years.

    I've read many posts on LS that complain about having to talk with the customer. How can you know something about them, if you only want to get in/get out, and avoid conversation? How can you meet or exceed their expectation if you know little or nothing about them?

    I know I have gained many customers over the years because, "... I never knew that guy, and couldn't tell him what I wanted, ... he always just came and left quickly ...." They buyer may wish to have some input into the process.

    If the issue is a technical one, such as what fert, what weed control is needed, or similar, that is s different story. As the pro, you should be in a position to know and recommend (dictate).
  4. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    Roger, I agree with you. If it's just a one-time thing (holiday, special event) we'll make exception to our normal schedules to accommodate good customers. Sure. That's just good customer service. Someone asks us to remove a 7' tall, small caliper tree that died in the yard, sure. We'll do that, probably for no charge. Someone else asks if we can come a little later in the day than normal this week, because they have guests in from out of town and don't want us waking them up - sure. All this is just normal little stuff that comes up. If it's just one-time stuff and just occasionally, we're usually pretty accommodating.

    But what I'm not going to do is let the customer dictate to me that we come every single week on a day when we'd be losing money to do so, or have me allow their yard to get out of hand and mow less frequently or seasonally just so they can save money or any other number of things I described above. Things like that aren't good for my company, my workers, or really even my client, in some ways. I would be doing a disservice to my company, my family, and my employees if I let people dictate the terms of our service.
  5. Dr. Cornwallis

    Dr. Cornwallis LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 854

    JimLewis, excellent post. I run my company in a similar way. I live in South Florida where the grass grows year round; slower in the winter but still grows year round. I cater my business towards people who want a nice yard, as they are typically willing to pay for it.

    One of the things that I do a little differently, though is charge customers per cut, however, I dictate when the yard gets cut; which is weekly during the spring/summer/fall and as I deem necessary during the winter. I have very high customer retention as they feel they aren't paying for me to sit on my ass a couple months out of the year.

    I dictate the day that the yard gets serviced based on when I'm in that area. If it's a good customer and they need it cut on a certain day for a special occasion I'll accommodate that, however, I'm not going to go fifteen miles out of my way to cut Mildreds yard on Friday when I'm three houses down on Tuesday doing five other yards. If customers complain that they can't have their yard serviced on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday I point out that I do the best I can to accommodate everyone, but everyone can all have their yard mowed on the same day. Thankfully, though, this hasn't been much of a problem at all for me thus far.

    When I used to do yearly contracts with customers paying the same per month year round it never failed, one of the first questions they asked was "what are you going to do during the winter when the grass isn't growing?" It also never failed that some customers would cancel me around late November or early December and then call me back around March to resume service, they would then have hurt feelings over yard cleanups etc... So I just decided it was easier to charge them when I show up and not when I don't. It keeps the yard clean during the winter and they don't feel like they are getting ripped off, which in turn gets me more referrals and more business. During the winter I push hardscape and mulch jobs, yard cleanups etc... to supplement and make up income.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2013
  6. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    Nice. If it works to your advantage, that's awesome.

    Hey, guys. Just to clarify. I'm not saying all the policies that I've developed are all things I recommend you all copy. You all know your business, your area, and what you're comfortable with better than I do. I was just providing examples of things I do to make sure our company has policies that don't allow customers to become a detriment to us. That's all.
  7. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    I want to address this specifically for a minute. Because, trust me, we get that here in Oregon too. If you get it down in Sunny Florida, you can BET that we get all that same stuff here. Here's how I combat that:

    First thing prevention. We explain to people at the first visit that our program is a year-round, flat monthly rate. So they know going in that these are our terms. If it's not exactly what they want, fine. Maybe it's not a good fit then.

    Second thing we do is we send out a newsletter once we start going into the winter months that explains our winter service and our pricing system again - BEFORE they have a chance to call and complain.

    Third thing we do is we actually offer valuable services throughout the winter, so they feel they're actually getting something of value in the winter months. We do things like pruning, winter lawn fertilizer, moss control (which is a big problem in NW lawns), leaf clean-ups (we got huge trees here, tons of leaves), limestone applications to balance the pH of the lawn, and more.

    Next, if someone does start to question why they are paying the same in the winter months, even though we go to every-other-week service and we aren't mowing very often, we give them an explanation that helps them understand it better. I tell them this:

    Here's why we offer a flat, year-round rate. In the beginning of our business we used to charge by the week, not by the month. So some months had 5 weeks and we'd charge more and others had 4 weeks and we'd charge less. Then there were spring and summer months where we'd charge more because we were coming weekly and winter months where we'd charge less because we were coming bi-weekly. Then there were months like October and November where we'd charge a lot more because of all the leaves we'd have to haul away. It was always up, down, up down. Our clients bills were changing almost monthly. At this point, many of our clients came to us and said, "Can't you just charge me one flat rate all year long, rather than giving me totally different invoices each month?" So we changed our pricing. We averaged all of our services out over a year, divided it by 12 and went with flat-rate pricing. So had I been using the old system, you would have been paying $250 a month all year so far. But you've been paying only $210, because we average all this out. In the summer, during leaf season, and on months with 5 weeks, you're getting a steal. In the winter, you're paying a little more. But it all averages out and makes it easier for you to budget one flat fee every month.

    Typically when I explain it that way, people say, "Oh. I see. Ok. Thanks for explaining it." and they aren't so interested in canceling anymore.

    The last thing we do - and this hurts sometimes - we don't take customers back in the spring, if they cancelled in the fall/winter. It's one policy we're pretty strict about. Because they're basically ripping us off when they do that. I've had to tell a number of customers over the years that we wouldn't take them back. I don't quite say it that way. When they call back in the spring, we'll simply say, "I'm sorry. We really only take on year-round accounts. I would recommend calling Jake's Lawn Care. I think they do seasonal accounts."

    Anyway, it's not an easy sell. But we market like crazy. So I don't really care too much of 75% of the people we're giving an estimate to don't like that we are year-round only. I'm looking for the 25% who do! And since we get a lot of calls, that helps keep the overall numbers in our favor. Our maintenance business is always growing. And the accounts we get are great ones.
  8. grassmasterswilson

    grassmasterswilson LawnSite Platinum Member
    from nc
    Messages: 4,945

    All great advice.

    My intentions of this thread were that I have a great core of accounts that have stayed with me. I pick up quite a number of new accounts every spring.

    When I first stated I would take in any account...weekly, eow, 10 days. As I grow this is tougher to do with more scheduling stress. I'm at the point where I just want to offer a few services.

    For my area year round and seasonal(start at fop green up and stop at leaf end) are the best choices. Then I would offer weekly and eow. So for us you would have 12 month and 9 month. I still have a bunch who would rather pay for services provided in the billing cycle rather than a flat monthly fee.

    I was hoping to see how guys were handling accounts after they had an almost full schedule.
  9. coolluv

    coolluv LawnSite Platinum Member
    from Atlanta
    Messages: 4,509

    I just wanted to say a big thanks to Jim. He has personally helped me in the past by answering my questions and is an inspiration to me.

    I have adopted a similar program 2 years ago and as tough as it is to sell sometimes I'm glad that I did.

    I think that it is important to implement this type of concept into your business if you plan on growing to being more than a solo operation.

    I have also noticed in my own business that I have less customers but I make more from each customer than in past years.

    There is plenty to do for your customers in the southern part of the US in the winter time. Northern guys can include things like snow and ice programs.

    Leaf cleanup for me last until mid December. I take off 6 weeks and start backup in February with pruning and some cleanup if necessary.

    Its not an easy sell, but like Jim said those are the customers you want.

    I'm glad that I went this route. I thank Jim and others for helping me see the light. Most larger companies around me also only offer 12 month service agreements.

    I think its the only way to go if you want to be in it for the long haul and be able to pay employees and retain good employees.

    Thanks again Jim, I hope you always stick around here to help us small guys out. You are one of the reasons I still come here.

  10. Caddyshack Lawn Care

    Caddyshack Lawn Care LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 746

    Excellent posts Jim. A lot of us run our businesses differently, but everyone who has read your posts learned something today.

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