PROBLEM!...Me? Mower? Lawn? Customer?

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by Envy Lawn Service, Mar 26, 2006.

  1. Envy Lawn Service

    Envy Lawn Service LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,087

    OK, here I am after all these years, dealing with my first strong quality complaint.

    Honestly I have never been here before and I don't think I am really in any position to be the one pointing the finger of blame in any direction.... So I was hoping some of you could help me decode this one and figure out what is to blame...

    This could well end up being my first quality issue cancellation. Here is the situation...
    OK I took on a customer last year. Not a great lawn by any stretch. But other than one small issue... a great customer. That issue may or may not be important so here is a link.

    Anyways, on to the lawn. Not a good lawn. Heavily shaded. What grass is in it is thin and whispy as a result. Lots of weeds like clover and lots of MOSS. Part of the lawn is a very loose/soft organic topsoil, while the other areas are clay with no topsoil and some of that is very hardpacked. A lot of the total area is VERY steep. Most of you guys wouldn't want to attempt it.

    So the customer has only paid me to mow it. But overall, it has improved quite a bit since I started doing it. But still, those of us who are Pros know these shade lawns need continous maintenance, which this customer does not seem to be concerned with doing. So I have just cut it and did the best by it I could.

    But anyways, plenty of praise from me and only a few minor complaints all year. All being turf/clover/moss damage. Took some moss divots with the anti-scalp wheels due to cutting height is steep spots. Of course the wheels hitting caused marks from the tires too. Raised the cutting height and took care of that. Left a skid mark coming down a slope (rain). And two tire marks on separate occasions. Both in the clover on the clay hardpack. Once it was wet and once one of the front tires was in a hole when I stopped to turn.

    Anyways, only one of those had to be brought to my attention in the form of a complaint. Those of you who have cut such places know what it is like to try to do it with zero turn equipment. It's like being on eggshells and you are "aware" of every move you make on the lawn. So you always see the damage right away most of the time.

    But, it time I got all those areas pretty well healed up. But this spring, I found myself wondering why I had not heard from this customer and the other two neighboring accounts. Saturday I was in the area and decided to drop in.

    So all goes pretty well until I make my way to this customer. He comes out and asks me if I can bring a smaller mower out to do his lawn this year. I used to haul a lawn tractor around to do these types of lawns. But not anymore. I just got rid of most of those type lawns and quit hauling it around anymore.

    So anyways, we went through the whole song and dance about how much longer it would take to cut it with something else and how much more it would cost and he made reference to how long it used to take someone else with a 21" (I mow and trim 3 lawns in that time). I told him my mower essentially had 3 of those mowers underneath it, at which point he made reference to a lawn tractor (I'm not pushing it and the lawn tractor is small). I just told him I would have to charge him double or maybe a bit more to come out doing it with the lawn tractor. So Of course he doesn't like the idea of more expense and says if I can't he might have to find someone else.

    At this point I'm not being shaken by this and he can tell it. So he trys to shake me by making reference to possible people he could get to do it. Still I was not affected. It's no easy lawn anyways and I'm not loosing any of the margin I make to do it. So I just start probing to see what his issue is with my "big mowers" and he starts telling me about some turf damage he is unhappy about. He says it looks like I have been rubbing the side of my deck against the bank behind his well house by trying to squeeze between to two to mow. (Yes the bank is steep enough and a sudden enough transition that this is possible)

    But while he's telling me this I am puzzled. Never remeber hitting there and it seems I recall I could probably squeeze a 72" through. So I ask him to take me and show me. So we go to have a look. As we approach I see bare clay. But after close inspection I realize this was an area that was really mossy. There was a place a few inches wide by a few feet long that looked bad. This is where my lower tire ran when I mowed across the slope.

    This area is VERY steep and what has happened is the knobbies on the Turfmasters near the edge of the tire tore the moss base. Probably happened when I made a double pass there to get all the leaves on the last visit of the year. Over the winter water soaked in the soil in these areas. As the ground froze and rose up the moss continued to break apart and the soil crumbled during the freeze-thaw process.

    I explained this to the customer and also went into detail about the difficulty involved in trying to service such a tender lawn. And I told him what could be done for the lawn itself to make it healthy, strong and durable. I didn't get a bite on that.

    So I just told him he was welcome to find someone else to do it if he wanted to. I told him I couldn't really offer him any other options beyond that or taking better care of the turf unless we could reach some other compromise...

    I told him for a bit more I could just cut the troubled area with something else, but not the whole lawn. I just told him it was his decision and that I would have no hard feelings either way. He said he would think it over and let me know what his decision is. I said fine by me, gave him a date I would hold his spot in the schedule until before filling it and I was on my way.

    End of story but not end of thoughts.
  2. brinlee lawn

    brinlee lawn LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 273

    I believe I have a lawn similar to your's, it is steep but maybe not as steep as the one you are talking about. It is super shady and has thin fescue in it. We had to stop using the chopper and start using the 36 in. walkbehind, it has taken care of the problem really well all damaged area's have filled back in and look really well. The way it is sloped I can make the stripe's look really good with the 36. It was a simple solution that made the customer extremley happy.
  3. Envy Lawn Service

    Envy Lawn Service LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,087

    Now, it is no secret I have let it be known here that I also have an extreme personal grumble with running zero turn equippment on such tender lawns. So I have been one to also blame these mowers for damage on these type lawns. Nothing to do with operator error. It can't be helped.

    Is it fair for me to blame the mower?
    Or should I blame the condition of the lawn?
    Or should I blame the customer for not paying to take better care of the turf?
    Or should I blame myself for running zero turn equipment on such a lawn?
    (be honest in your opinion)

    As far as how I handled the complaint after the fact... personally I am satisfied with my actions at this point. Does anyone think I could have handled this better?
    (again be honest)

    In finality, myself I also can't help but analize the customer. That's my nature. To me all this really just doesn't add up. I mean really. Obviously I can tell I am the best lawn service he has had in many years. Also, to me the amount the whole lawn has improved since I started it far outweighs the small area damage. And really... what's the deal with acting all anal like it is some sort of prize lawn when he won't even pay to properly maintain it?

    Is he still just mad that I wouldn't trim his shrubs for nearly nothing?
    Or have the individuals he mentioned lowballed me and he doesn't want me to know?
    Or does he think I'm finishing too fast and making too much?
    Or even better yet, is it possible he was hoping I would panic and offer to overseed, fertilize, ect, the whole lawn for free?

    I don't know, but one thing is for sure. You can tell I am tired of dealing with people.
  4. Envy Lawn Service

    Envy Lawn Service LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,087

    I get you there 100% and I am glad you have found a solution that works for you.

    But yes, your discription fits. But on this lawn, part of it around the house is relatively flat. But out from the house, the south and west sides are steep slopes up into the timber line. The north side is road frontage, which is 3 passes in the ditch line and then straight up to the lawn so steep it has to be dry to stand on it and get it with a string trimmer, which is 3 passes full swing walking across with the trimmer. The east side is the same way, except it's so steep you can't stand on it and is about 15 ft high. The drive is cut in the east side running north to south and part of the driveway banks are too steep to mow too.

    Anyways, hard job. But in my opinion, this lawn is so tender that any commercial type machine that steers with the drive tires is going to cause damage now and then. But a 36" walkbehind would be lighter and easier on it for sure. Just not a solution.

    It's just like I told the customer. You can't walk on those steep mossy areas without putting tears in the moss base even though you might not see them right away... and lawns like this are so easy to damage that I have scuffed them with lawn tractors too. Turn at too fast of a ground speed or turn the front wheels too sharp and you'll get scuffs like that too.

    I would not mind to cut this lawn with a 48"-60" walkbehind or a 50"-60" lawn tractor. I have to turn so slow and careful now that I doubt either would hurt my production much. But I don't have either. So I'm not going to buy, load out with it and haul it around just to cut ONE lawn. Nor am I about to put a smaller cut lawn tractor on it for the same pay.

    I told the customer it is a no-win situation for both parties and that's really the truth.
  5. brinlee lawn

    brinlee lawn LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 273

    Envy I dont want to start any hard feeling's with you, I have alway enjoyed reading what you have to say, but I will be honest and say my piece. You say you are tired of dealing with people, well 90 percent of this business is spent dealing with people that is fact. Now I have not been in business as long as you, therefore I probably am not as jaded.

    You say you don't like running zero turn mower's on these type of lawn's so when you bid the job why did you plan on using this mower?

    I don't think you can blame the mower, you know as well as I that these type of mower's are not good on these lawns.

    You could blame the condition of the lawn, but when you took the job you knew the condition it was in and had been kept in.

    We would all like to blame the customer, but sometimes it is just not fesible for someone to spend that kind of money to take care of a sensitive lawn. And again you knew the condition it was in when you took it over.

    I think you know my answer to this question.

    As far as how you handled the complaint I think you did very well, and I would almost guarantee he call's you back. Because fact is you do good work, and he knows you do good work. He know's his lawn is sensitve and that stuff like this will happen.

    I hope I haven't offended you, like I said I really enjoy your post's and have learned alot from you.
  6. impactlandscaping

    impactlandscaping LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,332

    I think I'd accept the fact he isn't going to try and improve conditions of the lawn areas in question, and move on. Now that he has mentioned the areas, I'm sure it will be the topic of choice for him all summer. We have had our share of 85% or more shade lawns , and I know exactly where you are coming from. No matter the equipment used, you are still going to have colllateral damage from the super fragile moss. I know you have 2 others on the same road, and you said you make decent $$ on this account, but is it really going to be worth it in the end? If it is, can the areas in question be line trimmed rather than cut, to keep lateral tire force from tearing the sensitive areas even more?
  7. Envy Lawn Service

    Envy Lawn Service LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,087


    I know my post was long. But somewhere in there I said I got rid of most of these lawns and I stopped loading out with the lawn tractor altogether.

    So what happened was, the opportunity was there to pick up this lawn. It was next door to one I was already doing. So I thought I would just try to baby through it and the customer had no problem with the size of my stuff when he hired me. Likewise, I also picked up another one on the other side, which is even more tender, but without the extreme steepness. So there I have a place where I can drop in one spot and knock out 3 lawns right side by side.

    Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have... but around here it is extremely seldom to have more than one residential cut per stop. In fact, I'm the only business in this area I know of that actually has 3 houses in a row.

    Not offended at all... that's what I am looking for... honesty.

    PS> years of being a contractor have worn me down about dealing with people.
    I know it's a nessasary evil... but it still grows old on me.
    I also know of a solution, but I haven't ran into the opportunity just yet.
  8. Envy Lawn Service

    Envy Lawn Service LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 11,087

    Yeah, with this particular lawn, it wouldn't break my heart if I lost it. I've just never lost one this way. Plus it also sucks to loose it as a 3rd lawn on that stop, especially since that is the furthest stop on that route.

    The other thing is that loosing one puts the other two in jeopardy as well. These neighbors talk. So having another guy on one of them is even more of a risk than normal. Since these folks talk, he shared his complaint with the others which sucks too.

    Heck I think chances are really pretty high that I will loose all 3 of these at one whack to this ordeal. This guy is going to want someone with a lawn tractor, and surely everybody is going to talk, and sure as anything I bet I get lowballed on all of them.

    I offered him the compromise of mowing this problem area with something else, or just string trimming it for a few dollars more and continuing to cut everything else as before. That part is what he is supposed to be deciding on...
  9. heather lawn sp

    heather lawn sp LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 681

    I concur with the line trim suggestion, can you run the string line out to maximum and gently mow with that system on the slope?
  10. brinlee lawn

    brinlee lawn LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 273

    Envy, what make's it difficult in your area to get multiple account's in one area? Around here it is not uncommon to get several in a row.

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