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Correcting misconceptions

Features - Lawn Care

How Jamison Pest and Lawn cut cancellations in half through education.

Brooke N. Bates | August 12, 2013


Explain to customers spraying doesn’t solve everything.

Many customers think hiring a lawn care company like Jamison Pest and Lawn means never seeing another weed again. So if intruders return to the yard despite spraying, it’s time for an aggravated call to cancel the service.

Pat O’Bryan, who started the company in 2004 with Don Jamison, knew there was more to the story. Rather than accepting the 20 percent cancellation rate, which he found to be average in his market, he began tracking the reasons behind the calls – and revealed a trend he could fix.

“Most of the time, it wasn’t a treatment issue; it was a communication or education issue,” O’Bryan says. “When customers cancel, it usually has to do with weeds that we cannot preemerge for. Customers don’t understand that there is no preemerge in the world that will stop weeds like foxtail and dallisgrass, and they don’t understand what to expect in shaded areas.”

So O’Bryan followed up with cancelling customers to explain that preemergent treatments don’t stop certain weeds. But at that point, his explanation came a little too late.

“If you tell me you’ve got weeds in your yard and I come out there and say, ‘OK, here’s what’s going on,’ it sounds like excuse-making,” he says. “But if you call your shot on the front end, you look like a professional who knows exactly what’s going to happen.”
 


Even a well-manicured lawn has some imperfections.

Creating expectations.
About five years ago, Jamison Pest and Lawn launched an education effort to start correcting customer misconceptions and setting clear treatment expectations upfront. Now, every customer touch point is an opportunity for education, and it all starts at the initial sale.

“If we don’t take advantage on the front end while their interest level is high to educate them and build that relationship, then there’s really not anywhere else we’re going to be able to do it,” O’Bryan says. “Right now, on the initial sale, is about as interested as they’re going to get.”

O’Bryan – who sells most of the company’s accounts – makes initial appointments to walk each yard, pointing out which weeds can’t be pre-emerged as well as low spots or shady areas that pose other threats. Drawing on years of experience, he assesses the conditions and potential challenges of each yard, both in its current state and forecasting throughout the seasons.

Because that expertise only comes from experience, it’s difficult to train. With the company in its 10th year and education efforts in the fifth, O’Bryan is starting to share the critical responsibility with his service manager and sales director, who have both have the field experience necessary to educate customers.

“Certainly, the training is the most difficult part,” O’Bryan says. “The only way you understand all those factors that affect a yard is through thousands of yards. That education level is a tough thing to come by because there’s a lot of turnover, which is why I think a lot of companies shy away from this.”

Still, because every contact after that initial sale is an opportunity for continued education, O’Bryan trains his whole lawn care team on key talking points for seasonal service calls. With refresher courses at each step of their seven-application process, he sends them into the field equipped with the information about the most common questions and they’ll face.

“Every seven weeks when we change rounds, we have a meeting to talk about that round,” O’Bryan says. “We say, ‘What are we putting down, why are we putting it down, what are our goals, what are our common challenges, what will the customers be seeing?’ So when they’re starting out for that round, they know: Here’s what I need to be prepared to communicate with the customers about.”


Common courtesy.
At each service stop, Jamison lawn care employees door-knock customers – partly as a courtesy to announce they’re working in the yard, and partly to answer questions in person before they grow into complaints. They invite customers outside to watch them spray, explaining whether extra backpacking is required and why. It serves as a personal connection, so customers begin associating a face with the company.

Often, the mentality is to work quickly and rush to the next job. To reinforce the pace of communicating with customers regularly, O’Bryan must set goals for his team that align with those expectations.

“It does slow down the process when you get customers out on the yard talking,” O’Bryan says. “But by knocking on the door and getting them out there where they have the chance to ask questions, you’re able to head off so many little questions that don’t become major concerns because they get their answer right away instead of having time to worry about it. So we’ve set up our business model to support their time in the field.”

By tracking how often customers are likely to be home during service calls, O’Bryan predicts that about 30 percent of customers will engage in quick conversation. Then, he builds that time into his team’s production goals. So a schedule of 20 yards a day will include roughly seven conversations along the way.

Each conversation adds a brick to the customer relationship, building trust as employees share an understanding of lawn care. Between O’Bryan’s initial walk-throughs and his team’s ongoing communication efforts, Jamison’s customers aren’t just becoming more educated about the service they receive; they’re more satisfied with it as a result. Education has cut the cancellation rate in half and noticeably increased referrals. Anecdotally, it has also changed the tone of customer calls from testy to pleasant.

“A lot of the industry just accepts it as a given that you’re going to lose 20 percent no matter what, but we fight that premise every day,” O’Bryan says. “I think that people can be educated if they’ll slow down. Once you start demonstrating that level of interest and expertise in the yard, you’ve got their trust. So now if something goes wrong, you’re going to get a phone call saying, ‘Hey, there’s a problem; I need some help,’ as opposed to, ‘You stink; you’re fired.’ L&L

Information overload
How much is too much to share with customers?

Not all customers care as much about the nuances of their yard as Pat O’Bryan does. When he began educating customers about lawn care, he learned that the hard way. “There’s a limit to what customers can understand,” says, O’Bryan, the co-owner of Jamison Pest and Lawn. “You’ve only got a 10 or 15-minute window, so try to hit the major points with them. You can definitely give them too much information and they get lost in it and they forget your main message.” To help his employees condense information into easily understandable clips, O’Bryan began producing attention-grabbing cheat sheets they can leave behind. Bright neon-colored sheets of 5.5-by-8.5 paper briefly explain common issues in customers’ yards.

Workers carry boxes of these flyers, prepared for all of the common situations they’ll face that season. As new problems trend, O’Bryan adds new cheat sheets to the inventory of quick-hitting information. “The hard part, we’ve found, is getting people to read,” O’Bryan says. “That’s why we went with cheat sheets. That has been the best way to catch their eye. With big, bold print on neon paper, they can glance at it and read it in a second, versus having to dig through a service ticket.”

Customers who do want more details can read full reports on their service tickets, or head to

www.jamisonpest.com for in-depth horticultural tips. Realizing that customers have varying levels of interest in lawn care, O’Bryan offers degrees of information to suit their needs. “You’ve got to realize that customers don’t stare at grass all day, every day,” he says.

“You’ve got to see where they’re at, see where their interest level is, and then be able to give them the information they want.”


The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

Photos courtesy of Jamison Pest Control