Creating high standards for tree care

Features - Tree Care

Establishing quality control helps tree care providers stand out from the competition.

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December 10, 2018
Jimmy Miller
© schulzie | iStockphoto

Before Mark Chisholm’s team even picks up a chain saw, they’re required to look around the yard and mentally note its appearance.

Chisholm hopes his Aspen Tree Expert Company leaves each work site without a trace, only leaving behind the results of the work they were hired to do. He says many homeowners don’t sit around and watch his crews operate, so if his employees leave things behind like leftover limbs, debris or sawdust, clients will assume his company is just like every other tree care business in town.

“We want the yard to look as good or better when we leave,” Chisholm says. “Every aspect of it – the lawn, the driveway, the walkway. Everything.”

Getting to this point isn’t an overnight process. Employees should be properly trained and held accountable for their quality of work, and Chisholm says it’s important they also remain safe while being equipped with the best tools he can afford. Quality control in tree care services is meticulous but being conscious of your work standards can put your company a step ahead of the competition.

The long haul.

Jeremy Williams, owner of Tree Climbers in Arkansas says employee training never really ends. He believes establishing a company culture that prohibits laziness is essential. He has weekly in-house training sessions, plus he’ll send his crews out for external coaching such as tree climbing competitions or specialized, hands-on classes on subjects like climbing and rigging. All of his employees also get certified in CPR and take first aid courses.

Williams also says finding the right match for his company during the hiring process is critical. He’ll have experienced leaders work with new hires for a year or two to offer constructive criticism. He assigns trainee crew leaders to shadow with experienced leaders, who will score their apprentices on one of Williams’ syllabus sheets. If an employee at any level repeatedly ignores the standards Williams sets, he’ll let the employee go to find a better fit. The entire company also has an external audit on all of their protocols every three years.

“It all depends on the person and their attention to detail,” Williams says. “It really boils down to establishing a company culture that we don’t cut corners.”

Chisholm acknowledges it’s a prolonged training process with his roughly 30 employees. He says employees come to his company with varying levels of experience, so his involvement with on-the-job training might last around six months. He also asks employees what kind of training they might like to have and tries to help them register for it.

He recommends staying on the job site to guide employees through the process. Creating clear guidelines for what you demand as an owner will show new hires what you’ll expect as they get accustomed to working on their own.

“It starts with good communication and setting the expectations with as much exactness as you can with each task you’re giving them,” Chisholm says. “You can’t just say, ‘Here’s what you’re doing’ and walk away.”

“It starts with good communication and setting the expectations with as much exactness as you can with each task ...” Mark Chisholm, Aspen Tree Expert Company
Common mistakes.

Chisholm says quality control ultimately comes down to whether or not the client is satisfied. Though it’s rare that customers call in complaints, he’ll send crews back out to fix mistakes if a client is upset. Williams says a majority of callbacks or customer complaints come from a lack of post-job cleanup.

Another common mistake is that the customer and crews were on different pages when the service started. On the day of the job, both Chisholm’s and Williams’ crews thoroughly explain the work that’s going to be done to the property owner. During client walkthroughs, Williams has his crews map out the property, assigning numbers to all of the trees they’re working on and telling the client what is going to happen with each tree. Chisholm does much of the same, adding that he asks his crews to limit how much industry jargon they use with the clients to make sure they know what’s happening.

“We see the spec; we understand what we’re supposed to be doing because of what we’re told just from the paperwork, but then when you talk to the homeowner, you want to explain that again to them,” Chisholm says. “You want to make sure they understand what they signed off on so the expectations are set.”

Employee safety is an important factor to consider. Chisholm says crew leaders should make sure employees adhere to safety standards at all times. Any issues should be actively corrected as they arise, and meeting each week with your crews to remind them of safety protocol could keep your company from liability.

To Chisholm, every detail matters and is worth exploring if it makes a job more dangerous.

“It can be something very small, like not running two points of connection to a tree when running a chain saw, like a lanyard and a climbing system,” Chisholm says. “It could be a lot of different things.”

Keeping up.

Part of keeping crews safe means owners keep their workers up to date with the latest technology and industry standards. Updating tools, especially saws or other cutting devices, and ensuring all those tools are still sharp when employees use them helps prevent workplace accidents.

Beyond updates, Williams says his company will adopt new technologies within a year or two of their releases. This means anything introduced to the industry will be brought in for their use so they don’t fall behind the competition.

“We’re trying to stay way ahead of the curve at making the job as easy as possible,” Williams says. “The right equipment goes a long way to the tiredness aspect of skipping corners. If a new technology comes onto the market, we’re usually pretty quick to adopt that technology.”

He also recommends staying active in industry events and activities.

“If you’re active, you’re going to hear and see stuff. That’s probably the biggest thing I don’t see people taking advantage of. They think they’re good enough, and good enough is the killer of greatness,” Chisholm says.