Kristina MacPherson knows all about the challenges of providing organic services. And if you are thinking of adding organic services, don’t fret because you’ll have the same challenge that you would face in any business – customer expectations.
“Especially when it comes to weeds,” says the operations manager at Mahoney SafeLawns in Woburn, Mass. “As more selective organic weed control options enter the market it gets easier, but it is still a challenge for some of the more stubborn weeds, and products tend to work slower.”
She says an organic lawn program requires a different approach from conventional programs, it does not promote 100 percent weed free lawns and it can take a few seasons to build a lawn up that is able to choke weeds. All those topics should be discussed with a potential customer up front.
“Proper cultural practices – watering, mowing – are important for organic programs and need to be implemented in conjunction with a successful organic program as well. Make sure maintenance practices within your company, if you offer those services, don’t work against your goals of organic care, and that your customers understand what their role will be for long term care.”
Below are a few more tips from Macpherson on providing organic lawn care services.
Know your customer base and manage expectations.
You may be ready to offer organic services, but your customer base may not be – so plan your approach accordingly. If it is your personal goal to reduce chemical use, you can do it gradually, monitoring the results before you advertise chemical free.
Create acceptance for organic lawn care with persuasion.
Educating your customers on how to maintain the work you’ve done is vital in taking your work to the highest levels. But before you can get to that point, you have to open your customers minds to what organic lawn care is, and how it works.
“Your website can be a great resource for educating your customer on organic lawn care,” says Kristina Macpherson, operations manager at Mahoney SafeLawns in Woburn Mass. “That is typically one of the first places they will look for additional information. Blogs newsletters and other social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter are other great ways to educate your customers on the services you are offering and also for articles on specific topics.”
She also recommends getting out in the community and offering your knowledge for free.
“If you are comfortable with public speaking, donating your time for local garden clubs or other seminars can be a great way to help educate your customers, their friends and the community,” she says.
Macpherson also says not to jump the gun. You should be knowledgeable before presenting yourself as the expert.
“I would recommend anyone beginning to offer organic services be well trained before they start selling the services,” she says. “With the internet chock full of information, prospective customers tend to do more research before deciding to go organic, so they may be more prepared with questions and/or requests for products. If they are not confident in your abilities, they will likely go elsewhere.”
If you are getting more pressure from your customers to offer organic options, make sure they are aware of the process and what they can expect.
But if you are a conventional service company switching to organics, be prepared that not all customers are concerned about chemical use, rather results so those customers may need to transition to organic maintenance more slowly, and 100 percent organic may not work for them.
It may be more successful in that situation to offer the organic program as an option your customers can choose to participate in.
Make sure your staff is on board and well trained.
Your field personnel and office staff are the first line of contact with your customers and they should understand how the organic system operates, what to expect, and be prepared to discuss these things with your customers at any point in time.
If your staff is not supportive of the change, you may find it more challenging to transition to organic services and they will not be as effective in handling customer questions or concerns appropriately.
Be prepared to have more contact with your customers.
I have found over time, our new customers have many more questions when starting out, because the lawn doesn’t react the way they are used to or expect.
But between my staff and I, we are able to confidently answer questions and provide additional resources if needed, and that helps our customers become more comfortable with the process and be better prepared for what should happen next.
As each season passes and they see the improvements, they are more committed than the last.
Maintain your pesticide licensing credentials.
Organic pesticides in most states will still require appropriate licensing to apply registered pest control products. Depending on your state law, you will still need to put a pesticide sign out after those applications, so make sure your customers understand why they are seeing the sign.
Overpromising results can be a big pitfall.
An organic lawn is different from a lawn that is heavily managed with a lot of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. For example, organic fertilizers are slower to breakdown and react, so customers won’t see a quick green up after an application that they may be accustomed to.
Make sure your customer understands what they can expect along the way. If you are confident and can reassure them about the process, they are much more willing to be patient and wait for the results.