Real Green Systems conference hosts LCOs in Florida

The five-day meeting offered technical and management training (and some entertainment) to more than 400 owners and technicians.

Lead photo: Mark Leahy, left, president, Blades of Green, Harwood, Md., won a raffle for a 2011 Mobile Assistant from Joe Kucik, owner of Real Green Systems

Secondary photo: Hypnotist Richard Barker had attendees in a trance Friday night.

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Real Green Users Conference took place in Florida last week, offering lawn care operators and their technicians a chance to learn about everything from invasive species to social media.

The annual event, organized by Real Green Systems, brought about 400 LCOs to central Florida for five days of technical and management training, as well as a few healthy doses of entertainment: attendees were treated to a casino night Thursday and a hypnotist show Friday. 

Highlights of the show included:

Emerald Ash Borer
Elliott Schaffer, owner and founder of Environmental Horticultural Services in Dublin, Ohio, outlined the threat posed by this invasive species. First discovered in Detroit about eight years ago, this pest feasts on healthy ash trees – which cover two thirds of the continental United States – with no known natural predator, making it particularly “insidious,” Schaffer said.

But, there is still hope; Schaffer treated 1,300 trees last year with a 98% success rate. “We can protect any tree. We just have to treat it,” he said.

Mostly, he injects trees with imidicloprid, which so far has worked well. “This is all proactive, folks. It’s like a flu shot – get this treatment before you get the emerald ash borer,” he says.

He cautioned technicians to be on the lookout for woodpecker activity, a thinning crown and vertical splitting on the bark. The insects are a half-inch long and a sixteenth-of-an-inch wide, so you’ll likely never see them with your naked eye, he says. They feed on leaf tissue, but again, that damage is so minute, that it’s hard to see.

“Unless it’s a heavy population, you’ll never see the feeding,” Schaffer said.

Social Media
Diana Bernecker, marketing coordinator for Pennsylvania-based Moyer Indoor Outdoor, gave several presentations on how companies could use social media to better market their businesses.

Focusing mostly on Facebook, she offered these suggestions:
•    Create a policy for how employees can use your social media platforms, and pick 1-2 people to be in charge. “Don’t get too many hands in the process,” Bernecker cautioned.
•    Create another policy for how you’ll handle negative comments. You don’t have to make it public, but do keep it on file so you’ll have something to fall back when responding to complaints.
•    Increase your fan base by sending out coupons or free articles for signing up or leaving positive feedback about your company. Moyer Indoor Outdoor hands out a $10 rebate to anyone who posts something to their Facebook page about a good experience they had with the company, and also collects the e-mail addresses for use in future in-house marketing campaigns.
•    Share content from your website and others, and post how-to videos or customer testimonials.
•    Always remember: these activities are not an opportunity for a hard sell.

Net Promoter Score
Brad Johnson, owner of LawnAmerica in Tulsa, Okla., spoke on how companies can measure their customer satisfaction.

Using a method called the Net Promoter Score, his company asks customers to answer one question on a scale of one to 10 – how likely are you to recommend our company to your friends or family?

By tracking the number of 9s and 10s they receive – the promoters – they know how happy their customers are. It’s a method used by companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines, and the goal is simple: turn passive customers into referral-generating promoters. 

“True growth in any industry is hard to find,” Johnson said. “We’re geared for not just pleasing customers, but exceeding their expectations. They’ll talk about us if we’re really, really bad or really, really good. … That determines your future growth: how happy your customers are.

“I’m a numbers guy. I like to see data. The Net Promoter Score is a number I can look at, and I can be confident of how we’re doing on customer service.”

Johnson also incentivizes his entire company on the NPS results; depending on their position, managers can receive as much as $3,500 more at the end of the year if they exceed their goals. Technicians and office staff earn bonuses based on the performance of the company as a whole. 

“We post all of our data. There’s some peer pressure, because it’s very visible,” he said.

And it seems to be working: In 2010, retention went up, turnover went down and employees’ attitudes were better, Johnson said.