In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, states were telling residents and businesses to shelter-in-place, leaving lawn and landscape companies looking for answers on how they were going to continue to operate.
Multiple free webinars were hosted by a variety of companies and consultants to offers insight on some of the best ways to proceed from a business perspective as a determination was made whether landscaping was deemed “essential.”
Among the hosts of those general business practices webinars was Real Green Systems, a leader in business management software for lawn care companies.
“We are not the end all be all we are an aggregator of best practices,” said Beth Berry, vice president of business development and membership chair at the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
The company is maintaining an ongoing forum on Facebook for continued discussions on topics related to COVID-19 and is committed to getting the right experts to answer questions.
Berry shared some general business tips for lawn care businesses during one of Real Green’s webinars.
“Every business is unique,” Berry said, citing what she has heard from industry leaders and the position taken by NALP with respect to being designated as an essential business.
“Lawn care is the original social distance industry,” she said. “Interactions with homeowners is historically low and further precautions can be instituted to eliminate face-to-face contact.”
Spring a critical time of year for the important pre emergent crabgrass control to be applied. Also, overall service continuity is critical amidst the chaos of the pandemic.
“Although recession pressures exist, the single largest asset most Americans possess is their home, so protecting curb appeal and landscape is paramount,” Berry said.
To date, the NALP has recommended to Congress that licensed pesticide applicators be deemed qualified as essential businesses in new congressional bills. She recommended lawn care operators keep a copy of the NALP letter in the event they care challenged about being essential.
“We are protectors of the public health as pesticide applicators,” Berry said. “We're nearing the time when Lyme disease, mosquito borne illnesses exist tree removal and we're a necessary business to be in the public right now.”
To knock or Not To Knock
An important discussion to have relates to the long-standing practice to knock on the customer’s door to announce the intended service. General consensus during this unique time period is do either refrain from knocking on doors to announce a service visit or to knock on door and step off the porch by at least 10 feet.
Similarly, Berry noted that it seems like a very bad idea to be knocking on someone’s door from a sales perspective.
“Early responses from leaving lawn care operators suggests that although exponentially more consumers are at home, fewer are answering the door but are peering out the windows with careful observation of lawn treatment,” she said, recommending that technicians should be hyper aware of time spent on property and attention to detail.
Recent anecdotes suggest some technicians are knocking on doors and getting a friendly wayve form inside, indicating someone was home and were definitely paying attention to what was going on to their property.
“It just bears mentioning to your technicians that there's lots of eyes on what's going on right now,” Berry said.
Suspension of outbound collection calls was recommended in the first 14 days of most of the shelter-in-place policies across the country.
“None of us are nonprofit so that doesn't mean stop collecting money,” Berry said, suggesting that businesses owners would want to continue with past two statements and other forms of collection activity.
Also, she said they may need to consider extending credit terms and use a "Code Red" status service calls for customers who express concerns. Real Green Service Assistant allows Code Red statuses to be excluded from upsell campaigns.
Berry emphasized the importance of shifting the message across all customer interactions.
“It is not business as usual, it is not life as usual but we also need to send a resounding message that we are certainly part of the public solution,” she said.
At the time of the webinar, Berry said Real Green Systems had created two AMA communication campaigns that were scheduled to be implemented within a week. The campaigns were split for companies who continue to knock on doors and another for those that have suspended that practice.
She said it was important for employers and employees to be prepared to talk to customers who want to know how the organization is doing in response to COVID-19.
Review and provide technicians with copies of the NALP and National Pest Management Association letters to Congress 30 business essential nature of the industry and the services we're providing to homeowners. It is important in cases where residents have been asked to shutter in place or there's travel bans that you would arm your technicians with this should anyone question why they are out in the streets.
Lawn Care and Recession
Berry shared a few facts on how lawn care companies have endured recession conditions and weather the storm quite well in the past in the United States.:
- Homeowners do not travel as often and spend more time at their home. Outside is still safe. low interest rates, could in fact be fueling more homebuyers.
- Homeowners may buy less from lawn care companies but they typically do not cease lawn care if they wish to protect their investment.
- Homeowners now seek the membership economy for predictable budgeting. Service Assistant offers this option.
- Homeowners understand real estate one on one the need to protect and enhance your most valuable asset.
- The United States is mostly all sufficient for fertilizer raw materials, but does rely on China and India for pesticide active ingredients. Several key manufacturers in the U.S. have indicated there is not likely to be a crisis in the supply chain in terms of materials for lawn care.
"Tough times do not last, tough people and strong companies always do," Berry noted.
She also recommended some role play scenarios for employers to engage in with their employees as customers consider cancelling services:
- I fear layoff or recession.
- I fear myself or family could become sick.
- I'm more sensitive to creating a healthful environment and don't wish to introduce additional chemicals.
- I don't think it's something we need right now.
- With the early warm temperatures and rain, the lawn looks good already this spring.
- I'm planning on selling our house.
Additionally, Berry suggested a point person within the company who has proven themselves very reliable in overcoming customer objections to discontinued service be specifically designated. She said an escalation process for cancels that cannot be saved by frontline customer service reps also should be established.
"Some of our customers are utilizing this time for a hot phone transfer to a manager or the cancel czar," she said.
When recovery efforts fail, Berry emphasized that reasonable accommodations should be considered such as budget billing, a rolled back price if there was a recent price increase, reduced services, institute a lawn stimulus discount or offer a free first mosquito service preventative as a way to sell another service.
“This is a resounding message to homeowners that it's spring and we need to be on your lawn,” Berry concluded.