Riding Out the Customer Carousel

How to manage extreme customers driven by extreme weather conditions.

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The following are insights from Wayne Volz, president of Wayne’s Lawn Service in Louisville, KY, a company founded in 1979. Volz is also the president of Profits Unlimited, a seminar and consulting firm that strives to help other lawn service contractors earn the money they deserve.

What a summer. Many parts of the country have experienced a much hotter and wetter summer than normal. Others have experienced a drier than normal summer that brings along a separate set of issues. As commercial contractors, we can work with some of these issues. But when Mother Nature throws a whole basket of problems that you have no control over, it quickly becomes a problem. The problem is generally in the form of cancellations of your service.

In my 38 years as a commercial contractor, I can honestly say that this type of weather pattern is what sets the “customer carousel” in motion. That is when your phone starts ringing and your clients are complaining about the quality of their lawns. Some of the questions we must answer are:

  • Why does my yard look like this?
  • What are all these brown spots?
  • Why does my yard look like this and my neighbor’s yard is fine?
  • I have paid all this money and my yard looks like this?!

As we try to answer these questions with the “right” answers, many customers do not want to hear the truth. All they want to hear is that the problem is a result of our inferior service, bad timing, wrong product, or we simply don’t care. As you all know, this is not true.

As business owners and managers, we all care about our client’s properties and how they look. However, too many clients are simply hearing us as making excuses. The fact that they start the conversation off with “you have been taking care of my property for years and my yard has never looked this bad” means nothing to them. If they would listen to what they are saying, they would quickly hear that the results of our service this year are not normal. Instead, many go ahead and fire us and move along to another service provider. Although the weather issues are not our fault, they are certainly our problem.

How do we solve it? Try to explain in detail that this is not a normal year and that you will do whatever possible to turn their lawn around for them. A few measures we took this year were to make post-emergent crabgrass applications at the cost of a regular application, offered 25% off aeration, and discounted our broadcast seeding after aeration.

For some customers, this was good enough and they agreed that it was a weather-related issue and appreciated our help to turn their lawns back around at a discounted price. For others, they simply fired us and went to another service provider. That’s the customer carousel.

The only positive takeaway to this type of weather pattern is that as we were losing clients in a time of the year that we normally don’t, we were also seeing a substantial number of new customers coming on board with us from our competitors for the same reason we were losing ours. I have seen this happen over the years several times and I shake my head every time it happens. If only our clients would work with us and not against us this, whole customer carousel would not have to happen. But it happens, and you have to ride it out.

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