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YOU may be the professional, but your client is the BOSS. You may have all the answers--but the client is the one that makes the decisions and pays you for your services. If your client is dead set against a particular course of action you are advising, be patient. Explain why you think your advice should be followed, along with the possible outcomes of failing to follow your prescription. Connecting an action you recommend with direct consequences gets the client to think about how his obstinence might cost him. Sometimes, they may acquiesce and let you do your job. Other times though, a hard headed client is bound and determine to cost himself money and headache. When he does, explain the time, cost and effort that will be required to fix the problem. You aren't there to say, "I told you so." You're there to say, "Let me tell you how I can fix this problem."
The next time, he'll listen to you.
Just because there's snow on the ground or the clients' grass won't be green again until March doesn't mean that there is no work to do. Some of your clients are not completely satisfied, and you probably know which ones they are. Before they decide to hire someone new, call or visit them to discuss what went wrong or what could be done to improve their lawn's appearance. Some of these folks are going to blame you, and you may have to meet them half-way on the costs of getting their site back in shape.
It's inevitable, if you have any significant number of clients. A pest problem went un-scouted until it was too late. An inattentive employee used the wrong stuff or used too much. The client either did not understand or did not follow your advice. Whatever the cause, something went wrong and the turf suffered.
Practice 'Root Cause Analysis.' Trace the problem all the way to the original, ultimate cause, and make the appropriate changes. Train the employee, correct the language of the advisory or bulletin, correct the mixing instructions. Then go back to the client, explain what went wrong and how you corrected it, and confidently explain what you're willing to do to restore their site to tip-top shape. This is professionalism at its best. You may still lose the client, but you are just as likely to earn their respect for your willingness to correct problems and improve service.
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. With that in mind, be vigilant in scouting for pests in your lawn. Learn as much as you can about the pests that your turf faces in your area. Learn about their life cycle--when they appear, what they eat, when they mate, where they lay their eggs and how long before the young appear to complete the cycle. Nine times out of ten, interrupting that life cycle will head off most of the damage. For example, we know that white grubs (larvae of the June Beetle) hatch from eggs laid by burrowing adults in July. Thus, the right time to treat for grubs is late July, but only if we've seen the telltale signs of burrowing adults (small holes and small bumps of soil, adult insects a few inches beneath the surface, etc). We also know that chinch bugs are a serious threat only to St. Augustine in full sun. If you see yellow patches appear, in a sunny St. Augustine lawn, get down there and part the turf. If you see small, 1/8 to 3/16" long winged bugs, treat them right away. If you have a shady lawn, don't treat a problem you or your client isn't likely to have.
The best thing you can do for your lawn is develop a maintenance plan, and stick to it. You know how much time you're willing to spend working on the lawn. You need to spend that time as wisely as possible. Learn what your grass needs, and develop a plan that lets you do the right work at the right time. Develop a schedule for fertilization and pest scouting, and make sure you perform those tasks at the appropriate time. Develop an irrigation schedule too, but make sure that your moisture maintenance plan includes rainfall. Know the mowing requirements of your grass, and make sure your personal schedule includes enough time to do the job right. You don't have to spend a fortune on lawn care to have a great lawn. All you need to do is spend your time right.
You do have a Pesticide Applicator's License, don't you? The 1972 Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) mandated that each state certify and regulate the commercial users of pesticides. The procedures and requirements for obtaining the certification vary from state to state, but there are stiff penalties in store for you if you or your employees apply regulated substances without a license.
Some of the folks who hired you are quite satisfied, and may be willing to tweak their service in order to improve their site's appearance or performance even more. These are the people you need to contact right now. Explain what you think could be done to change their site into a real showcase, and ask if you could use them as a reference.
If your doctor walked into your operating room and proceeded to perform surgery without even washing his hands, how would you feel? I'm not suggesting that you clean your equipment after every yard--you'd never get to everyone. But if you're working on a lawn that you KNOW has some disease problems, you owe it to yourself and your next client to clean your equipment. A simple solution of 1 tbsp bleach in 1 gallon of water will kill most disease organisms. In fact, do that as soon as you arrive at the site. Showing your client that you care about the health of his landscape is a great way to build a good relationship.
If you want a competitive edge in this very competitive industry, sign up today to receive your certification. Certification is awarded at the end of an independent study course and completion of exam materials. You'll receive a plaque, a cloth patch and a wallet sized card.
Then in your advertisements, state clearly that you are "CERTIFIED." Your clients need to trust you with their investment. They will, if they are confident that you really are a pro.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|