guitarman2420: “I have had a client try and opt out of their service agreement, citing that we did not make a service visit since Thanksgiving. That’s not true, they are a troublesome client that is just trying to get out of payment during the off-season (our contracts are 12-month agreements). I know we have removed leaves at least two times since Thanksgiving. What do most of you do to document service visits for routine clients? We use a simple printout, but the techs don’t fill out the forms with a date each week when they visit or blow leaves, only for special projects. To print out work orders for each visit for 60 to 70 residential clients will kill a lot of trees, plus I have to dispose of the paper. I can’t afford to buy hand-held computers, etc. for each tech. Anyone else have this issue, or even better, an inexpensive solution? We are a small to medium-size company: three crews, 70 residential clients and 10 commercial.”

Greg78: “I have made customer worksheets for each property. It is basically a page with customer name and address at top, and lines across the page with the first part of the line for the date and then the rest of the line for what exactly was done to the property. … It is simple and works for us. We never have to guess what was done last week, or even two months ago. If a customer calls with a question, we can pull it out and know exactly what was done.

“I also write down time on property, cut height and so forth. If you print it on the front and back, you get enough spaces for the year.”

guitarman2420: “That’s a great idea. How do you get ‘buy-in’ from the techs? Do you reward them for filling it our correctly? Do you discipline them if they don’t? I know in a perfect world all of our employees do things the way we do, but many times I find techs in my old career field would simply wait until the end of the day or week and fill out all the forms at one time and make up a lot of the information.”

2ndNature: “I started work orders midway through last season because I had a few customers saying my guys never did the work. … As for buy-in, I bonus every week based on a few criteria. All of these must be completed and signed off to get the bonus. Don’t do one of them, and the entire bonus goes away (bonus is an additional $50 a week):

“1. Truck completely cleaned.

“2. Routine maintenance done on mowers.

“3. No customer complaints for the week.

“4. No damaged or missing equipment.

“5. All work orders filled out completely and turned in.

“That’s the ‘carrot.’ The ‘stick’ is that if they can’t do this they are terminated. If you set the standard clearly when you hire them, then they basically fire themselves by choosing not to follow the rules.”

ecurbthims: “What about dropping a bill or a card with a list of what was done in the mailbox each visit? If I was the homeowner who thought your guy hadn’t been to my place, I wouldn’t care what you put on your own paperwork, I would want to see actual proof on my property.”

gasracer: “If they get so anal about it, I would make them sign the ticket every week and give them a copy!”

RichardMartin: “If that happened I could just use my mileage log as proof. Each and every visit to each and every property is documented. The IRS would like it too, if I ever get audited.”

2ndNature: “That is why we use two-part carbonless paper. We keep the original and we leave the copy for the customer.”

eco.lawns: “It should be very easy to point out the work you did. Let’s say you cut the grass. Well, if the grass is short and there are green clippings in the yard, how are they supposed to argue that? I just don’t get how a customer could say something like that – should be obvious. Some people are just PITA though. It’s sad you have to waste your money on something to leave behind because they are crooks.”

Brodie: “I guess we are lucky. When I started business, I computerized a lot of what we do. Most of our forms, work orders, are all on our main computer and also a laptop and soon an iPad. Soon our service agreements will be on there, too.

“The setup is similar to 2ndnature’s form, we just keep it on a computer. We also take a photo of the site before and after on our phones, and while we are driving to the next job, the pictures are uploaded to the client’s file and attached to the work completed form. Then it’s a matter of e-mailing it to the client along with the invoice. This is all done before we get to the next property, and for us it’s easy.

“It is an expensive system to set up, but the clients like it. We found that the system woks best for the tree team. We have found that when we are doing pruning work, the clients often can’t see what we have done … but with good tree pruning they often won’t see the work without it being pointed out unless it’s obvious. This is where taking a picture and sending a work completed form has been really helpful for us, and quick.”

“In Your Own Words” is contributed from the lawn care and landscape forum at www.lawnsite.com, which has been named one of 10 Great Media Sites by Media Business magazine and has been chosen as a winner of the Most Engaged Media Brands for 2010 by min, a firm that tracks the media industry. Visit them, and join in the discussions.