Off-season strategies to keep customers loyal to you
Your lawn care business doesn’t automatically stop because the weather gets colder. Now is the time to work on customer retention strategies.
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARMIT/SXC.HU.
What do you do from one season to the next to make sure your clients remain your clients? Have you ever pulled up on “one of your lawns” the following spring and your client charges out the front door and asks you, “What the heck are you are doing there? I didn’t renew my service for this year.” Do you have a system in place to ensure that when you show up in the spring to begin the new season your customer is not only expecting you, but they also want you on their property?
Read on to learn several proven, relatively simple and professional techniques to boost your customer retention rate.
The first thing to consider is using a service agreement with all of your clients, not just the commercial accounts. Using a service agreement does not guarantee customer retention or your company’s success, but it will certainly help improve the number of ongoing renewals and keep the cash flowing. Regardless of whether or not you’re using service agreements with your clients, (Why wouldn’t you use them?) you need an easy-to-implement system that allows you to measure results.
The next important consideration involves timing. When do you start the process of renewing your clients? Do you wait for the season to end and think about renewals during the winter? Do you wait until you get closer to the beginning of a new season? Do you do nothing at all and simply show up the following year? What works best?
7 Customer-Retention Keys
1. Prepare and use a service agreement with every customer.
2. Always do what you initially promised to do.
3. Under-promise but over-deliver, in that order.
4. Periodically reconnect with clients to check on the quality of your services.
5. Provide clients with helpful tips and suggestions regarding their properties.
6. Make sure you have clear language in your contracts alerting clients to the nature of ongoing service.
7. Notify customers prior to the start of the season of your intent to resume services.
How does this sound? The renewal process begins the day your client signs up for service. When a client decides to hire you and says, “Yes, I would like you to take care of my lawn,” it is the same day a few simple things must begin on your end to consummate the relationship and create customer loyalty.
Use service agreements
Using a service agreement can help your company in many ways as it relates to renewing clients. Your service agreement creates a clear understanding of what will be completed, what the costs are for those services, the billing cycle and the terms of the contract. Defining the terms of your service in a contract reduces the chance for misunderstandings between you and your customers. You will hear fewer comments like “I thought you were going to … ” Have you ever experienced those?
Although a service agreement may not eliminate the questions completely, it will show your client exactly what the two of you agreed to in regards to the nature, timing and delivery of services. In a sense, a service agreement is a credibility builder. It’s another indication that you’re no fly-by-nighter. It that regard, it gives you a better opportunity to renew services to the client after the terms of the original agreement expire.
Do what you told them you were going to do and exceed clients’ expectations. Under promising and overachieving is always impressive and helps you maintain clients from one season to the next. You won’t be in business for long if you work for free or give away your time and efforts. This is where pricing comes into the picture. To offer customer-pleasing service there is no substitute for charging enough to do the job right and, whenever possible, pricing in a small cushion that will allow you to exceed their expectations.
If you paint the sky too blue, you may not meet their expectations and the renewal will be hard to achieve. Do not strive for perfection because it is unachievable. However, if you price your jobs correctly, and you have systems to measure the quality of your services (including whatever extras you can afford to add to your service), you can deliver excellent service.
Stay in touch
Are you contacting your clients after the sale is complete? This doesn’t mean greeting them with a perfunctory hello when you see them on the street. Are you checking in on the quality and level of service to make sure you’re meeting (hopefully exceeding) their expectations?
A follow-up phone call, stopping in to see your commercial clients, or simply stopping by in the evening to see your residential accounts are ways to demonstrate that you care about the service they’re receiving. Even if you’re a small company, personal contact after the sale helps retain and renew your clients. The “I-care” attitude is appreciated by everyone. When is the last time someone that you bought something from actually acted like they cared? If you answered “never,” maybe it is time to change vendors.
Do you give clients an opportunity to critique your service on paper? Many contractors don’t use this simple methodology to create renewals. Don’t get caught up in thinking that they’ll tell you if there is a problem. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Implement the policy of sending your clients an evaluation sheet at least twice a year or after any one-time or seasonal service such as a spring cleanup, mulching, etc. Many clients will not complain to your face, but they will complain or suggest that they wanted something completed differently on your evaluation sheet. An evaluation is a simple tool to help you manage your company, increase renewals and create customer loyalty.
If you are using a service agreement, here are some ideas to help boost your client renewal rate.
Let’s start with dates. Do your service agreements have start and stop dates? For example, something to the effect that you will begin service on a certain day in late winter or early spring and end in late fall? Some landscapers provide clients with ongoing contracts that notify them (usually midwinter) only if there is a change in the cost of the service.
This notification gives clients the opportunity to cancel services before a new season begins by using the contract’s cancellation clause. The cancellation clause should also give the service provider the equal right to cancel the agreement with the same notification to clients. Yes, sometimes it’s a good idea to “fire” a client. Firing a client is sometimes the best thing for both parties.
If they elect to cancel service, it gives you time to replace the business with new work. It’s better to know in January or early February how much business you are retaining from one season to the next so you have time to replace the lost work.
Along with the service agreement, give clients the opportunity to prepay for services and to take a 5 percent discount if they take advantage of this option. Stipulate a cutoff date, say February 15. If you have not offered this opportunity to your clients in the past, you will be surprised at how many will take advantage of this opportunity.
This discount can apply to one month or the entire season – your call. Is there a better way to confirm that your client is onboard for another season? When they pay, they’re committed. And, these payments give you cash flow during a slow time of the year, giving you the opportunity to take advantage of early order programs by your suppliers. This is truly a win-win for everyone involved.
As a final contact with your clients prior to beginning service each year, consider sending out a letter to everyone that your services will be beginning soon and that their ongoing business and loyalty are appreciated. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t include a cancellation option with this letter.
Obviously, following the script presented in this article won’t work for everyone because every company has it own unique mix of services, policies and procedures. But, hopefully some of the suggestions prove helpful because, as we’re all aware these days, once you get good customers, you definitely want to keep them.
Implementing procedures that boost customer retention rates from season to season provide the basis for you to keep the cash flowing into your business. Equally important, it’s absolutely necessary for budgeting your firm’s profitable growth.
Wayne Volz is the owner/operator of Wayne’s Lawn Service, Louisville, Ky., and offers consulting services through Profits Unlimited. Contact Volz at [email protected].