Some people think having a nice lawn is a luxury, but what they don’t understand are all the added benefits that a properly maintained green space offers. Increased oxygen, built-in temperature control and a natural space for leisure are just a few of the perks. According to ProjectEvergreen.org, green spaces filter pollutants and dust from the air, decrease soil erosion, retain rainfall and even help reduce temperatures.
“When we teach people about the benefits of grass and green space, we are essentially preserving our industry,” says Dr. Rodney St. John, agronomist at Ryan Lawn & Tree in Overland Park, Kansas. “We don’t want to focus on what people aren’t doing or maybe doing incorrectly, instead we talk to them about how simple practices like proper watering, mowing and raking can make all the difference.”
St. John has made it his mission to provide customers with the type of information they can’t find online. Each route manager has specific customers assigned to them. Those customers are given the personal phone number of their route manager and encouraged to call him or her whenever they have a question about lawn care.
“We want to make it easy for the homeowner,” St. John explains. “Once you build this partnership, your customers will see you as a resource. Over time, this also encourages them to play more of a hands-on role in the maintenance of their lawn.”
Teaching the teacher
Each winter, the more than 250 employees that work at Ryan Lawn & Tree go through mandatory training to sharpen their product knowledge and customer service skills.
“We spend time on agricultural and agronomic issues, but we also want to make sure that our turf, pruning, irrigation and plant health care route managers are comfortable speaking to customers,” says St. John. “They are representing the company, so it’s important that they articulate smoothly, confidently and accurately.”
The training also allows the company to keep employees on full time. These sessions generally start in January and run through mid-February or as soon as the first applications of the season can go down.
“Not everyone receives the same training. We try to tailor the content, so it’s more applicable to each department,” St. John explains. “In the past, we’ve brought in outside speakers, in addition to having managers train their departments. It’s a very hands-on effort, something that we want our employees to look forward to during downtime.”
They’ve also held a few summer field days where the employees are cross-trained on the various departments.
“These sessions have been wildly successful with helping our staff understand how and why we do things,” he says.
There are many different ways a company can communicate with customers, but St. John has noticed that the personal touches make the difference. Each route manager is asked to write a note after each customer visit.
“It doesn’t have to say much, just include something nice about the property,” he says. “Tell them you noticed the fresh mulch they put in their landscape beds or what a good job they’ve done mowing.”
Ryan Lawn & Tree also distributes a customer newsletter each month. It talks about some services, but mostly it focuses on topics unrelated to the company, such as tips for proper irrigation, how to plant a vegetable garden or popular summer flowers.
Social media has also made a big impact in terms of sales and communication.
“Similar to our newsletters, we’ll post some promotional copy, but a lot of the information we share on social media is more human interest,” he says. “We can’t be with our customers 24/7, so this has been a great opportunity to continue that line of communication.”
When St. John isn’t at the office, you can find him imparting his wisdom on groups around Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. He’s spoken to master gardener classes, church groups, homeowners’ associations, local gardening clubs and small-business lunch groups. He also helps write and publish articles internally and externally, and he contributes to a local morning variety show, KCLive, where he offers landscape tips. Before joining the Ryan Lawn & Tree team, he worked as a Kansas State turfgrass Extension specialist.
“I want people to enjoy their lawns, gardens and green spaces,” St. John says. “And when you understand the importance of healthy landscapes, you’re able to appreciate them that much more.”