Lessons from the Weeds in TruGreen’s Treatment

My wife and I built a house a couple of years ago. We had to seed an entire yard in late 2015 and, like all new lawns, it has its issues. Early this spring, after one full growing season, I realized that I needed some professional help controlling the weeds and getting the yard healthy. I noticed that several of our neighbors used TruGreen lawn service and TruGreen has made a huge marketing push this spring so I went online to check them out and request a quote. Literally, within a minute of submitting my online quote request I received a phone call from a TruGreen sales person. I was impressed.

One of the things that TruGreen made a big deal about on their website and in their sales pitch was the fact that my “Ph.D certified lawn specialist” would come, do a site analysis, a soil sample, identify the type of grass we have, and discuss with me with a site plan for my lawn. I care about my new lawn and I realize that I have some responsibility in its success. TruGreen even promised they’d visit between treatments, if needed, to ensure my satisfaction. The idea of a lawn specialist who would talk to me, answer my lawn care questions, and partner with me in making my lawn healthy was a big driver in convincing me to sign up.

Within a couple of weeks I received a phone call informing me that I would get my first visit the following day. A TruGreen “specialist” arrived and knocked on my door. When I opened it he quietly said “I’m going to treat your lawn” as he backed away from the door. Fine. I figured I’d let him do his thing and wait for my site analysis, soil sample, and a discussion of the plan when he was done. I never heard back from him, but I did receive a computer generated report on my door knob with what appeared to be stock information and instructions.

A couple of weeks later I received a call, and the Caller ID said it was from TruGreen. I figured maybe this was my call with the results of my site analysis and a chance to discuss the plan.

Tom! This is your local TruGreen office here in Ankeny, Iowa. I understand you’re interested in some lawn care services,” he said.

I was confused. “Actually, I’m already signed up and I already had my first treatment,” I replied.

Okay. Well, I must have gotten an old message. Sorry to bother you. You have a good day.” [click]

At this point, I wasn’t so impressed with TruGreen. However, almost 25 years in Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) research and Quality Assessment (QA) have taught me that the best of corporate service systems have their glitches. I wanted to give TruGreen a chance and see how they would respond to a sincere customer expressing my dissatisfaction. I went to the website and contacted Customer Support using their on-line form. I explained my frustration and what I had both expected and experienced. Later that day, to their credit, I received a phone call from Holly on the TruGreen Customer Support team.

As a Customer Service QA professional, I can testify that Holly was a total pro (much like the Sales associate who initially called me from TruGreen). If I was doing a C Wenger Group Service Quality Assessment (SQA) analysis of Holly’s call she would have received a complete 100. She was personable, conversational, and empathetic. She apologized, articulated a thorough review of the situation, and then assured me that the following morning I would receive a visit from my lawn care specialist from 7:30-9:30 a.m. She also advised me that my specialist was relatively new and a little shy. Nevertheless, she promised he would do the site analysis and soil sample. He would share the results with me, discuss my site plan, and answer my questions. And, she gave me a 50% reduction in my second treatment.

The following morning at 8:30 my door bell rang. As before my specialist quietly said he was going to treat my lawn as he stood fifteen feet from my front door. That was it. This time I stepped out and walked down to him. I told him I was concerned about my lawn and the patches of clover that were growing. I wanted to know what the “plan” was.

Clover’s hard to get rid of,” he said. “I’ll spray it really well today.” He added it might take multiple applications to get rid of clover. There was no mention of my site analysis. There was no mention of my soil sample. There was no mention of a site plan, discussion of my lawn, or mention of the concerns I’d discussed with Holly. I figured I’d see how things played out and returned inside. Thirty minutes later my TruGreen Lawn Specialist pulled away from the curb having left his stock, computer generated printout of what he’d done to my lawn on the door knob.

I contacted Customer Support once again on May 19 (ticket #1698933), referencing my previous ticket number. I repeated what Holly told me I could expect and then described what I had actually experienced. I reiterated that I simply wanted TruGreen to deliver on their promise. I asked that they either provide me with a lawn specialist who will communicate with me as advertised or be honest with me that I was stuck with what I’d received so that I could pay my bill, cancel my services, and search for other alternatives. The auto reply stated TruGreen would respond as quickly as possible.

It has been over two weeks. I have yet to receive a reply from TruGreen Customer Support.

You can learn a lot about a company and the systemic issues that negatively impact their customers’ satisfaction with a relatively small sample of phone calls, emails, chats or other communications. My experience with TruGreen has me pondering several thoughts and assumptions…

  • TruGreen has a top notch technology system with regard to national marketing, sales, support. They are everywhere in the media. They have great ads and a well articulated promise. They are quick to respond to any on-line quote request and a well-trained sales person gave me a great introduction. Likewise, my initial Customer Support experience was both responsive and top notch.
  • TruGreen has local branches across the nation who deliver their lawn services. I’m not sure if they are independently owned franchises or corporately owned subsidiaries, but I quickly learned that the actual customer experience with TruGreen is highly dependent on my local TruGreen branch, their staff, and their abilities. The fact that my local Ankeny office called to sell me services I had already contracted and that they themselves had already delivered tells me that there is at least some disconnect between TruGreen Corporate and the TruGreen branch.
  • TruGreen corporate sales and support is at the mercy of the local branches to deliver a satisfactory experience and resolve actual customer issues. Holly in Grand Rapids could make all the promises and assurances she wanted, but if the local branch in Ankeny was unwilling or unable to deliver, the promise would remain hollow and unmet. The local branches, their communication with national sales and support, and their ability to deliver appears to be a crucial weak link.
  • I assume that TruGeen branches are struggling with an annual seasonal crunch exacerbated by their aggressive national sales efforts. Local branches must quickly hire and train “specialists” and meet increased demands. I have to assume that my specialist was part of an army of newly hired, quickly trained specialists who were rapidly deployed and are struggling to meet demand.
  • I’m sure that most TruGreen customers are happy with a regularly scheduled visit from an anonymous lawn specialist who treats their lawn when they’re not home. I’m also reasonably sure that most customers are satisfied with the stock thermal paper report on their door knob. I accept that I may be among the few customers for whom the site analysis, soil sample, and partnership of a lawn specialist who communicates with me about my lawn is a key driver of my satisfaction.
  • Given that I’ve not received any response from TruGreen’s typically efficient and responsive national support system leads me to suspect that they’ve either accepted that I’m a lost customer or have placed responsibility for resolving my issue on the local branch who has not responded. Pardon the pun, but I’m left feeling like I’m just a pesky weed.

Our experiences as customers, both positive and negative, are opportunities to learn, grow, and continuously improve. That’s what C Wenger Group’s Service Quality Assessments are all about. My experience with TruGreen reminds me that great front end communication with sales and support can only go so far. Customers will ultimately judge us by the actual experience that happens in the moment of truth when we’re interacting. For TruGreen that is at the front door and on then lawn. I am also reminded that almost every customer service problem is rooted in a communication issue.

TruGreen simply needed their lawn specialist to spend 5-10 minutes communicating with me on the initial visit:

“Hi Tom. I’m Joe. If you’ve got a second, let me chat with you about your lawn. Tell me a little bit about your lawn and what your concerns you have? I hear you and I understand. Here’s what I know having analyzed your lawn. Here’s what we’re going to do and what you can expect to see happening with your lawn. Here are a few suggestions I have for your mowing and watering that will make a big difference in us getting this lawn healthy.”

Once I became a dissatisfied caller, TruGreen simply needed someone to “come out as often as needed” to say:

“We’re sorry. We dropped the ball on you. We’re going to do what we promised to do in the first place, and then we’re going to follow-up with you to make sure we get this right.”

As a customer, a company’s silence can be deafening.

 

More great reading from Tom Vander Well:

 

Tom Vander Well serves as Executive Vice-President of C Wenger Group and has led the group’s Quality Assessment, Training, and coaching efforts for over 20 years. A long-time blogger, Tom’s QAQnA and Service Quality Central blogs were awarded for their content in the Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, and contact center industries. Tom was also the contributing Customer Service columnist for the Des Moines Business Record‘s IowaBiz blog. Tom consults with businesses, large and small, in improving customer satisfaction and customer service. tom@cwengergroup.com  @cwengergroup

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