19 March 2012

How to turn a customer into a DIY enthusiast

Nearly two years ago, I moved from a townhouse complex in the ‘burbs' to a big block in a sea change town 60 kms out of Melbourne. I went from having no lawn to worrying about a big grassy backyard (snakes? fire? rats? weeds?). 

As I didn't possess a lawn mower, I took the easy option and out-sourced, telling myself that as soon as I got settled, I would go and buy a mower and do the job myself.  

So Tim's Mowing (named changed to protect the guilty) came every fortnight to mow and whipper-snip my growing greenery. At $65 per visit it wasn't exactly expensive but the basic maths (and looking in my local Bunnings) told me if I invested in my own mower and whipper snipper it would be paid back within 10 ‘sessions'. That return-on-investment scenario didn't prompt me to change. 

Then Tim's whipper snipper sent a couple of stones crashing through my back sliding doors. Although his insurance paid for the replacement glass I still had to stay up until 1am before the repair work was completed. It was an accident, but annoying nonetheless. It still didn't prompt me into changing my grass mowing arrangements. 

Then the original Tim sold his local route to another Tim. The new Tim, although adequate, wasn't quite as good at his job as the first Tim. I felt the stirrings of decision making. I did the maths again - yes, it was an easy decision to make, rationally but, emotionally I hadn't crossed the rubicon. I just wasn't really motivated to do the mowing myself. It seemed a hassle and just another annoying chore to have to regularly complete on my precious weekends.  

Then Tim's price went up. Due to the ‘cost of fuel and CPI' my new charge was $68, a whole $3 or 4.6% more. It irked me and made the maths for DIY mowing even more compelling but did anything change? Nope. The lure of mowing-less weekends was still too strong.   

Then came the straw that broke the camel's back. 

I arrived home from a week in New Zealand last Friday evening. When I woke on Saturday, I went outside to feed the dog and looked at the lawn. ‘Oh, it must have been too wet this week for Tim to do the mowing', I thought to myself as Rebel gulped down his MyDog.  

I then looked through the accumulated mail and there was the normal invoice from Tim. He had come, as normal, on the Tuesday and mowed the lawn. I went back outside and looked a bit more closely. Yes, he wasn't attempting to pull a fast one. The lawn had been mown.  

But it looked like it still needed mowing. And that was a problem for me as we had guests coming over on Sunday afternoon for dinner and as a fine day was forecast, it was certain we would sit out on the back deck to have a drink and chat. I knew that the sight of the grass-that-needs-mowing only two metres from where we would be sitting would just irritate the s**# out of me. 

To be fair to Tim, it had been both sunny and wet last week; ideal conditions for fast growing grass. Tim can't control how fast the grass grows. But in my mind I was paying my $68 for convenience and a result.  

Tim normally cuts the grass on the second-lowest setting which is normally appropriate. This week he needed a little more thought. He needed to appreciate the fact that the grass was growing quickly and therefore maybe the lowest setting may have been appropriate. Yes, I appreciate that this lower setting cuts more grass therefore creates more off-cuts that have to be disposed of and consequently, this all takes more time. 

But I was the customer and I didn't have the result I needed.  

That loud cracking sound you all heard half way through Saturday morning was the camel's back breaking.  

An hour and $400 later, I am back from Bunnings with my new Makita mower. Another hour later it was assembled and fuelled up. Another hour later the back yard is in pristine condition. Joy. I can relax. 

This morning, I paid Tim's last invoice and told him his services were no longer required. 

Tim hadn't done a bad job. He had been reliable and hard working.  

As his customer, I continued to use him because it just seemed too much hassle to go down the DIY path. 

However on this occasion, where a bit more thought, and a different approach, was required, he didn't step up. He just punched out the normal service without realising that he had just given his customer the necessary extra burst of motivation that was required to do himself out of a job. 

Are you just punching out the same old service? 

How easy is it for your customer to go down the DIY path? 

How close are they to making that decision?

Perhaps they are a lot closer than you may think.


  1. Oh, that moment when the client decides to take your work in-house. You know they'll do a worse job, but what can you do?

    I always try and give a bit more, be more proactive, communicate more than I think I need to. Never get complacent, is the message my boss has drilled into me!

  2. Ross, to help you make your payback period even shorter, could you please bring your mower around to my place and mow my lawns too. I'll pay you the same rate you were paying Tim. Cheers Aaron

  3. Stuart Freeman21/3/12 9:25 AM

    Perhaps the great Jim Styne's mantra sums it up best......"I love making a difference". Whether you are mowing a lawn or running a country, the ones we truly admire suprise us with exceptional work when we least expect it.
    P.S still laughing about Aaron's comment above...outstanding!

  4. HI Ross, I am really sorry to hear you have had to become a DIYer. I hope you have had the opportunity to really test the market and see if you have missed a better supplier than Tim’s Mowing

    Perhaps you should enquire about Rossmows – I hear they:
    • Are a niche firm in your area
    • Use qualified greenkeepers
    • Consult with you between each mow
    • Tailor their mowing to the changing season and weed cycles
    • They even have a comprehensive lawn diagnostic tool that if required they will recommend a comprehensive spraying program to slow the weed growth or even eradicate those pesky dandelions
    • Include a whipper snip at no extra cost
    • Guarantee their work
    • Have an extensive after-mow service with personal contact as part of the service
    • Have extensive testimonials to verify how good they are
    • Don’t have contracts
    • They even provide newsletters
    • And you can pay them online

    I’ll be keen to see if Rossmows approach you, and whether your shiny new Makita mower becomes a no-so-shiny dust catcher AKA a Bad Investment!

  5. Paul Fetterplace22/3/12 10:28 PM

    Hey Ross, loved your story and your analogy. I think Mason hit the whole deal right on the nail - good work Mason. But at a deeper level, it's a worthwhile point to make. We all fall into the trap of thinking we're doing an OK job for our clients without testing the water or challenging our thinking. Put yourself in the client's shoes and try seeing it from their perspective - is your service really value for money? Personally, I have long struggled with what our recruitment service is really worth - sure I can justify our time spent versus client resources but in the end the value proposition lies with the client. In your case $68 per visit while value for money was not the right service level - would you have paid more for the service you really craved??
    Paul Fetterplace