To create happy, long-term clients, Noon Turf Care restructured its lawn tech compensation model.
Noon Turf Care’s lawn care technicians used to get paid by what Chris Noon calls the old-fashioned way: The more homes each tech treated in a day, the more money he or she made. Despite high production rates, client turnover was a problem for the $8 million company based in Marlborough, Mass., and Noon, the company’s president, thought maybe there was a better way. After a complete overhaul of Noon Turf Care’s employee payment and bonus structures, and with a new emphasis on customer interaction, the company’s client retention rate is up 7 percent since last year and workers are more focused on providing superior customer service than ever before.
“We are a small, regional business, so we would rather solve clients’ problems,” Noon says of his company’s new approach. “We don’t want to just keep turning people over.”
Noon Turf Care provides lawn care services to a 95-percent residential client base. The company began to address client retention issues about two years ago when it launched a new customer service strategy modeled after the pest control industry, which boasts an average client retention rate of about 90 percent. Noon believes part of the pest industry’s enviable retention rate is, unlike the lawn care industry, it often requires signed contracts. But he also credits much of it to the relationships developed between clients and technicians, a result of the mandatory face-to-face interaction that takes place when the tech enters a client’s home.
“The pest industry has that emotional client/employee relationship—they have to coordinate, set a schedule and make the appointments happen,” Noon says. “Our customers don’t have to open the door, but, we said, ‘Let’s pretend they do.’”
So Noon Turf Care brought that same level of client interaction to its lawn care business. Each new customer is required to have an in-person consultation with a lawn care technician before the first service is performed. During this visit, the tech walks the yard with the client, discusses lawn issues and finds out what the customer didn’t like about his or her previous lawn care provider. But more than that, these visits help the clients associate Noon Turf Care with an individual who they can get to know and trust.
As a result of the new service approach, Noon Turf Care implemented a retention bonus about seven months ago. The incentive is determined through a formula the company calls the “N” Factor. Technicians are paid a base salary plus a bonus multiplier based on criteria such as prior years’ retention rate, education and years of experience. Retention is measured individually per tech and route, and the bonus is calculated weekly with the opportunity for employees to earn an annual bonus, as well. The better the client retention rate, the higher the multiplier, and, ultimately, the more money employees earn. Noon Turf Care technicians can earn up to six figures annually if they maintain the company’s standard level, Noon says.
Although this new approach takes more time and overall production has gone down, the 7-percent increase in customer retention and the 15-percent decrease in service calls since last
year is proof for Noon that his
approach is working.
“Our techs had to slow down a little bit; they had to take their time,” Noon says. “But a little extra time upfront making that human connection goes a long way. Our field techs know that this first point of contact is very important now.”
Each Noon Turf Care technician is required to complete a week of classroom training that includes presentations and role-playing situations, plus a week of in-field training with a branch manager where they observe what appropriate client interaction should look like. After their training is complete, each technician is assigned a permanent route for the year. Technicians aren’t permitted to service any lawns that aren’t part of their routes, which not only holds all techs accountable for their workloads, but it ensures they develop and maintain relationships with their specific clients.
“We are putting a definition to better service,” Noon says. “We are going to compensate our team members to offer better service and keep clients happy.”
The program is still in its early stages, and Noon Turf Care hasn’t yet done a formal survey to gauge how clients view the changes in the company’s practices. But with client retention up and the number of service calls down, Noon expects any future client feedback to be positive. He adds that by retaining their current clients though superior customer service, he expects word-of-mouth referrals will help them earn new clients in the future.
“It’s sort of a game changer—I haven’t seen any other companies doing anything like this and being effective with it, and I haven’t heard of any other forms of employee compensation that have worked,” Noon says. “New clients don’t know anything about us, so we have to get off on the right foot. We’re treating that as a necessity and making it happen.”