Thursday, July 25, 2013

How To Be a Better Customer (And Get Better Service!)

Many lament the loss of good customer service. It does still exist. I have had many great (and a few not so great) customer service experiences. I do believe our experiences are often tempered by our own behavior and expectations. We live in a automated society full of immediate results where waiting .005 seconds for a web page to load feels like an agonizing length of time. Often our expectations are so unrealistic that no company can possibly leap over the bar we have set. The more specialized services you need, the more likely you are to experience a wait time longer than you like, regardless of industry. Have you ever had to make an appointment with a medical specialists? That can often take months! Our well pump went out a few years ago and we went 5 days without water. At all. We have seven animals and a family of five and the wait for the well guys seemed like forever. Was it an inconvenience? Definetly. The end of the world as I knew it? Nope. An emergency? Well, it might have been had my house been on fire! Frankly, there are few legitimate emergencies in the service industry. Most are truly just inconveniences, and some are larger than others!

I have spent my entire working careeer in customer service, and I may be opening a can of worms here, but here are my suggestions from my 30+ years of experience.

Leave a clear message. We experience a very high volume of phone calls in during our peak season, and often our customers will get the voice mail rather than a live person. Please leave a message and do your best to make it a clear message. You are well aware of your name and phone number, but the person listening to your call and jotting it down notes does not. If you have had 4 shots of espresso, you may need to take a breath and slow down a bit before you speak.
Also, do not assume your name and number are displayed on Caller ID. Saying "This is Bob and call me at this number" does not help if the number is not displayed, nor does it narrow down to which of the hundreds of men named Bob in the database need a call back. A message like that probably will not get a return call, and that is not the fault of the office staff. If you have called from a cell phone and don't get a call back from someone within 24 hours, call again. Notice I said 24 hours, not 2 or 4. Calling repeatedly clogs the system and frustrates you and the office staff - one message is adequate.  I don't know about other areas, but I get at least one call a week from a cell phone that is absolutely unitelligible, where the message is garbled or every few words come thru. Cell phones don't always show on Caller ID, so a message like this will not get returned because it is impossible to tell where it came from. If you are a person who only uses a cell phone to communicate, don't assume your service company is ignoring you, they may not be able to understand you and you might want to give them another chance. A good message to leave for your service company will include your first and last name, your address, phone number and a brief overview of your problem. Do this every time, even if you have done business with them for 20 years and you are sure they will know who it is when you say, "This is Joe and call me back when you get a minute".

Call during business hours. Many of you have jobs that don't allow calls during the normal course of the day, but calling outside of business hours gives your call more opportunities to get lost in the shuffle. Unless you are working with a company that has a 24 hour guaranteed answer line, don't expect an answer on the weekend, at 10 o'clock at night or at 5 in the morning. Everyone needs and deserves some down time. Don't leave a message at 7pm on Thursday night and another one at 7am Friday morning and be angry that you haven't gotten a call back in those 12 hours. Odds are, no one had even listened to your first message by the time you were leaving your second one.

Be honest about the service you need.  This is really important to any service industry. If you call for a dishwasher repair and then ask the technician to check your washer and dryer "while he is here", you have probably messed up his entire day. Likewise, if you call and say you have one broken head and I schedule 15 minutes for that quick repair and then you decide you want your entire 24 zone system checked for proper operation and adjustment, you have just put that technician behind at least an hour and a half for the rest of his day inconveniencing everyone else on the schedule. The information you provide the office staff is used to assess the time and materials your technician needs for your repair. If you completely change what you need after his arrival, it may cost you more in the long run if he has to go searching for parts. We don't charge our customers for parts runs, but I know many service companies do because time is money. If you happen to be one of those people who are having to shuffle your scheduled appointment because of surprise appointments ahead of you, please try to be understanding - we don't do it on purpose!

Let your technician do his job. Feel free to clarify what needs to be done at the beginning of your appointment and get an overview of what was accomplished when he is finished,  but resist the urge to have your technician explain every his move while he is working. If you are following your tech like a hungry puppy and badgering him with questions, you may be gleaning information, but your service call will take longer (and cost more) and your technician is distracted from what he should be focusing on -- your repair.

Plan ahead! This is a biggie. We see this a lot in the sprinkler industry. You plan every hinge and door knob in your new home but wait until the sod truck is in the driveway to begin to consider how you are going to keep it green. A good contractor can be booked out for weeks. You might not like the results with a guy that is available for a same day installation at the peak of the irrigation season. There is usually a very good reason why they aren't busy.
Make sure your sprinkler works before you put on your spring chemicals. If you wait until the end of your "must water in 48 hours" window to even call for assistance, your service company might not be able to help you. As a side note, most spring fertilizers will not burn your yard, they just don't activate until they are wet.
Please don't wait until the day before you go on vacation to call about that head you mowed off three weeks ago. Providing a window of a few hours to accomplish your repair isn't feasible and provides an added layer of stress for both you and your service contractor. They want to be able to help you, but if you pigeon hole too much on the time, sometimes it just can't get done. Your lack of planning should not become their emergency.

Be nice! This should be the easiest rule to follow, but it is so often forgotten. If you are having a bad day, please don't take it out on others (including those you love - life is too short!). We understand that sometimes life is hard, because, frankly, we have bad days too. I am sure you have heard the saying you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar -  it is so true. Almost every person I know in the service industry is more likely to go the extra mile for customers who treat them with kindness and respect than they are for people who are rude. It may make you feel better to be nasty, but it isn't going to get you good service. Not anywhere. If using foul language or intimidation is your go-to tactic for dealing with the people you have hired to provide services for you, I can almost guarantee you aren't getting the best service they can provide. We have a customer who bakes our techs homemade cookies whenever she has an appointment scheduled. If she and "Mr. Rude" have a stand-by call on the same day who do you think they will squeeze in first? Kindness always wins.

Every business and industry has it's own quirks and ways of doing things, but I think these suggestions will be helpful across many different areas of service. Hope this insight from my side of the phone helps you gain better service in your future!

Thanks for sticking with us! We appreciate you!

Keeping it green -

Monday, April 29, 2013

Starting Your Sprinkler System

On top of all the other Monday sort of stuff, the weather was beautiful, the phone was ringing off the hook and our website disappeared off the internet. Wow was it MONday!

Many of you are looking for our start-up instructions, so while I wrestle with the world wide web to try to restore a live website for you, here are our general start-up instructions -

  Go outside to the valve box(es).
Open the lid(s) and CLOSE the drain(s) inside the box(es). Check for any other drains on the system, for example an above ground hose attachment or pool fill hoses. (NOTE: Not every system will have manual drains in the valve boxes, most newer systems have automatic drains - these are yellow.)

2. Go to the vacuum breaker. (The brass device on the side of your house)
The handles should have been left at a half way on half way off position for the winter. Turn the green handles so they shut the valves. Typically in the off position, the upper handle will be vertical and the lower horizontal, or going across the pipe. You will need a flat blade screwdriver to turn the screws (2) on the test-cocks 1/4 turn so that they are also across the pipe (meaning if the pipe is vertical you want the screw to be horizontal).

3.  Go to the basement.
SLOWLY turn on the water to the sprinkler system. If you have correctly closed the backflow, the water will fill up to that point and stop (If the water does not stop flowing within about 30 seconds shut the water back off inside and check the vacuum breaker for leaks). Return outside to the vacuum breaker and slowly turn the green handles starting with the lower green handle. As you turn the lower green handle, you may hear a popping sound as the air is released from the backflow, properly setting the backflow. After this turn the upper green handle so both are in line with the pipe - the lower green handle should be vertical, upper green handle should be horizontal. You should feel the water flowing through the backflow. The water will stop running when the pipes are full to the valves. If the water continues to flow though the backflow after the first few minutes, you need to check in the valve boxes for signs of water. Turn off the water, stop the leak (Frequently is it just a drain that has been left open in a valve box) and try again.

4. Go to the controller.
 Manually start the system, checking each head of each zone for proper operation, walk your yard and check for leaks. After insuring the system is operating properly set your controller to run as needed. Typically three days a week is adequate for early season watering.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rain, Snow, Sleet & Sun

More snow?!?!?
Can you believe it? It snowed again. The second snowiest April in Sioux City history. It just seems a little crazy to all of us who are itching for spring to arrive.

Looking on the bright side, our area has moved from "Exceptional Drought Conditions" to a more "Moderate to Severe" level. This is great news for area landscapes and farmers. Also in the good news category, I heard an agronomist on the news saying that in that full 10 days of moisture we had, there was virtually no run-off. You could about hear the trees heaving a sigh of relief when those first early rains started to soak in.

Although we humans are sick of the dreary weather, it will be for the best in the long run. If we can get a dry enough run here (and the forecast looks promising!) the farmers can get their crops in, followed by another period of rain we will be practically golden. So hang tight! It is all for the greater good!

Many of you are dying to get out into your yard, get the sprinkler running and all those things that tell you that summer is on the way. Don't get into too much of a hurry. Give your yard the opportunity to dry out a litte and dig those roots in deep to look for water. If you start your watering before your grass even needs it you set yourself up for surface roots. I know we have covered that before, but I know some of you haven't listened yet, because every year we see you watering in ways that make us crazy! Besides, as of today, our techs were finding ice in valve boxes located on the north side of properties. Frozen sprinklers won't run. If the forecast holds true we will finally get some sunny and warm days. (Hooray!) The trees are going to explode with color and the grass is going start it's growth cycle. Keep in mind that even though the sun is shining and everything is coming out of dormancy, watering is not an immediate need. So be patient, the season has just begun.

One final note - If you didn't get your spring fertilizer on before all this wet weather, be sure to get your sprinkler up and running before you apply the chemicals. Every year we get a handful of calls from panicked individuals who have fertilized and then discovered that have a non-functioning irrigation system. We encounter such a huge volume of calls in the spring, the odds of us getting your call picked up within the "water in 24 hours" window are slim to none. So this year, do us both a favor and make sure your system works before you break out the fertilizer spreader.

Keep it Green -

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wild and Wacky Spring!

Wild and Wacky Spring!

Wow! Has Mother Nature been having some serious mood swings in the last few weeks!We have seen several types of weather, sometimes in the same day! Looks like after this week we should settle down a bit. I am very thankful for the moisture, which has moved us out of the "extreme drought condition" category, but am ready a little more moderate weather patterns!

It is interesting to me how things change from one year to the next. Last year was crazy hot really early in the spring. We were starting sprinklers earlier than we ever had before. Our fruit trees all blossomed out early, then we got a frost, the blossoms all died and we didn't get any fruit (two years in a row that happened!) This year, here we are at April 15th, which is our average start day, still not starting sprinklers. You just never know how things are going to go here in the Midwest!

The good news is that you have had extra time to make sure all your summer equipment is ready to go. The lawnmower blades should be good and sharp and the mowers and trimmers all tuned up and at the ready. What? You haven't done that yet? Better get on it! Won't be too long before you will be needing those!

I took advantage of the milder days to prune some dead wood out of some trees and bushes on the property. The early bloomers are just starting to fatten up, so it is quite easy to see which branches will be producing this year and which ones are needing to be cut loose. My lilac bushes look so much better. I look forward to having them in full bloom.

Many of you will be applying spring fertilizer in the next few weeks. Remember, make sure your sprinkler is fully functional BEFORE you apply fertilizer. Every year we get panicked phone calls from people who have applied fertilizer that needs to be watered in and then discover that they have winter damage to their sprinkler. Plan ahead and save yourself the emergency call fee that can arise from this situation.

 Hang in there all you winter haters! Spring will arrive soon!

Keep it Green!

Have a super week!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Pruning

Early Spring Pruning

We posted on our Facebook page earlier this winter about making sure your trees were pruned prior to spring. Now that spring is quickly approaching and I can clearly see some tree buds starting to swell, you need to get to work on some of the shrubbery on your property.

Each of the following plants are commonly found in Siouxland yards and can be safely pruned in the early spring.

  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia Davidii)
  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Fall Clematis (Clematis terniflora)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissiam)
  • Hydrangea, Peegee (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’)
  • Potentilla (Potentilla fruticosa)
  • Spirea (except Bridal Wreath) (Spirea japonica))
  • Wisteria (Wistera species)

If you have one of these, clean and sharpen your pruners and give them a trim before they start to grow. Frankly, I cut my Fall Clematis to the ground every spring and I am always amazed at how HUGE it is in the fall. The first time I did it I was terrified, but the results were fabulous, so now it is an early spring ritual.

Before you run outside and butcher all your shrubs, I wouldn't reccomend you hack all these plants to the ground!! Each has individual needs,so do a little research first. I have found the Monrovia website to be very helpful with information on specific plants. also has a "How to Prune Your Shrubbery" article. Or visit your local garden center for advice. Here in Siouxland, John Kluver at Earl May has a weatlth of knowledge about plant care and is always delighted to share what he knows.

Enjoy the milder weather!

Keep it Green!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Have you created a beast?

Hello sprinkler friends!

I have left you alone for far too long! We had the craziest seaon in our twenty-three year history last year. There wasn't hardly time to take a coffee break much less write a blog post. We do hope that this year is a little more manageable than last.

We had horrible dry conditions last summer, which was a huge coin flip from the flooding the summer before.   Mother Nature can be so moody! Many people simply let their yards die last year, particularly people without irrigation systems. We know of a few that quit watering automatically as well, which seemed like a questionable choice to me.

The biggest thing we saw last year is that the yards that got watered the most during non-drought conditions, needed the most water during drought conditions. We have tried very hard over the years to educate our customers about proper watering procedures and a few just aren't listening. I am going to say it again, just in case you missed it!

Established turf grass does NOT need to be watered every day. Even in extreme conditions.

Really, truly. You did not read that wrong. If you water every day the root system of your grass remains at the surface rather than burrowing deeper into the soil to search for water. In the heat of the day if you were to dig a hole the warmest and driest dirt is at the top and the cooler more moist soil is deeper down. What you are doing by watering daily is creating a thick layer of roots in the hottest driest part of the soil.

Turfgrass that is watered daily, because of the altered structure of it's root system is also more susceptible to disease and has to be manicured more carefully. One false move with a lawn mower or trimmer and you have killed your grass. Daily watering turns your turfgrass into a water greedy beast. Spoiled grass needs more water and more care. Stop the crazy cycle before it starts again.

All this being said, please do not start off your season watering daily. Your yard does not need it.Trust me. Your water bill will decrease and the life expectancy of your well system will increase. You will waste less water - overwatered lawns have greater run off. You will mow less and your lawn will be healthier and happier.

But what if it is really hot and really dry? Do you need to water every day then? Not likely. We will talk about that another day, but in most cases the answer is still no.

Have a great day!

Keep it Green,  Siouxland!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hot and Dry Conditions Prevail

This is the first summer in many years we have hit an extensive hot and dry spell. It is easy to see who has a sprinkler and who doesn't, and even who has a good sprinkler and who doesn't. Yards that haven't received any supplemental water look like this right now:

Extremely dry Midwestern lawn
This spring, and even early summer brought repeated heavy rains encouraging grass to keep all their roots at the surface. If the turfgrass never has the opportunity to establish a deep root bed it tends to stress in the heat much more quickly. Those of you who insist on watering daily even in early spring are finding that you have to water even more to keep up with your spoiled root system.

We have had several customer calls this week about properly functioning sprinkler systems. They were concerned that their irrigation system was not functioning at all because the yard was beginning to show stress. Every one of these callers still had their sprinkler systems on the same settings that were programmed when the system was started in April. April conditions are much different than July conditions, particularly here in the Midwest. When it is extensively hot and dry you need to either add watering days and/or increase your watering times. If you have a water budget feature on your controller this is where it really comes in handy. Increasing the water budget to 150%, a common setting for July and August, will add 50% more run time to your existing times for each zone and is easy to scale back as conditions warrant.

For folks who have let their lawns get extremely dry before even starting their sprinklers we recommend a cycle and soak pattern of watering. Running your sprinkler through two full cycles during the overnight hours leaving a couple hour break in between cycles to allow the water to be absorbed.

Don't you want your lawn to look like this?

Lush, healthy turf grass

A poorly designed or maintained sprinkler will certainly apply water, but it won't do it completely, efficiently or well. The easiest way to have a lush green lawn is to have a well designed, professionally installed sprinkler system.  To add to the ease of owning your system, and make it so you don't have to fret about adjusting for rainy weeks and hot dry weeks, we highly recommend installing a weather based Smart control system. These controllers have become surprisingly more affordable for this year. For those of you who have a had Rain Bird sprinkler system installed in the last five years, Rain Bird has upgrade kits available for their ESP 4 Modular controller. The older your sprinkler controller is, the more you should look into upgrading. Without any effort on your part, this impressive technology will adapt the amount of water your yard receives based on soil type, slope, wind, rain, temperature and evaporation. Smart controllers pay for themselves in water savings in about two seasons, depending on the weather conditions.

Water smart and your lawn will thank you.

Keep it Green!