How goodwill can go bad.

From time to time we will talk on The Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum about goodwill. In a recent discussion, one lawn care business owner was asking how much he should charge an elderly customer to install a new mail box post. Almost everyone that responded to the question said to do it for free. Why? Because they know the value of goodwill. They know if you perform a good deed, the story will get out and you will benefit from it. When you think about customer retention and how to get new customers, you gotta keep goodwill in mind. But when is doing a good deed going too far? Can you give out too much of a good thing and be burned by it?

One lawn care business owner wrote “that is something that always bothers me. Here is an example of how it goes for me.

I have like 10-15 yards to mow a day of various sizes. One customer comes out after I am starting to load up and go to the next job and says, ‘hey can you do……’ and does it without any notice in advance at all. So this small little job takes me maybe 5 minutes.

Whatever, I don’t think anything of it and just feel like I am helping them out. The next week I come by and the same thing happens. Only this time, the request is a little longer and it takes me 20-30 minutes to do. Now all of a sudden I’ve gone from lawn boy to free handy man.

I just don’t know how to handle this. Should I tell my customers if they want certain projects to be done to call me in advance so I can slip it in at the end of the week or something since my main job is first and foremost to get my list of lawn jobs knocked out? How should I deal with this in my schedule?”

A second lawn care business owner responded and said “well for me, if there is an opportunity to show goodwill, without any major sacrifice, I do it.

The smallest thing I have done, would be to empty a customer’s bird bath of all the stale water and fallen tree debris. As soon as I put away my equipment, I came back & took a paper towel & scrubbed out all of the excess dirt.

Now I could have chosen not to do this, though I knew my customer was watching me from her window. But I felt it gave me an opportunity to show her what I am capable of. Showing her that I am human and care enough to do one simple yet odd task that most people would probably never even do is in no way negative. Sometimes doing things for free is beneficial. Cleaning out the water wasn’t a service, it was just a little something that takes 2 minutes.

Another time it was chainsaw day for me and one customer had hired me for a big job. When I was done I remembered another customer complaining about a small branch growing into his backyard deck. So, I passed his house and cut it down for free, it took 5 minutes. My truck was full of branches anyway, why not make it count. It was also the end of the day, so for me there was no rush. I might as well use up all the fuel in the chainsaw before I put it away anyway.

The customer noticed and in return, I got a couple of beers off of him.

But now the thing I find is that you need some personal limits on what you will do for free or there is no doubt you will be taken advantage of. Depending on your mood and how your day is going sometimes even the simplest of freebies can become a pain in the ass.

If my customer expects me to clean her bird bath every week for free, honestly I would start to hate my job no matter if it took me a few seconds or not. Just because something is easy, doesn’t mean we always want to do it.

On garbage day, I used to walk my customer’s garbage cans back to their garage door. But after awhile of doing it, I didn’t want to anymore.

Which led me to develop this theory.

If you give someone something for free one time, they love you. If you aren’t able to continue doing something for free, they will hate you. So keep that in mind and you might not want to do any free services, unless you either plan on charging them for it or plan on doing it forever. Once you stop, they have a reason not to like you. So why bother doing them at all?

I had this problem before where I offered to trim a hedge for free because the client didn’t want to pay for it. I just told the guy it’ll be on my list to do later on in the season. Do you know what happened? The guy fired me after a few months because he didn’t feel like waiting till then.

What an idiot, it’s not like he went out the next day and hired another lawn care company to do it WHEN HE WANTED, he just didn’t have it done. The logical thing to do, would have been to offer to pay me like any normal person, so that he can have some say on when it gets done.

All in all, goodwill tasks should be done with caution. Doing something nice can backfire in the worst of ways.”

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