Notification of vegetation management along rights-of-way is an important responsibility. An effective notification program can increase compliance, reduce complaints, and improve overall productivity. Dow AgroSciences created the “Notifying Your Neighbors” program to provide vegetation managers with strategies, effective communication techniques, and key messages to communicate when vegetation managers approach — or are approached by — landowners, the public or the media. The key messages conveyed through the program can help all vegetation managers improve their notification programs, communication skills, public interaction and more. Arbor Age magazine recently spoke with Nikki Hall, U.S. VM marketing specialist with Dow AgroSciences about the Notifying Your Neighbors program.
AA: How long has Dow AgroSciences been conducting the Notifying Your Neighbors program?
Hall: Dow AgroSciences field specialists have been providing landowner communication training for more than 20 years. We’ve updated this successful program last year to be more current and address new concerns of vegetation managers.
AA: What was the motivation for the creation of the program, and what are the overall goals of the program?
Hall: Notifying Your Neighbors was created to help improve the communication skills of vegetation management professionals when they interact with private landowners. The goal of the program is to help vegetation managers communicate what they do, and why, with confidence and help educate landowners about the work being done — especially on rights-of-way where necessary maintenance is performed.
AA: Is there an actual workshop, training seminar or classroom environment, or is it more of a hands-off approach using the print materials and DVD?
Hall: The workshop is a training seminar that is conducted by Dow AgroSciences field specialists. It is a hands-on session that goes through the correct and incorrect ways to approach various situations, and calls for audience participation.
AA: What type of response or feedback have you received regarding the program?
Hall: Response has been very positive. The ability of the program to be tailored to each audience, and allow applicators to take away practical knowledge that will help them do their jobs effectively, has been great for attendees.
AA: Is proper communication the biggest challenge that vegetation managers face when it comes to herbicide application?
To help make the notification experience a little easier, Dow AgroSciences has developed two techniques — INFORM and ABC — that can be used by vegetation managers when communication with landowners.
I: Introduce yourself: A simple but pleasant greeting, such as “Good afternoon, I’m ___________ …” is a good way to begin a conversation. If you have a picture ID, show it to the landowner immediately.
N: Give the Name of your company: Identify who you work for as quickly as possible. Again, your ID will enhance your credibility.
F: State the Facts about the work being done: Tell people exactly what operations you plan to do along with the date and approximate time.
O: Mention the Objectives and benefits of IVM: Provide reasons for the work to be done, such as providing reliable power, or improving visibility along roads for drivers and pedestrians.
R: Respond to questions: Provide answers to landowners’ questions and leave appropriate literature.
M: Make a good last impression: Before you leave, be sure landowners know who to contact if they have any questions.
ABC: Acknowledge, Bride, and CommunicateUsing the ABC technique can help you better address landowner concerns, and is particularly helpful when answering questions. ABC stands for Acknowledge, Bridge and Communicate. First, you acknowledge the person’s question and/or concern. Then you use a Bridge statement to connect the Acknowledgement to the Communicate section. The Communicate section is where you deliver your key messages.Hall: Communication can be a major factor in landowner compliance to treat a certain area along a right-of-way. But there are other critical factors that applicators should always be thinking about, such as applicator safety, environmental responsibility, minimizing off-target damage, and following label directions.
According to research, a large percentage of landowners don’t have a strong opinion about herbicide use. Proper communication and education about the benefits of herbicides — when used correctly in the right situations — can improve infrastructure reliability and save applicators time and money from return trips to the application site.
AA: For the herbicide applicators who are already doing things the “right way,” what can they do in regards to the other companies or applicators out there who are doing things the “wrong way” to overcome any negative perceptions that are being created by others?
Hall: Proper communication techniques used when interacting with landowners is a great way to raise the bar of professionalism and improve perception. The intent of Notifying Your Neighbors is to help companies improve public perceptions about IVM and to help them educate the public about the valuable service they provide. It also strives to help companies meet the highest standards for environmental stewardship, responsible herbicide use and professionalism in the vegetation management industry.
AA: Obviously, a key message of the Notifying Your Neighbors program is that the people representing the company out in the field need to be well informed and ready to handle any questions or situations that may arise. How much training do you recommend that companies or municipal departments conduct with their employees in regards to communication and public interaction before they send their personnel out into the field?
Hall: With applicator employee turnover and retraining of existing employees, our specialists generally conduct the program every year. We do recommend training on public interaction at the municipal level as well. We expect that those entities would want to ensure their employees are all conveying a consistent message about the job they’re doing.
For example, some companies and municipalities have set up communication specialists or departments to address landowner complaints. The level of response is tiered, including field personnel, online information and people at headquarters charged to talk with concerned individuals. Who responds depends upon the question and the questioner. Notifying Your Neighbors helps train employees to deal with landowners and the general public to deliver a consistent message.
AA: A lot of the issues when it comes to the examples of interacting with the public are common sense items such as a professional attitude, informed personnel, and a proactive approach to informing the public. Do you feel that these areas have been severely lacking in the industry (i.e., a lot of people doing it the “wrong way”), or do you think that many herbicide applicators are on the right track and just need to brush up on the “right way” to do business?
Hall: Many herbicide applicators have good communication procedures in place. They are aware that being prepared for issues that may arise is an important part of being a professional vegetation manager. The “wrong way” videos in Notifying Your Neighbors are over-the-top examples for entertainment and to demonstrate a point. The industry is becoming more professional every day, and Dow AgroSciences is proud to play a role in that.
First impressions have such a huge impact on peoples’ opinions, and applicators are many times the first person a landowner will talk to about vegetation management being performed. When we all hold ourselves to a higher standard, the vegetation management industry as a whole benefits.
AA: How does someone become involved with the program or go about receiving the Notifying Your Neighbors information?
Hall: For more information, vegetation management professionals should visit www.VegetationMgmt.com and use the “Specialist Finder” to contact their local Dow AgroSciences specialist. They can also call our customer information center at 800-263-1196.
The way you approach landowners can influence how they react to the prospect of vegetation management. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind:
Speak with confidence and authority. Remember, you are the expert when it comes to vegetation management.
Put the landowner at ease. In most cases, you’re a stranger in the eyes of the landowner. Keep this in mind and act accordingly — make them feel comfortable with you and the situation.
Show empathy. Acknowledge the person’s concerns. Let them know you’re human too, and you can relate to their concerns.
Listen, listen, listen. Give people a chance to voice their concerns and tell you about prior experiences that have influenced their feelings. Give people a chance to vent before you respond.
Control the discussion. It’s important to keep the conversation on track.
Don’t fake it. If a landowner asks you a question you don’t have the answer to, be honest. Promise to find an answer and get the person the information within 24 to 48 hours.
Be polite, even if verbally attacked. This can be difficult, but people tend to calm down more quickly if you don’t overreact to their emotions.
Treat everyone equally. If you are speaking to more than one person, acknowledge each person’s questions and concerns.