5 ways to conquer ant callbacks

By |  August 28, 2018
PHOTO: iStock.com/Ivan Strba

PHOTO: iStock.com/Ivan Strba

Ant control can be a challenge for anyone, even for experienced pest management professionals (PMPs). Success depends on identifying the correct species, finding the nest, determining the ideal treatment and eliminating the colony.

No matter how long you’ve been a PMP, chances are you’ve experienced a callback (or two) on an ant management job. You can develop a strategy, though, that will help reduce the number of callbacks, ensure customer satisfaction and even boost revenue.

1. Communication

There are many skills that a modern pest control professional must use with fidelity to ensure a positive customer experience,” says Cameron Brennan, owner of Brennan Pest Control in Pensacola, Fla. “Key among them is communication, and it is often overlooked and underemployed.”

Talk to your customers, and be realistic about expectations, he recommends. It’s especially important when the source of the problem is in an inaccessible area, like a neighbor’s yard. If getting the neighbors involved isn’t possible, communication becomes critical.

“Explain the situation, offer possible solutions, and lay out a plan your customer can follow,” he says. “They’ll appreciate your candor, and you’ll spend a lot less time on the back end, backpedaling.”

Brennan, an industry veteran who opened his pest management business in February, speaks from experience. Once, a customer complained about all the dead ants in view. Now, he educates customers so they know what to expect after treatment, too.

“We are the professionals, and we should know how long our treatments will remain effective,” Brennan says.

Take the customer on a tour of the structure and demonstrate why it’s important to remove conducive conditions, he says. Explain how simple steps like cutting the grass, keeping vegetation away from buildings, storing dry pet food in sealed containers, cleaning grease off the top and sides of stoves, and vacuuming behind and under refrigerators will help keep ants away. Doing so will allow customers to take ownership of their situations for a lasting, positive outcome.

Honesty is the best policy, says Roger “Derby” Schafer, owner of A Access Denied Pest Control in Las Vegas, Nev. “Being honest in all situations is the best practice,” he says. “Earning a client’s trust one service at a time, and then maintaining that trust, is necessary for future revenue and business growth.”

PHOTO: iStock.com/BanksPhotos

PHOTO: iStock.com/BanksPhotos

2. Cooperation

For Schafer, ant management services during peak season account for about 20 percent of his company’s revenue. If heavy rains occur in the off-season, his company can generate up to
22 percent more ant service calls. Schafer attributes the increases to customers who do not have some type of maintenance program: “When the ants arrive, it can be large infestations that will generate one to two more treatments, especially if they didn’t prep correctly.”

Even customers with maintenance plans need to cooperate with his technicians to help manage pests. Preparation is key, he says, as 98 percent of the time, the customers who have issues are the ones who refused to comply with technicians’ requests to improve conducive conditions.

“A few clients think because we provide pest control, they don’t need to do anything. They hired us and think it is totally up to the pest control company to cure their ant issues,” Schafer says. “But we all know success is a 50/50 proposition.”

Convincing customers that ant management will be more successful with their cooperation can be a challenge.

“Most customers understand that pest control is a process, not an event, but there are always a few who want an immediate fix,” says Jana Claus, office manager for Natura Pest Control in Vancouver, Wash.

3. Education

Claus says her team explains their ant management process to customers, including how results won’t be immediate. Although technicians may be tempted to promise that treatment will work right away, customers will likely see an increase in activity for a short time before the ant population decreases, and then ceases altogether.

“It can be hard to give customers a realistic expectation when they want a magic wand,” Claus says. “It’s better to be honest from the very beginning rather than to make a promise based on false hopes.”

Many times, impatient customers may attempt to solve the pest problem themselves, which makes the PMP’s job even more challenging. Claus says it’s important to clearly explain to a customer who isn’t patient that using any other products during treatment is going to slow down the process.

“We have seen people desperately use window cleaners, bleach and disinfectants to kill the
ants they see,” she says. “When customers have
an understanding of how nonrepellent products work, they are less likely to go back to those unhelpful habits.”

Explaining the behaviors of ant queens, describing colonies, and outlining what the products used will actually do also is helpful.

“Any time we can educate our customers on the process, we find that it increases our rate of success with them,” she says. “Being honest and giving correct expectations from the beginning is best for both us and the customer.”

4. Dedication

Dedicating the right amount of time for the service, and scheduling follow-up service when needed, is key for Jeff Weidhaas, ACE, technical training and safety manager, Bruce Terminix Co., Greensboro, N.C.

“Setting a follow-up may seem counterintuitive to a PMP, because most of us don’t make a penny providing a re-service. But we don’t make a penny doing the five angry service calls that come in from a ‘ready to cancel’ customer because we didn’t solve the problem, either,” Weidhaas says. “I’ll invest one follow-up to save four additional service calls any month.”

Weidhaas says his company’s ant services have continued to steadily increase over the past several years. Now, ants account for more than 75 percent of Bruce Terminix’s pest control revenue, and is the primary reason its customers get — and more importantly, keep — pest control.

“Our employees who control ants need to deliver world-class service,” Weidhaas says. “Our customers are counting on us.”

Reducing callbacks is almost always a simple matter of time investment, says Dan Baldwin, BCE, CCFS, CP-FS, senior food safety scientist, Taco Bell Corporate, Irvine, Calif. 

“The callback is a triple-loser,” Baldwin explains. “One, you’re messing up your schedule and going back for free; two, you’re not doing a paid service while you’re doing the free service; and three, the client isn’t happy.”

Sure, PMPs experience an atypical situation every once in a while. You learn from it and then move on, he says. But you can avoid the majority of callbacks with a small investment of time and attention.

“Focused time is the currency of pest prevention — and properly invested, there’s a substantial return on investment,” Baldwin says. “Investing an extra
10 to 15 minutes the first time can help retain an hour or two of revenue-generating time, and spare the office staff a lot of headaches.”

5. Product Selection

Product selection, based on effectiveness, is more important than product price, says Greg See, operations manager for Pointe Pest Control in Post Falls, Idaho. He says the company worked diligently with manufacturer reps and field technicians to find the right combination of products and treatment techniques. The effort paid off; the company’s overall callback rate dropped from 6.9 percent in 2016 to 4.4 percent in 2017.

See admits he was nervous about purchasing products that were more expensive.

“I would buy everyone one bottle, write their name on it, and say, ‘This is all you get. Make it last. Choose wisely when you need to use it,’” he says. “Over time, as I began to trust our technicians more, I loosened my grip and allowed them more access to ‘better’ products.”

The company has since further honed its treatment techniques, product selection, and customer education information. At first, he says, it was a bit of a guessing game to get the exact net results he wanted, and to see whether the effort was worth it. But over time, the change became measurable.

When comparing 2017 to 2016, the company’s callbacks are down across the board, on all routes. And its overall cost of chemicals, as a percentage of company revenue, went down instead of up. See attributes this to being able to perform more paid services per day, and fewer callbacks per day or week.

“The best part is that our team morale is up,”  he says. “The technicians are glad to be doing more paid stops, and fewer callbacks.”

When shopping for an ant control product, See says he looks for results and effectiveness. He then finds the best price for that product through his distributors, manufacturer rebate programs, and bulk purchasing options.

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