Owners must anticipate, manage employee mistakes


September 24, 2018

I was having a tasty lunch recently at a local cantina with two industry sales reps, Mike Weissman and Bill Dyra (I had the Bistec a la Mexican Platter … delicious!). We were discussing the risks involved in being an owner. It’s bad enough when you are a single-person operation and you worry about the day-to-day problems that can pop up, but when you have multiple employees, the risk factor goes up exponentially.

PHOTO: Pete Schopen

PHOTO: Pete Schopen

Mike and Bill showed up at my office one day in early July, at precisely the same moment that one of my techs was spraying a person’s home — the wrong home. Luckily, the homeowner was present and stopped us. After a few minutes on the phone with him, I convinced the “wrong” homeowner to let us finish the job at a discounted price. He agreed, and everything turned out well. But these are the moments that keep me awake at night as an owner. I can’t be with all 12 techs all of the time.

I am fortunate that I have reliable techs. They show up to work each day on time, and they rarely call in sick. It’s as solid a group of techs as you’ll see in our industry. But that doesn’t mean they never make mistakes. It only takes a split second to lose focus and spray the wrong house, or slide a vehicle into a ditch, or squirt insulating foam sealant all over the side of someone’s home, or fall off a ladder and into someone’s hot tub (I’ve done it). Each tech is a time bomb waiting to go off.

So far, this year alone:

  • A truck ran over a client’s stone pillar mailbox.
  • A truck slid on ice into the side of a building (see photo at right).
  • A truck smashed our overhead garage door while backing up into the warehouse.
  • A tech blew out his power sprayer pump because he tried to use it with ice in the hose.
  • A tech used an insulating foam sealant inside a client’s weep holes on her brick home.
  • A tech broke a client’s downspout with his power spray hose.
  • Three techs pulled a practical joke on another tech by placing dead rodents in his truck. Not smart (or funny); the truck reeked for a week.
  • Two veteran techs got into a tiff and nearly came to blows in our warehouse.
  • One of my new guys tried to avoid a deer and totaled his personal vehicle.
  • Some of our employees were talking during a company meeting while I was trying to introduce our new human resources contractor. One of my techs lost his patience with the “talkers,” and told them all to “shut the f___ up,” right in front of the HR guy. Oy vey!
PHOTO: iStock.com/scanrail

PHOTO: iStock.com/scanrail

Preventing missteps

So, how do you minimize the number of “bombs” that might go off? Here are four tips that have worked for us:

1. Training is critical. My employees always laugh when I’m training a new guy because they call it the “don’t do’s” seminar: “Don’t spray here; don’t spray there; don’t spray over this; don’t spray over that; don’t drag your hose here; don’t park your truck here …”  One new tech I hired from a competitor finally asked, “What can I do?”

We also have monthly training sessions for using new chemicals, ladder safety, driving safety, etc.

2. Flashlight skills are key. Make sure every tech has a working flashlight — and that they are actually using the flashlights. Nothing makes me crazier than a tech who walks into a house without a flashlight (OK, maybe people who leave empty toilet paper rolls in the bathroom). Not only is a flashlight your MVP of pest control tools, but it helps avoid “bombs” from going off. Flashlights help you see:

  • The family cat you were about to spray.
  • The kids’ toys.
  • The pacifier that was hiding under the bed.
  • The CPAP mask that the husband wears each night.
  • The feminine products under the bathroom sink.

3. Try to learn from the mistakes. Life is all about coachable moments. As owners, we must coach, teach and train all the time. It never stops. When a mistake is made, I wait until the end of the day — I don’t want to frazzle an already-upset employee — and then I coach the person. I’ll ask him or her to go back over the situation, and explain to me how it could have been handled better.

4. Have fun with your employees while teaching them how to avoid problems. At the beginning of wasp season, we have a “dead pool” at my company. I give the odds on each employee as to who I believe will get stung first. Secretaries, the billing department and techs all are included. It’s not gambling because I don’t accept any money. Rather, I give out gift cards to the employees who picked the correct recipient of the summer’s first wasp sting. For example, if I gave myself 30-1 odds and I get stung, then anyone who picked me would get $30 in gift cards. This simple game raises the awareness level for the techs, and helps them spot and avoid dangerous situations.

Schopen is owner and founder of Schopen Pest Solutions, McHenry, Ill. You can email him at pete@schopenpest.com or reach him via Twitter: @schopenpest; Instagram: @peteschopen; or Facebook: Schopen Pest Solutions, Inc.


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