Great expectations: Successful ant control in 5 steps

|  July 29, 2019
Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White, pmimages@earthlink.net

Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White, pmimages@earthlink.net

Pest management professionals (PMPs) can attract and retain customers by better managing expectations when it comes to ant control. You can ensure customer satisfaction at each step of the pest control process. Follow these five steps so customers will know what to expect.
 

1. Marketing.

Bery Pannkuk

Bery Pannkuk

Offering ant control services will help you build your company’s revenue — and not only because the number of potential customers who struggle with this pest is seemingly limitless. Ant control provides recurring revenue, and will help boost revenue when offered as part of a service plan.

“Few ant species can be controlled with a one-time service,” says Bery Pannkuk, ACE, director of sales for Rose Pest Solutions in Winnetka, Ill. “If you sell ant control as a one-time service, chances are your customer is going to feel ripped off when the ants re-invade.”

Species with many queens and several colonies require ongoing service to successfully manage. Other species forage for hundreds of feet, invading from neighboring locations with no access for control. Return trips ensure satisfied customers.

And satisfied customers are more likely to market your services for you. With that in mind, train technicians to request referrals and positive reviews at every service call.

“Don’t be shy,” says Andy Nieves, franchise owner of BHB Pest Elimination NJ/PA, South River, N.J. “If you feel your customers are happy with the work you do, ask them to let anyone they know who might need pest control to contact you.”

Andy Nieves

Andy Nieves

Be sure to mention you’re adept at handling other pests as well. Explain which general pest control services you offer, as they may know someone who has bed bugs or cockroaches, but doesn’t know where to turn for help.

“Whatever the problem is, your customers won’t know how to refer you until you let them know what you do,” Nieves says.

Traditional forms of marketing, such as direct mail, also are effective ways to attract more customers. But to retain them, make sure your message is clear and accurate. Manage customer expectations by making it clear you offer pest management, and not pest elimination.
 

2. Inspection.

As with any pest, a thorough inspection is critical to gain control. Ant colonies and nests may be located indoors or out, in trees or underground, inside walls or under pavement. Keep in mind, customers expect you to find the source of their ant infestation eventually.

Joe Sirio

Joe Sirio

“Ant control requires an extreme amount of patience, but the rewards are profound,” says Joe Sirio, president of BugBusters of Long Island, Deer Park, N.Y. “If you take your time and thoroughly inspect, you will eventually locate the entry points that will require a targeted treatment for quick control.”

Customers can help you determine the extent of their ant problem, and provide a starting point for your inspection.

“Our customers spend more time on their properties than we do, so they observe the insects at various times of day,” says Desiree Straubinger, BCE, CP-FS, market technical director, Rentokil North America, Orlando, Fla. “A lot of times, we arrive to find no pests at that moment. But based on their input, we can figure out where the pests were coming from at that time and provide treatment and recommendations accordingly.”

Desiree Straubinger

Desiree Straubinger

Paying attention to what customers have to say will help ensure their satisfaction with you and your services. Doing so will show you care, and may even point you in the right direction as you begin your inspection.

“It’s easy to be a know-it-all and talk over customers, telling them what they need to solve their problem,” Nieves says. “Listening might unveil where their problem actually is coming from.”

Resist the urge to underestimate the value of the information customers provide.

“Indifference will not help solve an ant problem,” says Michael Caminos, owner of Caminos Pest Control in Cape May Court House, N.J. “If your customer isn’t helping by keeping tabs on where or when they are seeing ants, it may delay your efforts to find the source of the infestation.”

While it’s important to learn all you can about the infestation from your customer, their input is no substitute for your tools, training and experience.

“A good PMP should never go to a customer’s home or business with a preconceived idea of how to treat a pest control issue,” says Randal Dawson, ACE, operations director, DC Scientific Pest Control, Tuscaloosa, Ala. “Inspect and identify always should be the first two steps of the process.”

Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White, pmimages@earthlink.net

Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by,
Gene White, pmimages@earthlink.net

3. Identification.

Randal Dawson

Randal Dawson

Successful treatment depends on an accurate identification of the ant species. With more than 700 species of ants in the United States alone, it is critical PMPs know what they are dealing with. Customers expect the pros they hire know ants. Proving them right ensures they will be confident in your abilities to solve their problem.

“If all our technicians and sales reps know the biology of ants, and can identify the different species of ants, the customer obviously will trust the expert more,” Pannkuk says.

Training is essential, he adds, to be able to identify all the different ant species. While information and photos found on apps, through internet research and in manuals may be useful, Pannkuk says he believes demonstrations using insect collections are the most effective training tool. “Hands-on is the only way,” he adds. “Nothing beats actually holding a pest in your hands.”

Contributing to the challenge of properly identifying ants is their small size, the vast number of species, and their various harborages. “If you don’t correctly identify the type of ant you are trying to treat, the odds go way down on the likelihood of performing a successful service,” Dawson says.

He advises using a microscope to closely examine the ants you encounter at a service call, taking note of physical characteristics such as the color and number of segments in the antennae.

Don’t hesitate to share your findings with your customers. They expect you to know enough about ants to provide control, so offer your expertise.

“The specialist or manager spends time showing the insects to the customer and explaining the species and habits,” Straubinger says. Rentokil also produces blogs and papers on major pests throughout the year to help educate customers, she notes.

Michael Caminos

Michael Caminos

At BugBusters, Sirio says his employees share with customers the biology and habits of the ant species that infest their homes.

“Educating customers who are willing to learn and cooperate is exciting for our company, as we are able to share our passionate knowledge while working together as a team, which is a huge bonus,” he says.

It also helps manage customer expectations and prevent misunderstandings regarding treatment methods.

“Educating the customer on the biology of ants can help minimize callbacks,” Caminos says. “If you don’t explain how ants will react to an initial baiting service, for example, you can expect a call from an angry customer who wants to know why they are seeing more ants around the areas you baited.”
 

4. Treatment.

Once you properly identify the ant species, you must determine an effective treatment method. Different species of ants require different types of treatment. The wrong treatment may make an ant infestation worse. Customers expect you to know what it takes to get an infestation under control.

But treatment isn’t limited to a precise combination of products. An integrated pest management (IPM) program will enable you to determine whether sanitation issues must be corrected or exclusion work must be performed to ensure treatment is effective.

“Based on the type of ant involved, you can determine whether a spray, gel bait, granular or combination product is needed to treat the problem,” Dawson says. “There is no one way to take care of all ants. You have to do your homework.”

Jake Claus

Jake Claus

Act fast in the event of a callback. Your customers should expect nothing less.

“Being quick to return for a retreatment, and being knowledgeable and thorough, helps you stay relevant in your customer’s life as a trusted ‘problem solver’ when it comes to pest issues,” says Jake Claus, ACE, president of Natura Pest Control in Vancouver, Wash.

Besides, waiting too long may cause customers to take matters into their own hands. And you won’t want that to happen.

“Facebook is great for keeping in touch with family and friends, but, as it turns out, is not a very reliable resource for finding out how to get rid of ants,” Claus quips. “Once a customer has sprinkled cinnamon or sprayed Windex — we call this the ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ treatment — you have no idea where the colony is, and your treatment methods lose their effectiveness.”

Although well intentioned, your customer’s actions made the problem worse and therefore “reflects poorly on you,” he adds.

Straubinger agrees, saying customers may not want to wait and instead spray products that act as a repellent. “This can be especially harmful when dealing with ants, as it can cause the problem to multiply and spread quickly into other areas.” she says.

When treating for ants, it helps to inform customers what they can expect after treatment. Advise them they may see some dead insects,
for example.

“Minimize the impact the ants could be having on the customer,” Caminos says. “If you serviced a food establishment, help reduce the incidents of ants visible to their customers. In most cases, it’s best if you take a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach.”
 

5. Customer Relations.

To ensure customers do not make an ant infestation worse than it already is, communicate clearly with them. Often, customer cooperation can be the key to effective ant control, so be sure they understand what is expected of them.

Ants predominantly initially infest a building’s interior for one of two things: food or water, says Straubinger. Customers who can help eliminate these conditions, and seal the cracks and crevices that allow entry, will ensure more effective control.

“It keeps the ants outside where they are easier to find and eliminate,” she adds. “We receive assistance with the sanitation and structural parts of pest control by building a partnership with the client.”

Getting customers involved in the ant management process also works for Caminos.

“Any time a customer can help remedy a situation, it will increase your chances of success,” he says. “Making sure landscaping isn’t touching the side of the house or building, eliminating moisture situations in and around the home, and proper sanitation practices are important factors in helping us help our customers.”

In the past, Claus says, customers were given a letter at their initial service call that explained how they could help their technician solve ant problems at their homes, along with a helpful do’s and don’ts section. Since then, his company developed a layman-friendly script for office, sales and service staff to use, so they can help customers realize customer cooperation is needed to resolve issues with ants even before the visit. This phone call method also gives the customer the chance to ask questions and provide additional details the technician might need at the account.

“By explaining pheromone trails, disruption of colony activities, budding behaviors and so on, the customer has a better understanding of our treatment methods, and why using ‘over-the-counter’ or home remedies can virtually undo the treatments we’re applying,” he says.

After treatment, sometimes a follow-up call will lead to additional business.

“When following up with an existing customer, sometimes you may get lucky and meet their neighbor or someone else who may need a different type of service,” Nieves says.

“With so many options out there today for pest control, if customers aren’t satisfied with your service, they may not say anything, but instead just call someone else next year,” he says. “But if you follow up a couple of days after a service call, you may find they could use another spot treatment to knock out the last few surviving ants.”

Communicating to your customers what you are doing assures them you are providing the expertise and service they expected to receive. It builds confidence in your abilities to manage their ant problem.

“If customers don’t know what you’ve done, will they think you’ve done a good job?” Caminos asks. “Informing them what you’re going to do, as well as what you have done, confirms to your customer that you know what you’re doing. You’ve showed them the value of your service.”

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