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Action items for PMPs during the pandemic

and |  April 22, 2020

Dr. Faith Oi and Kemp Anderson

Editor’s Note: The following is Part III of a special series from Pest Management Professional Editorial Advisory Board member Dr. Faith Oi, a faculty member and director of Pest Management University at the University of Florida, and Kemp Anderson, principal of Kemp Anderson Consulting. The series is appearing on a number of industry platforms,including KempAnderson.com. For our continuing coverage of this series, click here.

As business leaders, we often are challenged to manage competing interests — but the current COVID-19 pandemic presents a set of challenges that most of us have never faced before. The health and safety of our customers, staff and families at home are a top priority, but as business owners, we also have a responsibility to protect the organization from failure. Let’s review some of the questions and actions that organizational leaders should consider.

WHAT CAN I DO TO MAINTAIN REVENUE?

Get aggressive about retaining customer accounts — as creatively as needed and with safety in mind. Consider allowing customers to pause, downgrade service, and pay in installments.

Consider canceling minor debt if your customer is battling significant financial hardship. That revenue is unlikely to be captured if customers have lost their jobs or shut down their businesses for an extended period of time per local government order. By contrast, telling a customer to consider that last service “on the house” would leave a lasting impression on him or her, one that would likely result in a customer for life once normalcy returns.

Shop around for the best gas prices, and review scheduling to save gas. For example, some technicians could start their day directly from their homes, instead of driving to the branch and then heading to their first appointments. Review scheduling to improve route density and increase productivity for each employee.

WHAT SHOULD I CONSIDER REGARDING STAFFING LEVELS?

If you need to scale back, then do so. However, do not be afraid to grow. Providing employment is an area where the pest control industry can certainly help a lot of people. To take this idea a step further, now is the time to re-evaluate your staffing. Each and every employee plays a critical role in sustaining and growing your business, so make sure everyone on the team is up to the task.

On the other hand, if you need to furlough or lay off valued personnel, try to keep in touch with them through weekly calls, preparing to re-engage them. Do as much as you can to help by filing for unemployment benefits on their behalf, writing referral letters, and keeping an eye out for employment elsewhere.

Keep in mind that employee engagement is more critical than ever. Do your employees value their positions? Do they feel appreciated by the company and their managers? Are there ways to improve in these areas?  If so, now is the time to act! For example, one firm sets up a table with new safety equipment, sanitizer, paper towels, gloves, and pre-made lunches from a local sub shop for the technicians to take with them. Another company sends its technicians’ families a pre-made meal or pizza one night a week. Both examples not only help employees feel appreciated and valued, but help keep local restaurants in business to boot.

WHAT CAN I DO TO BECOME MORE FINANCIALLY AWARE?

There’s a number of action items to take in this regard, including:

  • Look at your bank statements, profit and loss statements, and balance sheet weekly at this critical time.
  • Manage your cash and liquidity as much as possible.
  • Avoid debt now more than ever.
  • Focus and ensure cost discipline. For example, fix equipment instead of replacing it.
  • If you have financial plans and budgets, revise them and forecast as much as possible.
  • Be realistic about your business and your financial position.

WHAT OTHER CONSIDERATIONS ARE THERE WHEN INTERACTING WITH CUSTOMERS?

Continue to drive retention and build trust with your customers at every opportunity. Now is not the time to skimp on communication.

  • If you had a scheduling change, call the customer.
  • If an employee is no longer with the company, communicate with your customer.
  • If your administrative staff is changing billing protocol or timing, communicate with your customer.

Continue to show empathy for concerns of both your customers and employees. Role-playing with technicians, administrative, and front-line employees regarding what to say to customers at the most common communication points is a potential way to help your team know how to empathize with customers. It also helps employees understand what we may sound like when we are talking with customers.

WHAT MORE SHOULD I CONSIDER REGARDING SAFETY CONCERNS? 

Every business and every person must decide on the level of risk they are willing to take while working in the age of COVID-19. The federal guidance document listing “exterminators” as an essential service is exactly that — guidance. It does not require us to work. Click here for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s specific guidance.

To help you determine your risk while working in certain accounts and recommended personal protective equipment (PPE), the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidance on Classifying Worker Exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Click here to view the PDF; the specific section starts on page 18.

Essential services are primarily to support public health. If you determine that the account is within your risk tolerance, take care of your customers. But consider the following:

  • Reinforce with your team and customers your ability to offer your services.
  • Make sure everybody understands why you are an essential service, and exactly what the benefits and risks are to everyone involved.
  • Ensure your standard operating procedures (SOP) manual is up-to-date. For more guidance, click here.
  • Learn more about pest control as an essential service in Part I of this series.

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