As the country reopens now that state-mandated stay-at-home orders have been lifted, pest management professionals (PMPs) can focus on helping customers and recovering accounts that paused services or canceled March through June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Customer service is at the core of successful pest control companies. Reassure them it’s your duty to continue to protect their health and properties from pests.
“Educate customers about the importance of pest control to community health, now more than ever,” advises Scarlett Nolen, president of Truly Nolen of America, based in Tucson, Ariz.
1. Connect with customers while apart.
During the coronavirus pandemic, pest control was deemed an essential business by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. PMPs have continued providing services by offering exterior treatments.
Exterior treatments have allowed PMPs to save time by limiting interactions with their customers., while decreasing the risk of transmitting COVID-19. But many PMPs are eager to resume interior inspection and treatments. Joe Silvestrini, president of Pest Control Technicians in Norristown, Pa., notes, “With interior services, customers typically are home to meet me, and this is a great opportunity to show them the value of our services.”
Even with social distancing mandates, Silvestrini says there are benefits to getting to know the names of a family’s pets and children and other members of the household.
This summer, the opportunity to connect with customers during each service call has re-emerged — perhaps stronger than ever. As noted in Pest Management Professional’s June 2020 cover story, customers who have been home more, thanks to work-from-home directives, have noticed pests and have been calling PMPs for service more frequently.
But beware of cancellations from customers who feel that once they no longer see pests, they don’t need you anymore.
“When we get cancellations, we try to explain to the customer that they don’t have pests because of the services we provide,” Silvestrini says.
Customers need to know they are important and valued by their pest control provider. Harvey Goldglantz, president of Pest Control Marketing Co. and a PMP Hall of Famer (Class of 2018), points out that a big reason for customer cancellations is a lack of communication.
“Educating employees about how to interact and communicate with customers must be a priority,” Goldglantz says.
Communicating the value of your services goes a long way toward retaining customers.
2. Train technicians for quality and professionalism.
Customer relationships are built by PMPs out in the field. Hiring top-notch people to represent your company needs to be a top priority.
“We hire friendly people who exhibit our core values,” says Chad Carbonell, termite manager at Dave’s Pest Control in Port Orange, Fla.
Part of maintaining a solid company reputation is training PMPs to listen to customers and to be as thorough as possible with their inspections and treatments.
“Our goal is to present a one-time customer with a likable technician who will demonstrate the advantages of recurring service,” Carbonell adds.
Customer relationships rely on a foundation of trust with the PMP and the pest control company, Goldglantz says.
“Trust can be established by presenting an image of professionalism, knowledge and experience,” he says. “A confident, sincere, educated and professional salesperson will build a rapport with the customer.”
Goldglantz adds that once there is trust, PMPs can emphasize the value of recurring service versus a one-time visit.
Todd Leyse, president of Adam’s Pest Control in Medina, Minn., says his company’s ongoing success with preventing cancellations stems from having well-trained technicians who provide the
best service possible.
“Throughout our nearly 50 years in business, it has been all about hiring good people who match our values,” he says. “We also are committed to providing the best ongoing training.”
3. Help customers whenever you can.
When customers are confronted with issues, they want help and reassurance that their problems can be solved. Helping your customers right now, when they need it most, helps avoid cancellations.
Mary Gibbins, pest control supervisor at All Creatures Pest Control in Kingwood, Texas, was at her last stop of the day, when an elderly customer on a fixed income intended to cancel the company’s services. To prevent the cancellation, Gibbins stepped up and took care of a few small home repairs. Because it was the last stop of the day, it didn’t affect any of her other service calls.
“I’m going to treat all of my customers as if they were my family,” Gibbins says. “Having a personal approach and showing interest in their lives makes all the difference.”
During uncertain times, it can be valuable to think outside the box.
“Think about all of the ways you can help customers right now, even if you are not visiting them and they cannot pay you,” Nolen says.
She follows the example set by her late father, Truly David Nolen, who back in 1992 offered fumigation tarps for use as temporary roofing during Hurricane Andrew recovery efforts by Florida residents.
“That outside-the-box thinking afforded us long, meaningful relationships,” Nolen adds. “Ultimately, we came out of the ‘storm’ stronger than ever.”
4. Stop cancellations in their tracks.
Head off customer cancellations by going above and beyond every time. If that doesn’t work, find out why — and offer a solution that does.
Checking in with customers who are canceling will help determine their reasons for discontinuing your pest control services. John Bozarjian Jr., co-owner of B&B Pest Control in Lynn, Mass., says he personally visits customers who are say they are not satisfied.
“I always make sure I have a conversation prior to a customer canceling or switching vendors,” he says. “No matter how big we get, it is my company, and I take great pride in it.”
Offering extra services or add-ons at no charge are worthwhile if it will help alleviate a frustrated customer’s issue, Bozarjian says.
“I am willing to lose money short-term to make sure a customer is happy,” he explains. “They are trusting me and paying me to provide a service. I owe it to them.”
Bill Cowley, co-owner of Cowley’s Pest Services in Farmingdale, N.J., suggests being persistent and focusing on your renewal list to get non-committal customers to re-up their contracts.
“The game is to keep as many customers as possible, and you have to put a Herculean effort into doing that,” Cowley says. “It’s very easy to be lackadaisical and just focus on new business, but you can’t let that happen.”
5. Use technology to track customer relationships.
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the use of technology and contact-free transactions have become routine.
Having credit card numbers on file and account information at the ready when using mobile technology out in the field can mean the difference between helping a customer immediately or waiting too long.
Adam’s Pest Control was so serious about improving its cancellation rate that it worked with a consultant. Now, instead of telling departing customers, “Thank you for your business, and let us know if you need us in the future,” the company put a system in place to keep them on.
“By creating a well-thought out process, training people, and streamlining the process, we’ve saved over $100,000 in canceled customers each year for the past five years,” Leyse says.
Using technology to track cancellations can help PMPs notice patterns in customer activity, and maintain customer account notes while out in the field.
Adam’s Pest Control developed its own software, Blu Star Field Service Management System, to give PMPs tracking capabilities and guidance when working to save a customer who intends to cancel.
The retention techniques used depend on the reason for the cancellation, Leyse says. They include reselling the value of services, modifying the type of service, changing the price charged and/or switching the PMP assigned to service the account.
Technology also enables PMPs to efficiently reach out to past customers to get them to restart services.
“After 30 years in business, our ‘returning customer’ leads are one of the top leads we have,” says Dennis Jenkins, president of ABC Home & Commercial Services in Dallas, Texas, and a PMP columnist. “That only happens when you are the company that they miss when they try something else.”
6. Become a valued pest control resource.
Reputation is important, but customers first need to know your company exists. Create visible, memorable branding and experiences to boost company visibility in your market.
Brian Goldman, CEO of Big Blue Bug Solutions in Providence, R.I., says his company strives to do just that. On top of their roof stands Nibbles Woodaway, a 4,000-pound termite that passersby can see from a well-traveled interstate highway.
The local landmark is so popular, Goldman says, that the company received an overwhelming number
of requests to give Nibbles a mask to protect him during the pandemic. So they hired a local mural artist to give him one.
When customers — or potential customers — have pest issues, you want them to think of your company immediately to provide solutions to their problems.
In addition to Nibbles, Big Blue Bug Solutions has a human company spokesman: Vice President Tony DeJesus, whom Goldman describes as a local celebrity pest expert. DeJesus has his own local radio show and is frequently interviewed by local TV and radio stations.
“When we can get customers on the phone with Tony, most people are shocked that they get to talk to the Tony DeJesus,” Goldman says. “He does a great job of getting customers to give us one more chance to make it right.”
7. Go above and beyond to win loyalty.
Think of a vendor you use. Now, if someone else offered the same product or service for free, would you change? This is the scenario Jeff Ford, sales manager at Peachtree Pest Control in Brunswick, Ga., puts forth when training technicians, managers and sales staff.
Cancellations stem from complaints, says Ford, and companies need to evaluate how they approach every customer complaint.
PMPs should look at complaints as an opportunity to earn a customer’s loyalty. Customers who experience a mistake or problem and have been won back by the company will be a customer for life, he says.
“You never know how good a company is until you have a problem,” Ford adds. “There’s always a story that follows the statement, ‘They’re the best company in the world.’”
8. Protect your company reputation at all costs.
It’s critical for PMPs to protect their company’s reputation because, in addition to losing income, cancellations can be damaging to a company’s status.
Before dismissing even one cancellation, consider how much time, money and effort you invested in building your reputation with that customer.
“I used to say that if we make a customer really happy, you would be lucky if they told one or two of their friends,” says Jenkins. “And if you made someone really mad, you would be lucky if they stopped at 20.”
Technology makes it easy to stay connected to customers, but it also makes it easy for those same customers to leave scathing online reviews.
Jenkins warns a negative online review can reach an infinite number of people and cause even more damage to a company’s reputation.
“If you are sincere in your apology and timely in taking care of the issue that caused them to want to cancel in the first place, you will have the best shot at keeping them,” he adds.
But if your customer still insists on canceling, be sure to take care of any issues and apologize for any mistakes so they leave as a “satisfied” customer, Jenkins concludes.
Read more COVID-19 coverage here: MyPMP.net/COVID-19