One of the most valuable lessons I learned came when I was a pest control technician. I was asked to meet the owner of my company at the office of a huge apartment complex, a complex that was canceling. I figured I was in trouble or had done something horribly wrong, but since I had just taken over this route, I couldn’t imagine what sparked the request.
As I sat and listened, the two bosses were polite, but brutally honest. After a short conversation, the meeting ended and we lost the account.
I was amazed that my boss sat there and calmly took all that was said. He could have easily just sat in his office and let them cancel, or made a phone call as part of his attempt to save the account. Instead, he’s the one who insisted on a face-to-face conversation, and to have me present. He knew I wasn’t to blame, but as he explained afterward, he wanted me to feel the sting of a cancellation and hear firsthand why customers leave.
He then said something that has stuck with me all these years, and I still fall back on when a client cancels and can’t be saved: “Every account has a life.”
At the time, I had no idea I was going to be an owner, but these words still resonated with me. I learned a lot that day, everything from taking true ownership of a situation to being strong and diplomatic at the same time, and that, in the end, if all has been said and done, to realize for some accounts, it’s just time.
Fast-forward some 30 years, and I have come to realize more fully the sting of a cancellation. I have been the boss sitting in that chair, that employer trying to impart the same wisdom to my technicians, that owner dismayed looking at month-end numbers. To be honest, it never gets any easier. In that same amount of time I have learned so much more, but I’ll always remember that day and those words. Just as it helped shape me, I hope these words resonate with you.
It’s so much easier to keep an account than it is to get a new one. But I said “easier,” not “a piece of cake.” You have established trust, a track record and a footing that is an open door to communication. Use that to ward off any clouds of doubt about your service that sneak in. This means paying attention, becoming actively involved in your client base, and always being ready, willing and eager to do whatever it takes to save that account.
While every account has a lifespan, it is up to you and you alone to give it every opportunity to be a long, prosperous and mutually beneficial one.
Tips from the Pest Cemetery crew
“The seeds of a cancellation save, or retention in general, are sown from the first call, and are maintained or lost on every service.”
— Chaz Estrada, Sales Representative, Veseris, Riverside, Calif.
“A large percentage of people will cancel a service after just one bad experience. To me, it boils down to properly enabling your team to assist and care about customers, expecting it — letting them know you expect it — and following up on those expectations.”
— Tom Miche, President, Miche Pest Control, Manassas, Va.
“There are four main elements to customer retention:
- Hiring and training the right people.
- Setting expectations with the customer up front.
- Going above and beyond.
— Sean Northrup, Service Professional, Nader’s Pest Raiders, St. Augustine, Fla.
“Focus on being truly customer-centric in all aspects of your business. Always have integrity and never do anything unethical, illegal or immoral. At Orkin, we offer the guarantee that ‘We’re not satisfied until you’re satisfied.’ When a customer cancellation comes in, I want to know every detail of why, and do whatever I can to keep that customer.”
— Kyle Thompson, Branch Manager, Orkin Pest Control, Fort Myers, Fla.
SCHAPPERT is owner of The Bug Doctor, Ocala, Fla., and administrator for Facebook industry discussion group Pest Cemetery. He may be reached at email@example.com.