Sunday mornings are chaotic in the Schopen household. My family knows that if we are late for church, I am going to be in a foul mood. I hate being late more than I hate the Green Bay Packers. I hate being late more than when they get my order wrong at Taco Bell. I hate being late more than the lame ending they gave us for “Game of Thrones.”
My employees also know that being late is unacceptable to me. Our clients are scheduled, called, texted and emailed. They are ready for us to show up for service. If a tech shows up late, it is disrespectful to the client, the tech’s manager and our company.
I give every new employee the patented Pete Schopen “Never Be Late” speech. Before COVID-19, they also got the “Never Miss Work” speech. I’ve had to modify that one a little bit.
But being late, or not showing up at all, is a two-way-street in the service industry. The clients have to be held accountable, too.
COVID-19 Changes the Game
There are many pest control companies that perform exterior treatments only; if a client isn’t home for an appointment, it’s not a big deal. But when I first started my company, I chose a different path. My business model is quarterly residential pest control, so getting inside the home is important.
We want the face-to-face meeting every three months. It builds loyalty, it helps clients communicate what issues they are seeing and it keeps the techs busy during the winter. Finding work for northern U.S. pest control companies can be difficult, unless the work already is there in the form of quarterly preventive maintenance.
Before COVID-19 hit, our company never had a rescheduling or missed appointment problem. Our new clients are sent thank-you letters with their regularly scheduled day and time, and a magnet with the same information. Our clients also get reminder postcards two weeks prior to service. We text and email them 48 hours before the event, and they get a reminder phone call the night before. It seems impossible for our customers to not know when their next visit is going to be.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, we started seeing people blowing off their service mere hours before the appointment — and sometimes at their front door. Clearly, if someone was sick or fearful of having workers inside their home, I could understand their need to reschedule or skip. But our routes were suffering due to the spontaneity of the reschedules and skips, sometimes for no better reason than “I just don’t want the treatment today.”
In February alone, we lost more than $10,000 in revenue, thanks to rampant rescheduling.
New Game Plan
Alarmed by the growing trend, I met with my management team after the February numbers came in, and told them we needed to institute a rescheduling fee. But it had to be slow and subtle. I didn’t want our clients canceling due to a “knee-jerk” reaction. I also didn’t want our good customers becoming hostile customers. The fee would be used as a deterrent, not as a money grab. The rescheduling fee also would be a way for us to educate our clients on the importance of keeping their appointments.
This was our game plan for rescheduling and skipping, and it was slowly, but steadily implemented over the course of March through June:
- When clients call to reschedule, we always try to get them to move to a different part of the day vs. rescheduling completely.
- If they try to skip, we attempt to move them up or back a week or two, and warn them of the risks involved in skipping a service.
- If a client fails to call us 24 hours prior to the visit, a $45 rescheduling fee is charged.
- We offer forgiveness for the first offense, followed by a quick explanation. We want our clients to know that it costs us money in time, labor and fuel to send technicians to their homes, only to be turned away.
- In early summer, we included a warning on all of our outgoing mail that we were starting to charge
$45 for rescheduling.
- We put this warning note on all of our service agreements and thank-you letters, stating that we have a $45 rescheduling fee.
- Our nightly reminder emails, which go out 48 hours in advance, include a note at the bottom that explains the $45 rescheduling fee.
- We also put a note about our fee on the back of all of our technicians’ business cards.
In short, we have educated our clients. We have explained that when they skip a service, they are hurting three people because:
1. Schopen Pest Solutions loses revenue.
2. The client probably is going to get a pest issue again.
3. A new customer was deprived of a spot on our routes because of the last-minute cancellation.
Because we implemented this in a slow, steady, non-aggressive manner, pushback has been minimal. Reschedules and skips have decreased, despite us heading into our busy season. We cut our lost revenue in half: from $10,352 in February to $5,064 in March. April was even better, as we saved another $2,000.
In short, I’m very happy with the results. Next, I’ll try to figure out a way to get my family to church before the first hymn is sung.