Easing customer concerns

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June 19, 2024

As bed bug awareness escalates, professionalism, education and compassion help alleviate customer anxiety.

Photo: Dusanpetkovic / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Photo: Dusanpetkovic / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

Bed bugs have been a revenue generator for pest management professionals (PMPs) for decades. But when public awareness of Cimex lectularius skyrocketed late last year thanks to highly publicized infestations in Paris, France, the public’s fear of these blood-sucking pests seemed to escalate.

News reports and social media posts did little to alleviate anxiety about bringing home bed bugs, regardless of whether they were heading to the city for Paris Fashion Week, the Rugby World Cup or this year’s Summer Olympics. That bed bugs are adept at hitchhiking a ride home from public places — theaters, hospitals, hotels, subways, airports — on shoes, clothes, luggage, purses and backpacks appeared to be a revelation.

“There is no shortage of hysteria regarding bed bugs on the internet, particularly social media, and with the hysteria comes ineffective do-it-yourself (DIY) treatments,” says Mantis Pest Solutions Training Manager Alex McCurter. The Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based company does its part to educate prospective customers. It includes on its website detailed information about what prospective customers can expect during a bed bug service call and assures them PMPs will get the job done.

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Pest Management Professional’s (PMP’s) 2024 Bed Bug Management Supplement shows 53 percent of respondents expect bed bug jobs in 2024 to increase this year over last year. In addition, 72 percent of those asked say their company pricing is based on the severity of each customer’s infestation.

PMPs say infestations often get out of hand because people don’t understand bed bug biology and behavior. Sometimes, people don’t realize they’re dealing with bed bugs and attempt to eradicate the infestation themselves, with no luck. Or they ignore the bed bugs when they discover them in their homes and make the problem worse by not taking immediate action and seeking professional help.

Fortunately, many of the recent news stories about bed bugs advised those who have them to contact pest control companies. Word is getting out that PMPs are trained to develop comprehensive treatment plans that can be implemented without spreading the infestation. PMPs achieve success when they employ an integrated past management (IPM) strategy and rely on a combination of management methods such as vacuuming, inspection, monitoring, and heat and chemical treatments to target bed bugs at all stages of their life cycle.

In addition, PMPs are experienced sleuths who know where bed bugs prefer to hide. They know better than to limit treatment to beds and bedrooms. Training and hands-on experience teach PMPs that bed bugs often are found throughout a home, especially when customers seek a bug-free place to sleep in another room of the house.

Finally, identifying the species is critical, even with bed bugs. “Other Cimex species can be very difficult to distinguish from bed bugs,” McCurter says. “If the identification is wrong, treatment is likely to fail.”

Address customer concerns

Customers with bed bugs require additional education and care, PMPs who took our survey say. Customer service training is just as important as knowing bed bug biology.

Brett Lieberman

Brett Lieberman

“While eliminating customers’ bed bug problems is obviously critical, how we do it is equally important,” says Brett Lieberman, owner of My Pest Pros in Vienna, Va. “It’s not just the treatment, but the customer service.”

Educating customers while offering empathy, compassion and education is crucial. “We often have to play therapist and also provide cleaning and laundry advice in addition to pest management services,” Lieberman adds. “Technicians may be good at eliminating the pest issue; however, the best technicians — and customer service representatives — are the ones who provide education and compassion.”

Scott Hornemann, ACE, agrees. The field training, quality and safety director for Adam’s Pest Control in Medina, Minn., notes it’s imperative to hire capable technicians who also care and understand the psychological reasons needed to get bed bugs under control for customers.

“Given the psychological issues that anyone who has had a bed bug infestation creates, technicians need to be able to deal with people on a personal level more than any other pest service,” he adds. “They will encounter depression, fear, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from customers.”

Hornemann says Adam’s Pest Control seeks technicians who meet certain requirements before they are hired or during the training process:
1. Can they empathize with the situation? We are in business to help people, not just treat the pest.

2. Can they communicate in a way that puts customers at ease, and still give them the facts while being compassionate?

3. Will the things they see and feelings they experience be too much for them to handle?Like it or not, we take these situations home with us every night.

Scott Hornemann

Scott Hornemann

“We are up front with what this position entails — not only the physical aspect of doing the job, but the situations they will see and encounter,” Hornemann adds. “It is never easy to find technicians to fit this mold, but the good thing is that is who we are at Adam’s Pest Control, and I feel our culture attracts this type of person.”

For many pest control companies, effective bed bug management includes addressing the mental health issues customers may be experiencing. The stigma of having bed bugs is very real for many customers, and compassionate technicians are key to putting customers at ease. Many people isolate themselves from others because they are ashamed. Or they stop socializing to prevent spreading the pests to others. Education helps customers understand that bed bugs are interested only in a bloodmeal and do not care whether a person is rich or poor, or clean or dirty.

Prospective customers are relieved once they understand they will be able to resume their normal lives. “Most people assume the presence of bed bugs is somehow a sign of being ‘unclean’ and are understandably eager to resolve the situation,” McCurter points out.
Many people also do not understand that bed bugs do not transmit disease. Sharing the facts from reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.gov), will help alleviate any fears of becoming ill customers may have.

Stop the spread

Asking a customer where they think they picked up bed bugs will help stop the spread in the community. It’s common for travelers to bring them back from a hotel stay or airport lounge. But the presence of bed bugs at a local school or hospital can be problematic if the customer continues to visit that location. Pest control companies may gain work if they alert the source to the pest problem. But proceed with caution; the customer may be looking for someone to blame.

Alex McCurter

Alex McCurter

“Often, a customer has a relative or friend that introduced the infestation. Offering bed bug control services to them can help stop a reinfestation,” McCurter says, adding, “Most customers seem to be fairly confident they know where the infestation came from, and are eager to refer that source for treatment.”

To help stop their spread, educate customers on how to prevent bringing home bed bugs. Hire technicians who understand that the stigma associated with these pests make getting infestations under control critical.

“Train technicians to do a thorough and proper job, but teach them that their work impacts people,” Hornemann concludes.

About the Author

Headshot: Diane Sofranec

Diane Sofranec is the senior editor for PMP magazine. She can be reached at dsofranec@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3793.

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