Habituation: Why it matters to pest control firm owners

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July 8, 2024

PHOTO: PMP STAFF

The Pest Management Professional team can be seen in logowear whenever they are representing their media brand in public, such as in this group photo during the 2024 PMP Growth Summit. PHOTO: DON MCCANDLESS

When I visit pest control businesses, I try to notice everything. I read the plaques on their walls from 20 years ago. I observe how professionally employees look and act. I watch for how well the office and technicians get along. Good or bad, I notice and process things that I can do better at my own business, as well as practices that I feel I wouldn’t tolerate.

Honestly, I love this chance to leave my environment and be so observant. The difference in my own business is that I am guilty of habituation. Habituation is a biological feature of the brain that describes how people respond less to things that are constant or that change slowly. For example:

• When you first enter a cafe, the smell of coffee may be overwhelming. After about 20 minutes, though, you may no longer be able to smell it. This is because your olfactory neurons stop responding to the familiar odor.

• You may stop hearing the constant buzz of an air conditioner because your brain filters out background noise.

While these two examples are useful, albeit trivial, habituation can also erode some good, important disciplines in business. For example:

Cohesive branding in uniforms. When employees start to modify what they wear in front of customers, it becomes routine. Staffing shortages may make managing this feel less important.

•  The importance placed on safety. I’m happy to report that I visited a company recently where all employees backed into their parking places and placed a cone in the front right-hand corner of their vehicles, with 100 percent compliance. They are the exception, not the rule, though.

• Missed opportunities. At another company, unfortunately, I could overhear calls being taken. The staff was scheduling visits for one-time applications with no effort to sell, or even mention, a next-level program. Nor were they seeking an approved credit card for payment to have on file.

These and other workplace habits will negate or support whatever stated mission or goals you may have. The best solution is to get out of your private office and place yourself in areas of the office you don’t usually go. You will immediately notice everything. Make sure your leadership team does the same thing. Make a game of it and require that everyone write down five things they notice — the good, the bad and even the trivial.

I grew up next to railroad tracks with no air conditioning in our home. Habituation enabled me to sleep soundly through the noise and heat. In fact, when my college dorm was next to a dumpster, I couldn’t understand why it bothered my roommate so much.

But breaking habituation once in a while can do wonders. Change your routine. Drive to work on a different route. Park in a different spot at your office. Go in 30 minutes earlier and later. You will notice far more.

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About the Author

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Williamson is pest & lawn director for Cetane Associates. He serves on the Pennsylvania Pesticide Advisory Board, is former president of the Lawn Care Association of Pennsylvania and former president of Warrington PA Rotary Club. For over 30 years, Williamson worked with Moyer, a large Mid-Atlantic residential service provider. Williamson has managed services including heating oil, propane, HVAC, plumbing, home security, swimming pool, lawn and tree care, and pest control.

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