This past November PCT published Meet Me Halfway, by Richard Berman. We thought it was a wealth of information for anyone looking for advice to improve customer relationships. In doing so not only does customer service improve but so does retention, word of mouth referrals, and cost.
The most successful pest control professionals are able to get customers actively involved in correcting pest issues. Here are some ideas to help get your point across.
Editor’s note: The following article is based on a presentation made by Richard Berman at the January 2012 NPMA Eastern Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Challenge the pest control professional faces when practicing IPM is getting client buy-in and cooperation. While there may be slightly different definitions of IPM from different groups and organizations, the one common thread to all is that IPM, pest prevention and remediation is based on physical exclusion, habitat and equipment modification; good housekeeping; and employee practices. In many cases the professional can make minor repairs like plugging and sealing holes and adding door sweeps. These efforts can be additional revenue opportunities as add-on services, or simply be part of the current service provided.
Many deficiency corrections that should be made as part of an IPM program are beyond the capability of the professional to implement, so customer buy-in and cooperation is necessary. The customer must be willing to make the fixes needed. We have dealt with many customers eager and willing to support an IPM program. But in just as many situations the customer expects the pest control professional to make the problem “go away” without making any effort to fix underlying causes contributing to the pest problem. The pest control professional’s challenge is to convince the not-quite-willing-to-help customer to do just that in order to render the IPM program effective and to meet the customer’s pest prevention needs.
The most successful pest control professionals are able to communicate with the customer in a manner the customer understands. Customers need to know what they can do to help. The more successful this communication is, the more likely the customer is to participate and do his part to make his IPM program effective. Here are some ideas to help get the message across to customers and increase the likelihood they will make the changes needed and not ignore your advice.
Body Language. When speaking with customers, be aware of your body language. Body language is the way we appear and speak, and it includes our attitude. A genuine smile expresses caring and interest. Maintaining eye contact helps connect with the person you are speaking with. Fiddling with pens or other objects, or cracking your knuckles when speaking with a customer, are unhelpful gestures. Crossing arms or leaning on a surface can be interpreted as disinterest. Look the customer in the eye and speak directly to them. When the customer is speaking, don’t interrupt. After he stops speaking, answer directly if an answer is required. Take notes, if necessary, while they are speaking. Shakespeare said all the world’s a stage — I consider myself an actor when in front of a customer and I show them they are the only customer I care about at that moment in time.
Cell Phone Etiquette. Turn your phone to silent or vibrate mode when with the customer. I make a point of turning the phone off in front of the customer to send the message they are important and they have my complete attention. I don’t want to be distracted while in their presence. And it goes without saying you should avoid answering the cell phone when in the customer’s presence.
Regulatory Requirements. If you are not familiar with the rules and regulations that spell out the pest control requirements for certain classes of customers, learn them. Knowing what the pest control requirements are for certain customers can help you advise the customer on what they need to do to stay in compliance. The state health code regulates restaurants, cafeterias and retail food outlets. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act regulates food manufacturers and distributors who make and distribute food products. The USDA also outlines specific pest control requirements in food plants that deal with meat or egg products.
Making it Happen. How do we get customers to cooperate and take action? Using the following ideas and approaches will increase the likelihood your advice will be followed.
- Are you speaking with, and reporting to, the person with the authority to take action and correct deficiencies? If unsure, ask who you should be reporting to.
- Is someone assigned to read written reports, or do they end up in a file drawer, instead of on someone’s desk?
- After completing the service, verbalize the fixes you are advising and also provide recommendations in writing. Speak with someone as well. Don’t just leave written advice. If the person who receives the report is not present on service completion, call on the phone to review the report or make a return visit to go over the recommendations if possible.
- Make sure the recommendations are valid and apply to pest prevention and remediation. Reporting that soap has run out in the bathroom has nothing to do with pest prevention and control.
- Report only what you see and know actually exists. Don’t base advice and recommendations on what others tell you they think are true and factual.
- Focus on the two or three most critical items needing customer attention on each service visit. Overwhelming the customer with a shopping list of fixes needing attention will ensure nothing gets done, if anything at all.
- If possible, avoid recommendations that involve capital expenses. Most fixes do not involve major expense. If unavoidable, suggest the fixes be done in stages, or are built into the next budget.
- When items get fixed, cleaned or repaired, recognize those fixes. Complimenting the customer sends the message that their efforts are worthwhile, noticeable and encourages similar behavior in the future.
- When making a recommendation or providing advice, don’t stop there. Always add a thought on how that fix can be implemented. For example: Don’t just say, “The back door is left open.” Suggest a fix to address and correct the deficiency, like adding a door closing bracket to keep the door closed when not in use. A constructive explanation with explicit suggestions will more likely motivate the customer to take corrective action.
- When reporting problematic conditions or making recommendations, be clear on where the condition exists. Reporting leaking pipes without describing which pipes are leaking and where they are located reduces the likelihood of the problem getting fixed. The customer will have to go on a hunt to find the leaking pipes, if he bothers at all.
- If the person in charge (or the person who has been designated) is present when the service is completed, showing him the deficiency in need of attention is more effective than telling and describing the condition, and increases the likelihood the situation will be corrected. Ask the customer to come with you so you can show him the deficiency.
- Consider using digital pictures to document and illustrate conditions needing customer attention and correction. A picture is more effective than the written word alone. But beware, some customers do not allow pictures to be taken in their establishments. If unsure what’s permissible, ask. When you take pictures, make sure there is nothing noticeable in the image that would allow the casual viewer to identify the customer’s location.
Conclusion. How you make observations and recommendations is important. Using demanding language and threatening posture decreases the likelihood of cooperation and getting things fixed and conditions corrected. The trick is to tell the customer their place is filthy and disgusting, but to do so in a tactful and constructive way, making the customer think you are doing them a favor (which you really are).
Richard Berman is an entomologist and technical director with Waltham Services, Waltham, Mass. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.