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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christine Brazell

The author has been writing about the pest management industry for more than 15 years. She can be reached at cbrazell@giemedia.com

Features

[New Technology] Routing for Revenue

Technology & Internet

In the past, companies plotted out routes manually, often by pushing pins into a map on a wall. Today, many companies use routing software and electronic route optimization tools that help make routes as efficient as possible.

September 23, 2014

One of the biggest challenges for a field service company is planning the most efficient route to service customers so it minimizes drive time and maximizes production time. However, once routes are planned, there are emergency calls, sick technicians, technician vacations, customers calling to change appointments and other headaches that come into play.

In the past, companies plotted out routes manually, often by pushing pins into a map on a wall. Today, many companies use routing software and electronic route optimization tools that help make routes as efficient as possible.

Using these tools, pest management companies can add more customers without adding new technicians, use less fuel and experience less wear and tear on the vehicles. Technicians can spend more time with customers to cross sell other services or meet neighboring customers to generate additional sales. As such, these companies are realizing more revenue as a result. Plus, routing software makes most of those headache-causing issues a thing of the past.
 

Looking for a Solution.

When the price of gas began to escalate in 2003, Griffin Pest Solutions, Kalamazoo, Mich., began researching routing software to better manage fuel costs. At the time, they were routing set service days using a map.

“It was horribly time consuming to plot stops on a map. We had service days in certain cities, which meant we couldn’t be flexible for customers,” says Pam Blauvelt, vice president of operations. “Plus, we’d often have unbalanced routes where our technicians were either light or busy.”

Change and challenges

Moving from manual routing to automated routing means positive changes for companies but it can also have its challenges.

For Griffin Pest Solutions, the main challenge was helping people change their mentality and think differently. Technicians were used to being in a certain area on a set day, and now they were following a completely different route. Salespeople had to be retrained on how to schedule service calls based on the new system. And obviously, scheduling was a completely different process and the person responsible for that had to adapt.

“We went through a few people to find the right person to do our scheduling. It was hard because they tried to fit it back into the old process,” Blauvelt says. “Mentally, our technicians had to change as well. Some of them were just not able to adapt.”

According to Jason Schwarz, Terminix of Eastern North Carolina and Southeast Virginia, it took some time for his technicians to make the mental change as well.

“Before using route optimization, our guys worked their own hours and would go by to treat an account when it was due. We had to help them understand that now they were being scheduled and we expected them to follow that schedule,” Schwarz says. “Today, we send out an automated call to let customers know when to expect the technician. And complaints about people not seeing their technician have really gone down.”

The company decided to use a third-party geographic information system (GIS) that many departments of transportation use. Then the firm hired an outside consultant to help manage the transition internally.

“The GIS product understands road mapping really well and it can take a vehicle there and back in real time. It takes into account how fast you can drive, traffic patterns, how much you are paying your technician, fuel costs and it comes up with the most optimum route for that vehicle for that day,” says Blauvelt. “It calculates the cost and gives you the cheapest way to run the route.”
 

Unexpected Results.

The impact of using this route optimization tool was far more than Blauvelt expected. The consultant said they could anticipate a 15 percent efficiency improvement.

“In the first 90 days, we saw a full return on our investment. The improvement was much higher than 15 percent,” Blauvelt says. “We experienced a dramatic reduction in mileage driven, decreased gas expenses and we could fit more stops in the same amount of time.”

In addition, Blauvelt says route optimization meant more options and flexibility for the whole organization. For instance, when one technician had a heart attack, they used the routing program to split up his route to buy some time to hire a new technician. This process helped Griffin realize that by extending the workday to 10 hours, the company could move to a four day week, even in summer. In addition, the 10-hour day means the company does less weekend work.

“We can meet customers before or after work due to our long days, especially for commercial customers. We do restaurant work early and schools are serviced after they close,” says Blauvelt. “Not working weekends in summer is a big benefit for our technicians, yet when they want to work overtime there is an opportunity to work their day off, vs. us hiring on when we can’t cover an extra person during the winter.”
 

Fuel Savings.

With the high cost of gas today, efficient routing is of utmost importance to Bill Wert, owner/manager of an Orkin franchise in Tallahassee, Fla. He says one of the biggest benefits he has seen since using ServSuite Visual Routing is reduced fuel usage.

“My monthly fuel bill was around $2,700 per month. Once we started optimizing our routes properly, it decreased to an average of $2,100.” The firm had double-digit savings because of the optimization feature, Wert says. “With $600 savings for five technicians, that’s saving us $7,200 a year.”

In addition, Wert says he has happier technicians because they are working more efficiently, their days flow better and they are usually able to end their days earlier.

Jason Schwarz, chief technical officer, Terminix of Eastern North Carolina and Southeast Virginia, says his company has realized double-digit savings in fuel costs using the PestPac RouteOp. With 200 routes each day, that adds up. Also, he was able to add two stops per day per technician plus build in an additional 15 to 30 minutes for them to concentrate on sales.

“Our technicians are paid commission so two extra stops per day helps them earn more money, and they have time to cross sell current customers or cloverleaf the neighbors to sell services,” says Schwarz.

 

Company Uses Technology to Locate Pests, Analyze Data

Editor’s note: Derek Roach, digital marketing specialist at Pro Pacific Pest Control, Escondido, Calif., has spearheaded his company’s use of “heat maps,” a colorful representation of data (collected from CRM software) that offer an easy way to digest large amounts of information in a visually appealing graph. In the following article, Roach describes how these maps are developed and how Pro Pacific is using them.

Pro Pacific Pest Control has developed a rainbow-colored map that represents the susceptibility of obtaining an infestation for a variety of pest types within the firm’s service area. Using Google Maps and the company’s Fusion Tables application, the maps offer a unique visualization of vulnerability to pests.

The analysis was conducted by totaling all of the inquiries for each type of pest problem serviced, then categorizing them into a city or Census-Designated Place (CDP). For the results, the total number of households within a specific area, provided by the United States Census Bureau, was divided by its appropriate inquiry count to produce some advantageous maps. To avoid duplication issues, all addresses with multiple services for the same pest problem were removed.

While the project started as a fun way to share its service inquiry data to customers, it is now being used internally to influence business decisions. The idea initially stemmed from wanting to provide a helpful resource for customers to be able to identify and prepare for common pest problems in their neighborhood. Since then, the analysis has been determined to be a useful tool for business initiatives. For example, the data can be used to influence the direction of marketing campaigns since it offers useful insights into which areas are most prone to a specific pest type. So, if wasp services show to be more prominent in San Diego, then it’s logical to have a push in the firm’s marketing efforts for wasps in that area.

But before all marketing decisions are based off this type of analysis, Pro Pacific plans to include other factors as well. The firm wants to make sure the data is consistent and that it’s not a fluke year. Pro Pacific would like to eventually go a step further and find a reason for any consistencies or anomalies. Advertising costs within a given area, weather conditions and rainfall data are all factors to consider in future analyses. Comparing data sets from previous years and including these elements will allow the firm to be able to use the data to their advantage and make better judgment calls.

For internal uses, the future goal for this heat map analysis is to include other factors that will provide defined reasons or causes for more pests in one area over the other. Merging the heat maps with data elements such as advertising spend, weather conditions, rainfall data and related items will give a much clearer picture of what the data is representing and why.

To see the analysis/heat maps, visit http://bit.ly/1qGri8M. — Derek Roach


 

Customer Satisfaction.

Schwarz says his pest control company now has faster customer service because RouteOp allows his team to schedule service while the customer is on the phone. It offers a few service options so the customers can choose the most convenient time, while keeping that technician’s route optimized. Also, complaints about having difficulty getting through to reschedule have decreased dramatically.

“It used to take six to eight minutes to make or change an appointment, and now it’s an average of two to three minutes and the amount of time our customers spend on hold is less than 45 seconds,” Schwarz says.

Ollie Paul, residential service coordinator, Moyer Indoor|Outdoor, Souderton, Pa., who uses Real Green Systems for its routing management, says the system has helped the company in many of the same ways as noted previously. One of the biggest benefits is it has helped his company keep pace with today’s consumer, especially when there is an emergency call. If someone calls who is allergic to bees and they have a bee problem, his company can address that immediately. In fact, Moyer Indoor|Outdoor guarantees they will have someone to the customer’s home within 59 minutes.

“We have more control because it’s all at our fingertips. If we get a call like that, we can easily see that two technicians are less than five miles away from the customer and we can get there within a short time. If the first technician is too busy, we can dispatch another right away,” says Paul. “It’s right now, real time with technicians in the field. And dealing with those emergency calls efficiently and effectively can turn those accounts into lifetime customers.”

 

Empowering the smaller company

About three years ago, Mike Werner, owner of Pest Management Solutions, Pewaukee, Wis., set out on a buyer’s journey.

“I was looking for new software for two years because I was dissatisfied with what I was using. My computer was at the office, and at times when I was out in the field, I’d find I was missing important information like a phone number or an address. I needed something more mobile and the company I was using wasn’t adapting very well,” Werner says.

He researched various solutions but most were not affordable for his one-man operation.

“I looked at some of the leading software, but they carry a big price tag for a company like mine,” says Werner. “When I came across Fieldwork, it seemed to be what I was looking for. It was affordable and easy to use.”

Today he carries his company with him in his tablet. With Fieldwork, he says he found the mobility and flexibility that he needed, including all the tools he needs to service and do the reporting for commercial accounts. Fieldwork native applications also provide the ability to work offline with everything stored locally on the phone or tablet until service is returned, allowing pest management professionals to work in areas like basements or warehouses.

The application includes an interactive visual map that allows Werner to drag and drop appointments to optimize drive time and organize his day.

“The visual map is simple to use and I get to choose how it routes. Nobody knows my territory better than me,” Werner says. “I work four counties all alone, so routing and organization is critical to being profitable.”

 


The author is PCT contributing writer and can be contacted at cbrazell@giemedia.com.

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