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Friday, May 29, 2015

Anne Nagro

Contributor to PCT Magazine


[Expert Insights] Customer Education 101

Customer Service & Relations

A customer service expert offers tips on how to educate your clients.

May 28, 2015

Everyone talks about the importance of educating customers to set service expectations and build long-term relationships, but how exactly does one do this? It’s not like you have all day to sit with a customer to explain the intricacies of the pest and its treatment. Time is money and you have many stops to make. Neither do most clients want all these details. They just want you to get rid of the problem!

But pest management professionals who subscribe to this thinking are missing a huge opportunity, says Elaine Allison, a customer service expert based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. An educated customer is often a happy one, and “a happy customer is worth gold,” she reminds.

While the process of educating customers needn’t be time consuming, it should be formalized, said Allison, an international speaker, author and training consultant.

“I think a lot of people do it piecemeal and don’t do a really good job explaining insect biology, what their plan is for coming in with pesticides or different means of control, like an IPM program,” said Robert Percy, director of operations at Gardex Chemicals Ltd. Though PMPs have access to SDSs, pesticide labels, Integrated Pest Management strategies and resources like technician handbooks and The Mallis Handbook of Pest Control, “I don’t think they do a really good job in carrying that (information) on to their customer,” he explained.

Pest control is not something people research on their own except when they have a problem, said Allison, “so it’s even more important for service providers to make sure they’re setting guidelines, descriptions, instructions” for a particular pest issue.

She knows this first hand: When her condo in Hawaii became infested with bed bugs she flew down because she was so shocked. At the time, she didn’t even know what a bed bug looked like. “Of course, there’s a level of panic I believe that the customer service provider also has to know how to deal with,” she said. Her technician “educated me completely,” which greatly reduced her anxiety, she recalled. Allison suggested these four steps to calm fears, gain cooperation and build a trust-based relationship:

Show Them.

Share photos and diagrams of the pest so a customer knows what the critter looks like, said Allison. She may understand she has a problem, but not whether it’s a mouse or rat, bed bugs or beetles. Allison’s technician used a photo diagram of a bed bug to explain the pest’s biology and habits, and then pulled back the bed linens to point out where they hide.

Put It In Writing.

Have written guidelines to discuss with the client and leave behind. These shouldn’t go into extreme detail but rather set expectations and provide clear direction, said Allison. Outline what the customer must do, what the provider will do to achieve control and the timeline for this process. Provide your contact information and links to trusted Internet sources for additional information. Don’t use technical jargon, which just raises the worry. Align guidelines with strata rules — you don’t want to provide instructions that don’t conform, Allison advised.

Understand the Underlying Fear.

The pest may not be your clients’ biggest worry. For Allison, who had to vacate her condo for three days, her fears were of lost revenue and finding last-minute accommodations for her renters. For others with bed bugs, the fear may be having nowhere to live for three days or having to prep a cluttered apartment, both expensive and emotionally difficult. Even though you can’t fix these residual problems, “you have to show some understanding,” said Allison. Suggest what you’ve seen other people do in similar situations. “As long as the service provider is showing empathy and making suggestions, the customer feels taken care of,” she said.

Leave Behind.

After treatment, inform clients what to expect. Provide contact information so they can reach out if another pest is sighted or they have questions. Follow up a short time later by phone or email to get an update. Allison calls this “finishing the loop,” and it’s the perfect time to ask the client for a testimonial or review for use on social media and in marketing materials.


The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.