If you’ve been in the pest management industry for any length of time, you undoubtedly have some amazing technician stories to tell — some amazingly good; others amazingly bad. My focus will be on the latter as I explain why I have continually worked to strengthen my personnel practices over the years.
Here are a few of the situations that made me take a good, hard look at how I was hiring and training for Arthropod Inc., DBA Dennis the Mennis Pest Experts:
One of our new technicians trained for six months with other technicians. His first call on his own — for carpenter ants — didn’t go very well. “Should I have a quarter-inch of white powder covering my entire kitchen floor?” the client asked when he called us. So much for our training efforts.
Another technician — a tall, burly gentleman — was taken by surprise when, while servicing for rodents one day, his customer saw a mouse running through the kitchen. According to the elderly customer’s account, she and the technician got stuck in the doorway together trying to escape!
The only good thing about these situations was that they were easy to spot. But sometimes technician issues are more covert and go undiscovered until they’ve caused you substantial loss. That happened to me early on, as a number of technician issues escalated before I realized what was happening. Here are some red flags that I will never miss again:
Very High Material Usage. When inventories of product are dwindling faster than they should be based on your business volume, one of two things is happening: Technicians are applying it improperly and wasting product, or someone is stealing. You need to get to the root cause of the problem and either make changes to your training program or fire somebody.
Increasing Customer Calls. If customer complaint calls and/or callbacks are growing in number, you need to re-evaluate the technician: Is he/she doing a thorough job? Does he/she understand the protocol? Are customer service skills as sharp as they could be? A red flag to us was when a customer said that one of our technicians was in and out in 20 minutes. Once I paid closer attention, I realized that experienced technicians often tried to cut corners to shorten their day. They may not be trying to shortchange the customer on service, but that’s the end result.
Inconsistent Service Levels. Just because a technician does a great job when you’re watching doesn’t mean he/she is upholding that same level of service quality when no one’s looking. As the business owner/operator, you are responsible to follow up, making sure that every technician is upholding your company standards on every service call.
“Freelancing” Technicians. We don’t want to believe it, but there are some technicians who will underbid company rates trying to get business for themselves. On more than one occasion, we found upon inspection that a technician had serviced a home but not recorded it because he had commissioned the job himself rather than on behalf of the company.
Disappearing trucks. In our early years, we were unaware that some of our technicians were using company vehicles for personal use. We also caught one employee with a 5-gallon gas can in his service vehicle. Every time he filled up the company truck, he filled up the can to take home with him.
Today. None of these situations exist at Dennis the Mennis anymore. Today, I trust my team completely, and they have proven themselves to be second to none. (James Duffy has been a finalist in the PCT Technician of the Year rankings twice.)
How did I turn my team around? I’ve changed our hiring and training practices. I look for candidates with integrity and a solid work ethic. Then we set them up with on-the-job training provided by our most qualified and experienced technicians, who provide honest evaluations of the candidate in several categories. We determine where more training is needed and work with the individual until he/she is ready to go out on the job alone. I need to feel confident in the technician’s ability, communication skills, appearance, integrity and punctuality before trusting a route to him/her.
Personnel choices are critical. When we hire a technician, we need to remember that this person will be the face of our business. When we hire a telephone representative, this individual will be our voice. Every person we hire has the potential to raise or lower the perception of our company. He/she must treat everyone with respect, dignity and an understanding of what we are trying to accomplish. Our honest, hard-working, reliable technicians depend on us to make good choices. Our clients expect nothing less than the best. We owe it to both of them to deliver.
At Dennis the Mennis, we smile daily. We respect one another. We communicate well. We manage challenges and problems easily. We enjoy what we do and it shows. I always wanted a job where I was treated well, and I think that I have accomplished this with the team we now have in place.
As told to PCT contributor Donna DeFranco.