[View Point] Compassion Leads to Cooperation

Columns - View Point

February 20, 2014
Brad Harbison

As part of his presentation at December’s Global Bed Bug Summit, Billy Tesh recalled the manager of a severely infested 11-story apartment building asking him, “Should we just bulldoze it?” The infestation level — and management’s frustration level — was so high that all options were on the table.

Previous pest control companies had tried and failed to rid the 206-room apartment building, leaving management frustrated and residents having lost faith in pest management treatments (85 percent of the apartments were infested, to varying degrees). So before Tesh, owner of Pest Management Systems Inc. (PMi), Greensboro, N.C., even put together a proposal, he and his team interviewed as many residents and staff members as they could to gain a better understanding of the levels of infestation and problems they had encountered.

Tesh decided to take on this job and he started by developing a “big picture” strategy that focused as much (or more) on cooperation as it did on equipment and treatment protocols. Tesh knew that PMi had the necessary people, equipment and know-how to rid the apartment completely of bed bugs; the more significant challenge was getting all the various entities (management, staff, residents and guests) to work together for a solution. “Sometimes it was a case of these other pest control companies doing everything they could, but the level of cooperation at all levels just wasn’t there,” said Tesh.

Throughout his presentation, Tesh reviewed treatments and procedures his team employed beginning from the 11th floor and working their way down. Most of these protocols/procedures are familiar to PCOs (heat treatments, use of pesticides, etc.); that’s not what this column is about. What I think Tesh shared that was of greatest value was his team’s efforts to get residents to “buy in” to what they were doing. For example, each resident was asked to change into scrubs so that their clothes could be laundered. “They thought it was pretty cool and it made them realize that we were going one step beyond what anyone else had done,” Tesh said.

But before PMi could get this level of cooperation, they had to gain residents’ trust, which is why prior to starting this job Tesh met with his team to explain the importance of compassion. “When we interviewed residents, one of the things they said was, ‘These technicians would talk down to us and blame us for bringing in and spreading bed bugs,’ ” Tesh said. “Residents don’t want to be in this situation and most are embarrassed about it. We talked about treating each resident with respect. As much as you run into situations where you might want to talk down to them, every day greet them like they are your friend. You want them to become colleagues in achieving the end-result, which is no bed bugs.”

And getting residents to become “colleagues” can pay dividends. In the case of PMi, residents learned how to identify bed bugs; where to find them; and the importance of reporting an infestation immediately, while in its early stages (PMi educated residents with photos and a slide show presentation).

The end-result for PMi was that one year following the treatment the bed bug infestation level at this apartment building was reduced by 98 percent, a result that would not have been possible without resident cooperation. Equally as gratifying for Tesh was the response he would get from residents during follow-up visits. “They would say, ‘That was the best night sleep I’ve had in a long time. Thank you. You all did a great job.’ Before it was all over they had given us nicknames.

It became a great opportunity for us to socially interact with them and let them know what they needed to do. We could not have solved these problems without them and my team did a great job of doing this each and every day.”


The author is Internet editor of PCT Online and can be reached at bharbison@giemedia.com.