Becoming a successful commercial pest management professional requires special skills, training and expertise. Are you up to the task?
Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, in cooperation with Copesan Services, the PCT Media Group published the PCT Guide to Commercial Pest Management featuring editorial contributions from some of the industry’s leading technical directors. In the coming months, PCT will be excerpting portions of this highly-anticipated publication in the pages of the magazine, as well as featuring author podcasts for distribution at PCT Online and in our weekly E-newsletter. This month, we’re proud to kick-off the series of articles with what it takes to be a successful commercial pest control service technician by two people who should know – Mark Sheperdigian, vice president of technical solutions, Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich., and Jay Bruesch, technical director, Plunkett’s Pest Control, Fridley, Minn.
Commercial pest management offers many challenges — protecting health, property, our world’s food supply, and our clients’ reputations are among the most important. Those who find a career in pest management quickly learn of the generous rewards that come from accepting these challenges.
Eli Villa, a pest management professional employed by Wil-Kil Pest Control, Sun Prairie, Wis., summarized the dedication that pest management professionals bring to their job every day, and the enjoyment they take from it, as: “This is noble work.”
Pest management truly is noble work. Few other professions offer as great an opportunity as pest management does to contribute to health, longevity and quality of life.
In this article, you will look at an overall road map to becoming a successful commercial pest management professional. By “commercial” pest management, we mean any kind of non-residential service including schools and daycare centers, food service accounts (restaurants, bars, institutional kitchens, etc.), food and pharmaceutical processing plants and storage facilities, offices and institutions, and industrial plants.
Most states require that all persons performing pest management duties for hire be licensed, certified or registered. Others allow a non-credentialed person to work under the supervision of a licensed or certified person, either temporarily (during training) or permanently. Make sure you are qualified — trained, licensed and certified — for every type of work you’re called upon to do. You are your company’s “noble” representative, so make sure you have the credentials to be of maximum value to the clients on your route.
Even if it’s not required, a commercial structural pest control license is a good starting point for everybody. Consider adding turf or ornamental certification to your license if your clients would benefit from lawn treatments to control occasional invader pests from outside structures. Become certified in right-of-way pest management if there is a need for weed control and in fumigation if you have clients who may need that service.
Hit the Books.
Pest management professionals wear many hats. At any given moment, we might be entomologists, rodentologists, detectives, counselors, psychiatrists, carpenters, sanitarians, and, yes, exterminators. Not a single hour spent in a training conference, participating in a correspondence course or studying to get a new certification category is ever wasted — there’s always something new to learn.
Know Your Client's Business.
Like a battle general, you need to know where your enemies (pests) are likely to come from, where they will attack and where you’re vulnerable. For this reason, it’s a good idea to learn as much about each of your commercial accounts as possible.
Commercial Pest Management
Achieving Your Objective — A Satisfied Client
By Mark Sheperdigian and Jay Bruesch
Remember the importance of people — it’s not about bugs, it’s about people. Making sure you provide exceptional service and measurable results usually leads to satisfied, long-term clients. Here are some suggestions on how to achieve that goal.
Working with Clients
- Client Expectations. Client attitudes are always based on the comparison of what you do to what they expected. Manage their expectations by telling them what you expect and why you expect it. If they expect more from you than can be delivered within the limitations of the program, you may need to educate them further or bring in others to help establish realistic expectations. Above all, do not overpromise. Be optimistic but reasonable, and prepare your clients to do their part in getting the best possible results.
- Consistent Follow-Up. One of the most effective tools for solving problems is consistent follow-up. It may be easier to let issues drop, but if they were important enough to address at the beginning, they deserve consistent follow-up until they are resolved. Even if the resolution is an agreement to wait or do nothing further, you have brought the client into the process, and they will own their portion of the decision.
- Dependability. Work hard to show up on time, follow procedures exactly, and service every device every time. Dependability is the most commonly cited characteristic of a successful service technician. So be very careful about commitments you make, and make good on every commitment.
Managing Your Time
- Haste Makes Waste. Most catastrophic pest problems could have been ended early, diminished in their effect, or avoided altogether if a technician had not hurried past some pest evidence. We struggle daily to maintain a balance of performing thorough inspections and service, and completing duties within the limitations of the program. If there is insufficient time in a program to perform all the duties, make this known to your supervisor and follow up until everyone has realistic expectations of your performance.
- Trap/Device Placement – Why? Why Not? How? Whether discussing insect light traps (ILTs) or multi-catch mouse traps, there is rarely one best array of number and placement. Regularly consider whether or not traps should be moved or supplemented. Occasionally, there are too many traps to be warranted by the pest pressure and a reduction may be in order. If this occurs, propose to reduce the number of traps and increase the time for inspection.
- Cleaned and Dated. In the world of third-party auditors and regulatory oversight, uncleaned, undated, or unserviced devices represent a service failure. Make it a point to service every device every time, regardless of the time it takes to do so. This documentation and attention will be perceived as service excellence, and so it is. The attention you give the devices illustrates the attention you give other less visible aspects of the program.
- Reading Traps. When you encounter pests or pest evidence in traps, do not simply record the data and move on.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are these pests? (Confirm your identifications if necessary)
- Where did these pests come from? From inside the facility or outside?
- When did they arrive? Night or day? Yesterday or last week? All at once or over time?
- What should be done now in response to what has been seen?
- What can be expected for the next service?
Learn where their supplies come from, where these are stored, and how goods and people move around the facility. Learn how air flows through the building, because this will tell you a lot about the potential for pest entry and survival. Take an interest in any processes that take place within your accounts — the things you learn will point you toward ways you can provide excellent pest management service.
Know how finished products are stored and shipped. Find out how waste is disposed of, and how often. Investigate the location of your clients’ facilities and their surroundings. Take note of pest risks that might come from the environment around them.
Know the pest-vulnerable zones in each of your accounts. These are pieces of equipment, fixtures, areas or other limited locations that, for one reason or another, are particularly susceptible to pest invasion and successful infestation. These locations may be hard to reach and difficult to clean, but they provide food, water, harborage, or warmth for insect and rodent pests. Knowing the pest-vulnerable zones will make your inspections more efficient, and will point you directly to the spots you need to investigate if pest activity is reported.
Know the names and functions of as much of the machinery and equipment in your accounts as possible. Not only does knowing the equipment enable you to assess localized risks of pest infestation, it also helps you communicate more effectively with your clients. Telling a client that “the Line 3 dough mixer” needs cleaning gets you much more credibility than saying that “the big gray machine in the corner” is dirty.
As an example of the importance of knowing your clients’ business, consider the fast-food restaurant. If you look at it as just another box with doors where you have rodent traps, bait stations, or insect light traps to service, the level of service you provide will be just adequate. If, on the other hand, you study the account a little, you may find:
- Bread products are delivered at 4:00 a.m. every weekday and Saturday. The bakery driver has a key to the back door. There is a mercury-vapor lamp illuminating this door.
- Meats and frozen goods are delivered every afternoon via the same back door, which is propped open for about 15 minutes while the freezers are stocked.
- Produce, paper products and non-perishable food supplies come from separate suppliers and arrive about every other day.
- The restaurant is open from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. and serves approximately 1,500 customers a day — a third of these come to the drive-through window and the rest are served inside. Thus, the doors and drive-through window are opening and closing many times a day.
- Employees begin to arrive at 5:00 a.m. and place their belongings — jackets, purses, backpacks, etc. — in the small employee break room adjacent to the kitchen.
- Trash is bagged and placed in a dumpster by the back door; the four large trash cans in the food-preparation area are filled and emptied about five times a day. A contract waste-disposal company empties the dumpster once a week.
By considering each of the factors listed above, you can come to some conclusions about the account’s vulnerability to pests and think of ways you can adapt your service to better protect this client.
Know the Rules.
Depending on the type of facility, specific rules may apply in each of your commercial accounts. If you have food-processing accounts, you must know the current Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and put them to use. This means wearing a hair net (and covering facial hair); making sure all pockets above your waist are empty; and ensuring that your hands, arms, neck, face and ears are free of jewelry. You may not work in a food processing plant if you have any open sores, boils or other lesions, or if you have active symptoms of a communicable disease such as influenza.
Follow the same safety rules that your client’s employees must obey pertaining to handwashing, infection control, confined spaces, working above floor level, and lockout/tagout.
Find out which inspection agencies visit the facility for third-party audits and the standards to which they inspect (e.g., AIB, NSF/Cook & Thurber, Silliker, SQF, BRC, BSI); familiarize yourself with those inspection standards. This will enable you to know whether your company’s pest management program is set up in such a way as to pass muster, or whether the program needs to be adjusted in some way.
Local authorities may impose restrictions on the use of pesticides or pest control devices, especially rodent baits, tracking powders, and insect light traps. Find out what restrictions apply, if any, in the municipality or county in which you work.
Some commercial buildings also are certified in one of a variety of “green” standards. For example, many food processing plants operate under the organic standards of the U.S. National Organic Program; other commercial buildings are LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Understanding if your clients are required to adhere to green standards will impact the type of service you provide. How do you to find out? Ask! Then, use available resources to learn the rules for organic and green pest management, and adhere to those procedures.
Have the Right Equipment.
Stock a tool box, nylon tool bag, or belt pouch with inspection tools, and carry it with you into every account. Every pest technician has his or her own opinion about exactly which items must be included in an inspection kit. At a minimum, you need the following: flashlight, sticky traps, spatula or putty knife for digging dirt and debris out of tight places, insect specimen collection vials, pocket magnifier (loupe), knee pads, a multi-tool with screwdriver attachments, notebook and pen to make notes, and a ladder.
By being properly equipped, you’re assured of having the supplies you need when you need them. Plus, you’ll gain the confidence of your client.
Maximize Your Talents.
There are several fundamental talents that can enhance your success as a pest management professional. Cultivate these abilities in yourself, and work to build your skills in areas where you may be lacking. While these abilities may seem like common sense, they make up the foundation of your success. If they seem second nature to you, consider them again. These talents are the greatest tools of your trade.
Communication. Communication is the single most important talent you can take into an account. This point cannot be overstated. More accounts are retained by what a technician says, or lost by what a technician does not say (or says poorly), than by any failure to eliminate the pests. This reality prompted a wise mentor in the pest management industry to say, “Killing bugs is easy, getting and keeping clients is hard.” Be sure to speak with your clients at every service visit, and do so with a smile. But remember, professionals also communicate with a purpose; in your case that is to learn of conditions or events that may contribute to pest infestations.
Observation. Be observant and inquisitive of the details around you. Subtle signs are the first indication of trouble; treat every service visit as an opportunity to catch something early.
Patience. As the old adage says, “Haste makes waste.” This is certainly true of commercial pest management. The most common disasters are caused by a technician focused on the next rodent station instead of the mouse droppings between the last device and the next. Premium service requires time to inspect, examine, and consider.
Persistence. Once you have started a service program, more often than not, it will be your persistence that ensures your success. If a service or pest management protocol has not produced the desired results, ask yourself what might be done differently. It may be considered insanity to repeat the same behavior and expect different results, but it is shameful to give up after six days of a week-long endeavor. If it seems there is nothing new to do, read an article or a textbook on the subject. If you cannot find what you are looking for, bring in a fresh set of eyes, or widen your search, or do both!
Courtesy. There is no substitute for common courtesy. If people like you, they will go out of their way to make you successful. Be on time, or call ahead, so clients know where you are. Be respectful, and treat everyone with the same courtesy. It is common for people to be respectful to superiors and those who can benefit them, but we are often most judged on how we treat the people who have no power to help us.
Discretion. The commercial pest management technician will go places and see things that should never be made public. In addition to information about pest problems, technicians will have knowledge of conditions, practices, personnel, and other information about the accounts they visit. It is never appropriate to discuss these things outside the business setting, and client names should never be mentioned to outside entities. Testimonial letters may be used to help sales, but no other discussion of other accounts should ever include names or identifying information.
An example of greater discretion being needed occurred when a technician servicing a hospital saw a patient he knew and greeted him. Later he saw a family member of the patient and commented that he had seen the father in the hospital. The family member was unaware that his father had been in a hospital because he was in for psychological issues and was trying to keep his treatment private. He sued the hospital which, in turn, sued the pest management firm.
Use Device Data Effectively.
The various devices we check as part of our daily pest management routines are more than just traps — they are monitors, and they give us important information. “Read” the devices and take action accordingly. A mouse caught in an interior trap means that a mouse got past your exterior defenses. Look for how it may have gotten inside, and suggest improvements that will prevent another mouse from getting in.
A Recipe for Success
- Hit the Books
- Know Your Client’s Business
- Know the Rules
- Have the Right Equipment
- Maximize Your Talents
- Use Device Data Effectively
- Inspect Carefully
- Choose Pesticides Wisely
- Communicate Effectively
- Provide Timely Follow-Up
A significant part of most pest control service focuses on checking devices — rodent traps and bait stations, insect light traps, pheromone traps and other kinds of equipment. It is important to get away from just checking devices and start looking around your surroundings. Take heed of noted rodent expert and industry consultant Dr. Bobby Corrigan’s advice that effective pest management professionals are investigators more than applicators.
Inspection must take place in three dimensions — 3D. Pests are likelier to be found up high and down low, where people are often reluctant to look. Pest management professionals must be the ones who are unafraid to look at things in 3D. Wear knee pads and a bump cap for protection from pain and bruises. Use your flashlight to see into the dark nooks and crannies where pests hide or leave evidence of their presence.
Choose Pesticides Wisely.
Pesticides are an important component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). In many cases, you will find a pest problem or conditions that could contribute to a pest problem. Identify non-chemical strategies such as sanitation or structural repairs to address the problem, and then determine if a pesticide is needed to complete an effective plan of attack. Once it has been determined that bait, spray, dust or space treatment material is needed, read the label — and then read it again. Only then do you apply the product according to its label directions. Make sure your written records exactly match what you applied and where you applied it.
The very best pest management professionals are not necessarily the ones with the most sophisticated technical skills. Excelling as a pest management professional is at least as much about being a good communicator as it is about being an expert bug killer. In order to secure your clients’ cooperation with sanitation, structural maintenance, and staff practices, you need their trust and a solid rapport.
Learn your clients’ names and call them by name when you speak with them; and make sure they know and use your name. Learn and use the names of lower-ranking employees of your clients as well. The more names you know, the more allies you have. See your clients as often as possible, and explain things to them. You’re not doing your clients any favors if you keep a low profile — see them and be seen by them.
As important as in-person communication is, written communication may be even more crucial. Remember this easy rule about communicating with your clients: If you don’t put it in writing, you didn’t do it!
Write neat, informative reports every time you perform a service. Tell your client:
- What service you performed today.
- What you found, in terms of pests, pest evidence, or conditions that may be conducive to pest entry or survival.
- What you plan to do to follow up on today’s findings and activity.
- What you need your client to do.
Many pest management firms use electronic record-keeping systems, which are excellent for ensuring accuracy and timeliness in service records. But hand-held electronic devices carry with them the danger that, in order to minimize keystrokes, we might make our reports sketchy or incomplete. In this age of electronic communications, successful pest management professionals will continue to take the time to tell their clients in detail what they have done, what they plan to do, and what the clients need to do in order to keep their facilities pest-free. It goes without saying that your pesticide application records, whether kept on paper or electronically, must be perfectly accurate and must conform perfectly to applicable state record-keeping requirements.
Commercial Pest Management Book is latest must-have technical resource from PCT
The PCT Guide to Commercial Pest Management is a valuable technical resource devoted to educating PMPs about how to treat a wide array of commercial accounts written by current and past members of the Copesan Technical Committee. Each chapter in this guide focuses on a specific type of account — from apartments to food-processing facilities to hotels to zoos — providing a quick reference for all those involved in commercial pest management. With this guide, readers will learn how to better protect food, property, and public health in commercial accounts.
“While there are many industry books on pests and pest management, there seemed to be a void in addressing the specifics of commercial accounts, particularly as related to some of the less common accounts, such as zoos, museums and transportation vehicles,” said Lisa Lupo, the book’s editor.
The book is intended to be used as a resource for commercial account training or as a quick reference/resource as opposed to a book that is read cover-to-cover in a few sittings. Each chapter is written as a stand-alone piece, focusing on one aspect of commercial service or one type of account. So if a technician is working a healthcare facility, warehouse, or even a zoo, for the first time — or simply wants a refresher — these chapters provide an excellent opportunity for self or classroom training.
Another highlight of the book is a full-color photo section, with photos by Tom Myers, along with “actual-size” measurement bars, providing technicians with a resource for identifying common insects and other pests found in commercial accounts. Additionally, the photos are cross-referenced in a detailed Pest Identification chapter by urban entomologist Dr. Eric Smith.
The PCT Guide to Commercial Pest Management costs $29.99 and can be ordered online at www.pctonline.com/PCT-GuideToCommercialPestMgmt.aspx or by calling PCT’s books department at 800/456-0707.
The difference between an adequate commercial technician and a successful professional is that the latter responds to pest issues aggressively, with thorough follow-through. Take charge of pest management, from inspection all the way to following up on your own initiative until problems are solved. Don’t let your clients call you back. Instead, stay on top of potential and existing pest problems through thorough inspections, effective communication and aggressive follow up.
Your involvement in urban pest management puts you in a unique position to enjoy a variety of benefits while serving as a protector of public health and well-being. You will visit a wide variety of facilities that manufacture a bewildering array of goods. From the food we eat to the goods we buy, you will see them being made. While many people have taken guided tours of these facilities, a service technician has seen them up close and personal. Technicians have looked off the tallest buildings in town, crept through the deepest sub-basements in the city, and walked through every door labeled “Authorized Personnel Only.”
To be your best at this noble work, take the time to properly prepare yourself. You will need to learn and relearn a number of disciplines and topics. The constantly changing technologies of our society will demand your attention. Be sure your equipment is sufficient to do your job. If you equip yourself with the best equipment, you will always be able to perform to your maximum ability. Use your talents well and work on areas you need to improve. As the entire subject of urban pest management is people, never decline or forget to treat people well.