[Focus On Service] Commercial Vs. Residential

Have you ever analyzed the differences between your residential and commercial accounts? Here’s a review of how these two types of accounts differ.

October 7, 2003

Can the same service technician service more than one type of customer? Of course they can. Commercial service technicians do it every day. In the course of their day, they may leave an unregulated type of customer, such as a dry cleaner or convenience store, and drive to a highly regulated facility, such as a food processor.

To further complicate the matter, the next stop could be a FDA or USDA facility. Then they may have to deal with a facility that is inspected by an outside group (such as AIB) or an organic certification group. The commercial technician must know the different requirements for each of these types of facilities. Aside from these obvious issues that do not occur in residential pest control service, what other issues does a technician have to deal with?

Let’s start with the reason that pest control is provided. In residential settings, hiring a pest control company can be the result of several events.

• The homeowner has a problem. They call a pest management professional to solve an existing pest infestation. They may need an ongoing, regular service or a one-time application to solve a problem. In some cases, they may only need some advice on a maintenance issue or a change to the environment that will solve their particular issue.

• The homeowner has had previous experience with pest infestations and wants to prevent the problem again.

• The homeowner has other services with a pest management professional and takes advantage of potential savings by having more than one service provided. (A termite customer that is offered a special price on pest control.)

• They move into an area that is prone to have high occurrences of specific types of pests.

For commercial customers, the reason for hiring a pest management professional may include some of these same reasons plus the fact that many industries are required to provide (or have provided for them) a pest control program.

When a technician responds to a call in a residential setting, it is often a response to a problem. The homeowner could be calm or emotional. If it the first service, it is most likely in response to a problem so emotions could be running high. That customer does not always want to hear that it may take several days, weeks or months for the problem to go away. If the service is part of an ongoing and regular service agreement, the technician has to determine the temperature of the customer. They could be having a bad day and unintentionally take out their frustrations on them.

Emotions are not always an issue when dealing with a commercial customer. Sure, these customers can get upset with you when things are not going right. When one of their customers sees an insect or rodent, it can cost them, and possibly you, big. But hopefully most decisions in commercial accounts are based on sound business practices.

CUSTOMERS’ EXPECTATIONS. To me, today’s customers seem to be more educated. Many will have tried to solve the pest problem themselves before calling in a pest management professional. I have talked to many homeowners who have not only identified the pest, but have looked up information on the Internet about the best control techniques and practices. These customers must be handled carefully. If you do not say the right things, then you do not get the account. This customer also understands a little about the biology of the pest. If you tell them the problem can be gone in a week, make sure that is realistic for the pest present.

Commercial customers are no less informed. Large food-handling facilities often have sanitarians and engineers that have some experience in the pest control service. In some facilities, it is their second job. They are the ones that we report to and the ones that evaluate our performance. Because they have a line above them to report to, failure on our part is not an option. Also remember that some of these customers have been through several different pest management professionals over the years.

All customers expect something from their pest management professional once they are hired. All customers expect no bugs! This is true in residential settings. The homeowner paid good money to have their house, their own private world, treated. If they have a pest problem, they want it gone — now. If they do not have a problem, they do not want to have one. "Do what ever you need to do to prevent this from occurring," is often the mantra from these folks.

The commercial customer also wants no bugs, but most customers know they are going to see an occasional insect. As long as most of them do not find a large population and their customers are not complaining about pests, they are generally OK. Most commercial customers are aware of the fact that they often re-introduce pests into their facility with supply shipments, employees or customers.

DIFFERENCES IN SERVICES. The actual service function can be different for these two types of accounts. Many of the common materials that are used for pest control service have restrictions on application sites on their labels. The label may restrict application into food areas or sensitive locations. It may restrict application to non-operating hours so the time of service is affected.

Speaking of the time of service, there can be a vast difference in not only the physical time that is required for the service but also the time of day, or night, that the service can be rendered.

The residential customer generally requires less time to service. I am often asked how long it should take to service an account. There really is no answer to this question. The one I usually give is, "Until the job is done."

Scheduling customers for service is often not an easy task. Some homeowners will provide a key or a neighbor with a key to allow you to enter and do your work as needed. But even this customer must be scheduled. If you show up to do the service on a different day or time than what you were told, it could cause a problem. The customer may have guests coming over that evening, so they tell you to come in the morning or early afternoon. The last thing they want is for you to be pulling out of their driveway as their guests are pulling in. Do not take this type of account for granted. They must be treated well or they will be lost to you.

Other customers can be just as difficult to schedule. A new customer may not know you. They may have some reluctance to let you in their house without being at home. The kids may be home in the afternoon, but if that homeowner does not have trust in your integrity and ability, they are not going to allow you to service until they are home with you. This means that often we must service houses in the late afternoon or early evening. Weekend service is not out of the question either.

After a customer has been with you a while, some of these obstacles can be overcome. We all want to try and schedule our stops to minimize the amount of driving needed. With the rising cost of fuel and other expenses, we want to create routes that are as economical as possible. But we must be flexible. Not all of the routing and scheduling software programs take into account that our customers may have conflicts to our desires. If service becomes too much trouble for the homeowner, they will let the service go.

Scheduling the commercial customer for service may be a little easier as long as we understand the basic nature of the account. If it is a food-handling establishment, we must know the hours of production, when they are the busiest handling their own customers and other factors that may hinder our ability to provide a good service. Obstacles such as shift change, lunch crowd and schedule of the management team must all be taken into consideration when establishing a service schedule.

Flexibility is just as important with commercial accounts as it is with residential accounts. The commercial customer may need to alter the service schedule for a week to help them meet an important deadline or project. If an outside inspection group is inspecting them, they may need you to change your service schedule to make sure that they are as close to perfect as possible.

The frequency of the service varies quite a bit as well. Residential accounts generally fall into a monthly, every other month, quarterly or even a yearly service. Commercial customers can be serviced daily, weekly, every other week or monthly. Rarely does the commercial account fall into a schedule of every other month or quarterly.

THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNICATION. Communication is different for each of these types of customers as well. A homeowner may never request a label or MSDS but every commercial customer should have a copy on file at their location for not only every product used, but should include items that may be used. The service ticket and inspection reports all have to be complete and correct. For the commercial customer this is even more important.

Often the report may need to go to another person who is not at the job site. We must cover the information on the report with the person in charge at the account at the time of service but rely on the written report for the owner or manager. The homeowner needs clear direction on reports as well. If there is work that needs to be done to the house, such as limbs trimmed away, gutters cleaned, etc., they need to be able to recall what you told them later on. Having this written on the service ticket or inspection report neatly and as clear as possible will help the homeowner.

There is a difference in the approach to servicing a residential customer as opposed to the commercial customer. These are only a few of the issues. Other differences and issues may present itself in various markets around the United States. For the best service for your accounts, remember these couple of items:

• Learn the nuances of each individual customer.

• Do not treat them all the same.

• Be flexible.

• Be understanding of their individual needs.

The author is national commercial technical manager for Orkin Pest Control, Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached via e-mail at fmeek@pctonline.com.