The pest management industry’s adoption of technology grows every day. Whether it is remote monitoring for pests, onboarding a new employee or completing service reports, the operational efficiencies, cost savings and speed at which companies are embracing technology and pivoting to meet current needs is impressive.
At the National Pest Management Association’s Technology Summit in December 2019, a panel of industry professionals discussed and shared best practices when it comes to employee engagement and retention using technology. Little did they know at the time how valuable that information would prove to be.
One of the panelists, Julie Fredlund, director of technology/ office operations for ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin, Texas, knows first-hand what it takes for a company to shift on a dime. As such, the firm was able to adjust to a new reality, which included the COVID-19 pandemic.
ABC Home & Commercial has long been an early adopter of technology and had a strong digital infrastructure in place to meet the challenges of shifting office employees to work from home and to continue to deliver vital services to customers. While most of the company’s software is cloud-based, the immediate challenge last year was related to hardware and connectivity.
Employees used their own ISPs, gateways and equipment, but some were not quite up to speed to run the company’s demanding software. “Our I.T. department visited each office person’s home, in all of our locations, and conducted a complete technology analysis to ensure they were working optimally,” says Fredlund. “In some cases, we issued the employee a laptop to use from home, additional monitors and tweaked routers as needed.”
On the customer-facing side, the process was a little easier since ABC already had paperless systems in place prior to the pandemic. This made it much easier for the company to accommodate and interact with customers.
“Since we were already primarily communicating with our customers electronically, there wasn’t much to change in that capacity,” says Fredlund. “The groundwork was already complete, we just needed to alter what we already had in place to educate customers on our COVID-19 policies and expectations.”
ABC and Fredlund did notice a significant uptick in demand for online assistance from customers, particularly relating to the chat feature on the company’s website. The chat function had been in place since 2019 but when the pandemic crisis grew, ABC encouraged customers to engage with the company online instead of over the phone.
How significant was the increase? In February, ABC had 554 chat conversations but by May that number exploded to more than 3,700.
“We promoted the feature to our customers via email in April and we’ve seen usage grow significantly since then,” says Fredlund. “Customers have been turning to our website, chat feature or text options for new service inquiries as well as scheduling and billing questions.”
Before the pandemic ABC had one person monitoring the website chat during business hours. To handle the increased volume the company now has two groups of monitors — one from operations and one from marketing — as well as an after-hours monitor.
“It is a great example of teamwork between marketing, operations and I.T. to pull this off and make it successful,” says Fredlund. “Not only have we been able to maintain our customer service levels but we’ve actually seen sales activity coming through the chat feature.”
ENGAGING THE ABC TEAM. The more challenging part of the pandemic for ABC was keeping both the office and field staffs engaged.
“We recognized the need for human interaction, and promoted video meetings, as opposed to emails, phone calls and collaboration boards, as much as possible,” says Fredlund. “We made one-on-one meetings a priority, along with additional group meetings.”
Fredlund says transitioning to video meetings was uncomfortable for many at first, but over time it became more natural.
The company’s monthly meetings also went virtual with hundreds of employees watching on their phones, tablets and laptops rather than being in person. The company’s weekly meetings are now prerecorded and posted to YouTube so employees can watch them anytime.
Keeping morale up and continuing to promote ABC’s deeply engrained culture was another challenge the company faced.
“We had to get a bit creative on how to keep employees engaged and connected to maintain our culture and sense of belonging,” says Fredlund. “We leveraged technology as much as possible to maintain connections.”
Management encouraged employees to connect electronically by having them share pictures of their home office space or their pets or by participating in online polls like, “Where is the best enchilada in town?”
The company’s longtime anteater logo also played a role in the connection process. ABC created a virtual “Meet the Anteater” feature that helped employees get to know each other a bit better. Each employee was asked to create a 30- to 60- second video introducing themselves, sharing their job position and experiences at ABC, and giving some insight into their hobbies and interests.
The videos were posted on the ABC “Community” page through Paylocity, and several were highlighted during weekly meetings.
“Making people feel less isolated was the inspiration behind the ‘Meet the Anteater’ but this will certainly become a part of the company culture long after the pandemic is over,” adds Fredlund.
In addition to maintaining social and cultural aspects, ABC used technology to help with training. They encouraged technicians and inspectors to take photos of safety hazards they observed while on the job. The photos are typically shared and discussed at the in-person weekly meeting but during the pandemic ABC asked technicians to share the photos through email with their teams.
“Normally if a technician found a snake in a crawlspace or significant rodent damage leading to exposed wires in the attic, they would share that experience the next day, sitting around the table with their team,” says Fredlund. “Sharing the photos through email has allowed them to still have an opportunity to share that experience and it has sparked chats with teammates.”
THE LASTING IMPACT. Whether it was planned or done on the fly to adjust to current conditions, the investment pest management companies made are paying off and will continue to do so.
Fredlund says customer engagement technology — texting in advance of service visits, sharing photos/videos with service reports, website chats — is here to stay.
“Customers have been eating up those features,” says Fredlund. “It doesn’t replace the personal connection many of our technicians have with clients, but it does contribute to the total positive experience and maintains a connection.”
Fredlund sees the integration of new technology as a marketing advantage for companies. “Once a customer becomes used to engaging in a certain way, they’ll stick with it,” says Fredlund.
“They may look at another company but if they don’t offer the same experience such as online scheduling or chat services, they’ll likely stay where they are.”
What is the key to successfully engaging employees and customers with technology? Fredlund says it starts with selecting software that matches your company’s needs and identifying the right people to drive it internally.
“It’s not always the I.T. department or your software provider that leads the way,” says Fredlund. “It’s the service managers running reports, customer service reps using all the features of a software program and technicians consistently entering data. It takes discipline and being willing to hold people accountable.”
And it’s not only large companies that benefit from technology. Software companies have programs designed for smaller businesses that include chat, text and email notification features.
“It is much easier to launch new technology than it was three or four years ago,” says Fredlund, who is chairperson of the National Pest Management Association’s Technology Committee.
She encourages PMPs to engage with NPMA, state associations and their peers to see what’s out there and ask questions.
“There is a lot of support and knowledge available to companies looking to upgrade their technology offerings,” says Fredlund. “By taking advantage of those resources companies will feel more comfortable and understand what they can accomplish with technology.”
The author is a partner at B Communications.
The last thing PMPs want to hear is a client complaining that their technicians never showed up to provide a promised service. When faced with such an issue in large-unit apartment complexes, Kevin Thorn, owner of Utah-based Thorn Pest Solutions, came up with the idea of “leave- behind” marketing cards.
Prior to creating the leave-behinds, Thorn Pest Solutions, which specializes in commercial pest control, received consistent calls from property managers who had received complaints from tenants claiming technicians never showed up. Thorn, who recognizes the value of such clients’ time, knew he had to solve the problem to make the lives of property managers easier and, in turn, promote a healthy relationship between them and his company.
The main difficulty with providing service to multi-family housing is keeping everyone on the same page, Thorn said. The immediate purpose of the leave-behinds is to inform tenants that a service has been provided.
In addition to being informative, Thorn’s leave-behinds act as a form of marketing. Thorn Pest Solutions tries to take a helpful and consultative approach to all its marketing, Thorn said. Therefore, its leave-behinds are targeted at limiting the stress of property managers.
“Managers talk to one another,” Thorn said. “If we can do these small things — communicate better to tenants — that means [managers] get less tenant complaints, they have less hassles, they know that something is being communicated.”
Thorn noted that serving property managers by helping limit their stress gets them to promote Thorn Pest Solutions to other managers.
“You have to do something talk-worthy and remarkable to get them to open their mouths,” Thorn said. “So, I think it’s important for us to look at how we can help those people who buy our services.”
Such word-of-mouth marketing is important in business-to-business work, Thorn said. He also emphasized the necessity of business owners keeping their ear open for any weaknesses that might be shared. “We’re constantly looking for things in our processes that are weak points,” Thorn said of the complaints they sometimes received from tenants.
Thorn, the recipient of NPMA’s 2018 Young Entrepreneur Award, said since using the leave-behinds, “it has cut down on those (complaints) drastically. Almost to the point where they don’t exist.”
Thorn says the leave-behinds, which also contain a list of tips for tenants to prevent pest infestations, could work in any market, residential or commercial, and in any industry. It is less about the piece and more about how it helps the client, he said.
“Any market — and any industry for that matter — is finding those things that actually solve a real need,” he said.
Although Thorn Pest Solutions doesn’t have anything in the works now for future leave-behinds, they plan to continue using the pieces, along with their other forms of marketing, including education, consulting, online marketing and additional creative marketing.
Thorn said that most of his company’s marketing is in the form of training and education.
“People want education and are looking for education,” Thorn said.
One example of both education and creative marketing is Thorn’s book “Here To Help: Pest Management Solutions for Commercial Properties,” which he wrote to help PMPs in the commercial pest control industry.
“The purpose of that book was to educate,” Thorn said. “Whether or not we got any sales out of it. It was something that I felt was missing.”
Thorn Pest Solutions, which is 80 percent commercial/20 percent residential, also mails customized “bug boxes” with plastic insects in them to provide a laugh and get people to remember the company name.
“It’s time-consuming, but we have to give them something of value,” Thorn said.
He emphasized that creative marketing is all about building trust and making sure clients and customers know what is going on.
“They don’t live in the world of pest control. That’s where we live,” he said. So, it is important for companies to help their customers by providing them materials and information they need, he said.
The author is an Ohio-based writer.
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Pinto & Associates.
Most people misidentify clover mites, expecting them to be bright red. Adult clover mites, Bryobia praetiosa, are more subdued in color, reddish-brown to greenish-brown with pale orange legs. The much larger and predaceous “velvet mite” is bright red and is often mistakenly identified as a clover mite. To confuse the issue, the 6-legged larval stage of the clover mite is also bright red. Clover mites are found throughout the world.
Clover mites can be easily confused with other small mites such as bird mites, rodent mites, grain mites or even larval brown dog ticks. Clover mites are best identified by the fact that their front pair of legs (out of four pair total) are much longer and are held forward, looking more like antennae than legs. Tiny clover mites (1/64-inch or .75 mm) look like barely visible dots, and are best seen when a group of them are moving together on a surface.
Clover mites are plant pests, feeding mainly on grasses, clover and other weedy plants found in lawns, but also on shrubs, flowers, crops and trees. Heavy populations of mites can damage or kill grass around foundations. Clover mites are active in cool weather, becoming dormant in hot weather (above 80°F/27°C). In fall, large numbers of red eggs that will hatch in spring may be seen on vegetation or on sunny foundation walls.
PEST STATUS. Clover mites may invade structures when grass dies in fall, but they are problems most often in early spring or late winter or during very cold, wet or hot weather. They can gather by the thousands on sunny, exterior walls, seeking protection under shingles or siding. Their size lets them squeeze through window screens and crevices.
New homes with lush, heavily fertilized lawns and grass planted right next to the house tend to have the biggest problems with clover mite indoor invasions. Mite problems lessen as lawns (and mite predators) become established.
Once indoors, clover mites usually die in a few days from dehydration. Clover mites do no damage and do not bite, but crushing them can leave a reddish spot on fabrics or surfaces. Control them indoors with a vacuum with a soft brush attachment.
KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER. Clover mites are seasonal nuisance invaders. An outside perimeter treatment and pesticide treatment of entry points can stop an invasion. Use a product that mentions mites on the label. The most effective long-term control calls for leaving an 18-inch grass-free strip next to the foundation. Also suggest to customers to prune back shrubs or ivy touching the walls, fertilize in fall not spring, and mow grass short.
The authors are well-known industry consultants and co-owners of Pinto & Associates.
By McMillion Stemann
Six new appointments booked on average each week. $140,000+ in commissions. Prospective clients reaching out to you first. Recruiting the best talent to grow your team and revenue.
These are the possibilities that are waiting for you on LinkedIn.
After training thousands of professionals for nearly a decade on how to leverage LinkedIn as a revenue-generating business tool, it is critical to give those I teach a solid foundation to ensure their future success on the platform. We will dive deeper in upcoming PCT articles, but let’s kick off with the basics so you can unlock the power of LinkedIn for your career and business.
MINDSET MATTERS. First, you must squash the notion that LinkedIn is “just another” social media channel. When the company was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for $26.2 billion, it was clear the massive technology company was here to stay. In fact, LinkedIn is older than Facebook. The company’s vision is to “create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce” — meaning, they want every working person of the 3.1 billion global population to be represented on their platform.
With a mission of “connecting the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful” in mind, LinkedIn is taking a unique approach to marketing, selling, hiring and recruiting. Do you want more business opportunities, more money or more freedom? Do you want to continue to be known as the best in your field?
If you’re not a LinkedIn “believer,” keep reading and have an open mind; take LinkedIn seriously, if not for you, then for your team. If you have already experienced success through LinkedIn, keep reading because you have a responsibility to share your knowledge with your colleagues and you still have a lot to learn.
INVEST IN YOUR REPUTATION. In a job interview or a potential client meeting, you put your best foot forward; LinkedIn is no different. Your personal profile is foundational to the potential success you can have on LinkedIn. A few best practices include: an approachable and recent headshot of yourself (just you and no selfies), write in first person, and include a way for people to reach you outside of LinkedIn. (Note: Companies should be represented as pages, not personal profiles.)
With nearly two dozen sections, take the time to build out each applicable section of your profile; you are increasing your opportunity to be found when someone is looking for a professional like you or a company like yours. Just like Google loves keywords, LinkedIn does too. Remember, there is no draft version of your profile, no spellcheck and no formatting. Use a Word document to catch potential misspellings and grammatical errors.
Your LinkedIn profile is your digital footprint — make sure it reflects your outstanding offline reputation.
21ST CENTURY ROLODEX. You might remember when your desktop Rolodex collected dust. Gone are the days when a business card became outdated the moment it landed in your hand — new phone number, new job title, new employer. Today, that important information is immediately updated by professionals on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the 21st century Rolodex.
Your LinkedIn network should be full of connections that you know professionally, like clients, prospects, vendors, current coworkers and past colleagues. You also can connect with friends, family and alumni.
It is acceptable to connect with people you do not know, yet. However, the intention should be that you want to know them and will use the invitation and new connection as a way to start a conversation. The idea is that you are bringing your offline relationships online by connecting with them on LinkedIn and then taking them offline periodically to have real conversations via phone, Zoom, in person, etc.
Here is a quick rundown of how the LinkedIn network is structured:
- 1st degree: People who you are immediately connected with.
- 2nd degree: People who are connected to your 1st degree connections.
- 3rd degree: People who are connected to your 2nd degree connections.
- Out of network: People who fall outside of the above categories.
To get greater visibility into your extended network (second and third degree), a healthy first-degree connection number to aim for is above 500. However, LinkedIn says it is not just a numbers game (i.e., the goal is not to have 30,000 connections). Who is in your network is more important than how many first-degree connections you accumulate. The more authentically you know the people you are connected with, the more valuable of a resource you can be to them (i.e., introducing them to other people you know, sharing relevant content they would be interested in, etc.).
SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. As your professional experience evolves, you will periodically update your profile and consistently grow your network. Additionally, sharing your knowledge is essential to guaranteeing you do not get left out on LinkedIn.
Do you blog about your expertise? Do you read articles that could help others? Share this information on LinkedIn by posting articles and publishing your own authored content on LinkedIn. You will be seen as a valuable resource and someone who provides important insight.
TAKE ACTION. First, fix your mindset to believe in the potential you have waiting for you on LinkedIn. Then, invest in building out your profile so that it reflects your full story. Once you lay the foundation with a complete profile, intentionally build your network with connections so you can stay in touch and top of mind with those you care about most. As you build your network, be a valuable resource and subject matter expert by sharing professional and informative content.
Lindsey McMillion Stemann (connect@mcmillion consulting.com), founder and principal of McMillion Consulting, is a speaker, prospecting trainer and writer. She has spoken at industry events, including PestWorld and NPMA Academy. She welcomes PMPs to join LinkedInsider, a free weekly email with tips, courses, webinars and news to keep you in the LinkedIn loop.
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