Increasing Productivity

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No matter what business climate you’re in — a booming economy or a worldwide pandemic — productivity is key to a successful pest control business. Here are some innovative ways PMPs are driving growth.

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December 3, 2020

Editor’s note: While this article was written and its research conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, the information on how to increase your firm’s productivity is timeless. The ideas presented here work for all businesses — big or small — in various business climates.

If you’re not productive, you won’t stay in business long.

“Productivity is the lifeblood of the company,” says Dave Ramsey, who heads field operations for Copesan Services, a nationwide alliance of commercial pest control companies.

Productivity drives profitability so you can grow the business. It’s about doing more with the resources you currently have.

Efficiency — doing more with less resources — also is key to improving productivity. The less you move a service vehicle, for instance, the greater the efficiency, explains Ramsey.

According to a PCT survey conducted in May 2019, 80 percent of pest management professionals have taken specific steps to improve productivity at their companies.

WHAT IS PRODUCTIVITY? Before you can improve productivity, you need to clearly define what it means to your organization, says Robby Slaughter, a productivity expert and founder of the AccelaWork consultancy in Indianapolis, Ind. “The critical task is to really understand what it means to produce valuable results,” he explains. Only then can you set productivity goals and measure your efforts in achieving them.

According to the PCT survey, 68 percent of PMPs actively measure employee productivity. Eighty percent track the productivity of service technicians; more than half (57 percent) say this job function offers the greatest opportunity to improve efficiency. Sixty-four percent of firms track sales staffs’ productivity; just a quarter (27 percent) tracked customer service representatives.

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of PMPs say employees are more productive today than they were five years ago, found the survey. Here’s how some companies are making operations more productive and efficient.

IMPLEMENTING BETTER TRAINING. “Good training is the number one thing” that boosts productivity, says Doug Foster, president of Burt’s Pest Control, Columbus, Ind. “If you’ve got a well-trained guy and he knows what to do, it’s one and done; he can go out and solve the problem and then he can get on to the next job,” he explains. Good training results in fewer callbacks and higher morale, says Foster.

Sixty-one percent of PMPs say they’ve boosted productivity by improving employee skills through enhanced training, and more than a quarter (26 percent) say enhanced training of field staff was the primary reason for their company’s productivity gain.

But it’s not just technical or job-specific training that’s important. Teaching “soft skills,” like how to handle difficult clients and what to do when things go wrong, are essential. So is knowing how to use the latest version of the in-field software program.

How you train is another consideration, says Todd Simpson, president of HTP Termite & Pest Control in Huntingdon, Tenn. That’s why he built a new training room that has internet access and a big screen TV. Young team members learn “twice as much” attending live webinars and presentations. “If I hand them a book, they look at me like I’m crazy,” Simpson explains.

Dominique Sauvage, who heads quality assurance at Copesan, urges pest management professionals to measure customer satisfaction and analyze the results. “That’s how you find where your training is missing,” he says. Then you can take corrective action.

TOP OF MIND. Nearly a quarter (23 percent) of PMPs surveyed say building a corporate culture that promotes productivity is the main reason employees are more productive today compared to five years ago.

It must be a focus of your day-to-day operations, says Austin Elrod, president of Pest Force Pest Control, Houston, Texas. “For us it’s who we are and what we do. We are constantly trying to improve productivity and efficiency,” he says. From accounting to field service, employees work toward specific productivity related KPIs (key performance indicators), earning performance bonuses for meeting goals.

Loyal Termite & Pest Control, a Rentokil company in Richmond, Va., promotes productivity by posting monthly employee production numbers in the tech room. This spurs friendly competition with the highest producer winning gift card prizes, says President Nick Lupini.

These sorts of programs, however, are difficult to do effectively, says Slaughter. “Any system that you create has the potential to be gamed,” he cautions. Consider Wells Fargo: It paid bonuses for meeting new-account goals, so employees opened accounts without customer approval.

“Really, a much more effective approach is to establish a culture of producing value and to tell stories about how you do that,” says Slaughter.

PAYING MORE THAN PRODUCTION. Many employees in the industry are paid “on production,” or by the number of accounts they service or appointments they schedule each day.

Making sure they understand how this compensation works can increase productivity. As such, nearly half of PMPs (48 percent) say they’ve taken steps to communicate productivity goals more clearly, found the PCT survey.

It’s important for employees to understand how they make the company more productive and how this benefits them personally; plus, by picking the brains of your more productive employees, you can implement changes that make everyone more productive, says Simpson.

Just track the right metrics. If the goal is to provide a positive customer experience but you’re only tracking the number of calls made — not customer feedback —employees may not have an incentive to build customer relationships or actually solve the pest problem.

“It’s important for us to make sure we tie quality of our service to the productivity,” says Sauvage.

Quality and morale suffer when routes are over-scheduled. Routes typically are based on the average time it takes to complete certain jobs. The PCT survey found 44 percent of PMPs have specific time parameters for each type of pest control service.

Even though productivity may be number one in your mind, it can’t be number one in the minds of people who are performing in the field, says Simpson. “They’ve got to know that you respect them for more than just the dollar they bring in,” he says.

MAKING STRUCTURAL CHANGES. The average company loses more than 20 percent of productive capacity to “organizational drag,” which is the structures and processes that consume time and prevent employees from getting things done, reports a 2017 Bain & Company study.

To reduce drag, solicit employee input. “They’re the ones who are doing the work on the frontlines and they’re the ones who are most likely to have ideas about how to make structural improvements,” says Slaughter.

According to the PCT survey, 17 percent of PMPs say implementing enhanced internal systems and procedures is the primary reason productivity increased at their companies.

Elrod surveys employees annually to get suggestions for productivity improvement and he empowers them to change company systems. He even dedicates a percentage of revenue — last year it was 1 percent — to implement improvements not already earmarked in the budget.

You don’t have to place productivity solely on the shoulders of technicians when all departments are meeting productivity goals, says Elrod, who learned early on to plan ahead or productivity would slow. “Every year or two, we are having to redo, basically, our entire internal operations. Ours is a constant, evolving program,” he explains. As a result, growing pains are less severe and tumultuous. “No one wants to work in a chaotic environment,” he reminds.

Foster says a simple system change can have a big impact. He implemented a “preflight checklist” for technicians when they kept returning to the office for forgotten tools, supplies and personal protective gear. “It saved a lot of time and it just makes you look more professional,” he says.

USING LABOR-SAVING PRODUCTS. Some control products help companies increase productivity. “By using a better product or a differently formulated product we can get longer residual,” explains Foster.

Gena Lupini, vice president at Loyal Termite & Pest Control, began using a brand-name non-repellent to control ants. “You can get your production up by not having callbacks,” she says.

Simpson went from a 75 percent success rate controlling bed bugs to zero callbacks by using a new fungi-based insecticide. Eight years ago, a bed bug job was a three-man job that took eight hours; now “two men can knock out a house in about an hour and a half,” he says.

Manufacturer support is key to solving problems quickly, says Nick Lupini. Not all generic manufacturers have the same level of product support, he says. Additionally, such manufacturers sometimes don’t support the industry financially, he added.

 

Keep up with the science, urges Simpson. The research on bed bug control is “tremendous. If you’re not studying it every day you’re behind,” he says.

 

CHOOSING EFFICIENT EQUIPMENT. Equipment can reduce the time it takes to complete jobs.

Two years ago, Foster started using a high-pressure injection machine to apply termiticide. The machine requires half the time and employees to complete a termite job, and he says customers don’t take issue with the reduced time technicians spend on site. “It’s made us a lot more productive in the termite sector. It’s been a huge time saver,” he says.

Electronic rodent monitoring also has boosted efficiency at food warehouse accounts, says Foster. His technicians place monitors in traps with the highest activity and in hard-to-access areas like drop ceilings and locked IT closets. The wear-and-tear on technicians is less and they can spend more time investigating the source of rodent problems and preventing future ones.

Angeles Pest Control, Port Angeles, Wash., shifted to all-electric backpack sprayers. “They put down the right amount of chemical faster than you can if you’re doing it by hand,” says Owner Guy Richardson. “If you can save five minutes per house and you’re doing 15 houses a day, you’re talking about an hour at least of saved time,” he says. As such, he’s added stops to technicians’ routes.

OPTIMIZING ROUTES. According to the PCT survey, 20 percent of PMPs say improvements to company software and technology were the primary reason for productivity gains over the past five years.

Route optimization software has the biggest impact, say PMPs in follow-up interviews. By reducing drive time, technicians have more time to be productive.

“We’ve been able to add an almost whole new route without adding a whole new tech,” says Simpson on the benefits of routing software. It was eye-opening for his seven technicians, who thought they knew the quickest ways about town. “Once they start following the route the way it’s set up, we’ve been able to add two or three stops per day to them. Their commission has gone up. They see the value in route management,” says Simpson.

Tighter routing is also a win for the customer, especially when you add in GPS tracking, says Emilio Polce, president of Eco Choice Termite & Pest Control, Vernon, Conn. When a new service call comes in, you can reroute the closest technician, he explains. Plus, the GPS system sends scheduled maintenance alerts. “Now we know when someone’s due for an oil change and we can build it into the schedule,” he explains.

The PCT survey found 29 percent of PMPs purchased vehicle or fleet tracking systems to boost productivity in the past year; 4 percent said this technology was the primary reason for their company’s productivity gain.

Not all windshield time is bad. It’s an opportunity to schedule hands-free calls or listen to a training podcast. You also can “turn your brain off and relax, and that’s OK too,” says Slaughter.

REDUCING DATA ENTRY. Before Angeles Pest Control switched to its current software program, technicians spent an extra three to five minutes per stop entering data. “If you’re doing 15 houses in a day, you’re talking about an hour more just because you’re trying to put information and data into a program that’s supposed to save you time,” says Richardson.

Curran McHenry, who owns ANTi-Pest in Schaumburg, Ill., uses a program where he only has to enter EPA chemical registration numbers once; after that, they’re in the system and can be pulled into reports as needed. “It simplifies everything as far as getting the work done so it takes me less time. I have more time to grow,” he says of his nascent business.

Polce’s current software saves time for office staff. Account information automatically pops up when clients call in. As such, it’s easy to communicate with clients via email and text.

Requesting and receiving payment online is a time-saver as well. Last year Polce’s team mailed out 500 statements a month and 70 percent of payments were by paper check. Now most statements are emailed and payment by credit card is approaching 60 percent. As a result, office personnel have more time to spend on the phone with customers, says Polce.

Using in-field software on tablets appeals to young employees. “They will be more productive using something like that than if I told them you’ve just got to (use) pen and paper. I’d probably lose half my workforce if we did that,” said Simpson.

The PMPs interviewed say they’ve switched software providers several times in the past 10 years. The PCT survey found 17 percent of PMPs invested in customer relationship marketing software in the last year to boost productivity.

MATCHING EMPLOYEES TO THE JOB. Even though employees use standard tools and follow standard procedures, how they deliver value to customers is going to vary. “It’s important to embrace that unique variability and learn from it rather than try to stifle it,” says Slaughter.

An example: Recognizing employees are more productive at different times of the day.

“We have some that want to start working at, no kidding, 4:30 a.m.,” says Gena Lupini. Others start at 9 a.m.; some start much later but work until 8 p.m. “Fortunately, we have a nice variety and we can accommodate a lot of different customers that way,” she says.

It took Foster years to see this as an advantage rather than an excuse for not working standard hours. Early on, he let employees go who in hindsight would have been good workers. “I just didn’t put them in the right slots,” he admits.

Likewise, some employees are better suited for certain types of work. You don’t want to put a 67-year-old with bad knees in a warehouse checking 500 snap traps, points out Ramsey of Copesan. And maybe someone with mild arachnophobia will excel better at termite control instead of general pest control.

MAKING EMPLOYEES HAPPY. “The happier they are, the more productive they’ll be,” says Ramsey. “Do right by the technicians and they’ll produce for you,” he explains.

To increase employee satisfaction, 36 percent of PMPs offered enhanced benefits in the last year; 30 percent allowed staff to work remotely, found the pre-COVID-19 PCT survey.

Polce lets employees take service vehicles home; he says this boosts productivity and morale. He also encourages office staff to get up and move. “When you move, you get more endorphins going; you’re just more energized, you’re more open, you’re more creative, you’re more positive,” he explains.

One thing you shouldn’t do: micromanage employees. “The number one greatest untapped resource to increase productivity is trust,” says Slaughter. “If you show people you trust them to get things done then they’re more likely to use that trust as a way to show value,” he explains.

Improving productivity is a continuous process, Slaughter reminds. “Improvement is never something you do once and you’re done with it,” he says.

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.