Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a PCT e-newsletter titled “Targeting Bed Bugs,” which was sponsored by MGK.
Customers are typically asked to do extensive preparations prior to bed bug inspection and treatment. It’s a labor- intensive process some customers physically may not be able to do, not have the room to do or simply ignore. Extensive preparation disturbs bed bugs, and then they may move from typical sites around beds and sleeping areas to voids and other hiding places. Intensive customer preparation often makes effective bed bug control more difficult, rather than more effective.
LOW-PREP APPROACH. Bed bugs are left undisturbed when customers leave everything in place using a low-prep approach. Consider asking customers to treat a bed bug infestation like it’s a crime scene and to touch nothing. Allow the professionals to do their job. It will help them more effectively identify, treat and develop a plan to address the infestation.
“We’ve been a believer in limited-prep for about 10 years,” said Jeffrey C. White, entomologist, director of innovation and technical content, BedBug Central, Hamilton, N.J.
There’s no universal definition of the customer low-prep or limited-prep approach prior to bed bug treatment in either homes or apartments. “We don’t require customers to do anything before initial treatment. We first want to evaluate the situation then make recommendations. Some companies do an assessment first, then return to provide the first treatment,” said White. There are benefits to inspecting and treating at the same time. The technician can methodically work on one area, expose the bed bugs, treat, then move on to the next area. Prior to subsequent visits, customers may be asked to do targeted preparations.
TECHNICIAN IS IN CONTROL. “Low prep is better because it puts the technician in control of the situation. It’s then their responsibility to strip beds, move furniture, remove dresser drawers — all while providing service,” said Larry Pinto, entomologist, co-author of the Bed Bug Handbook, and owner of Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md., publisher of the industry newsletter, Techletter. The technician does everything customers would typically be asked to do using an extensive preparation approach. Technicians can then choose what items will require customer treatment and direct needed preparations. There’s a greater likelihood that customers will comply with specific preparation activities. Customers may be asked to address things that a technician can’t or shouldn’t deal with, such as excess clutter.
BED BUGS NOT SCATTERED. “Residents who use a more extensive prep have already disturbed bed bugs so much that they’re no longer where they used to be. They’ve already scattered and may find harborage in places they normally wouldn’t,” said Pinto. If no preparation is required, the technician can immediately identify and treat bed bugs on the mattress, for example.
POSSIBLE LIABILITY. Low-prep protocols are more work for technicians who are responsible for completing tasks customers otherwise would have been required to do with a more extensive preparation approach. There may be increased technician health and safety issues, including injury while moving mattresses, breaking down bed frames and moving furniture. Although these may not be significant risks, they’re still risks. There’s also a greater liability with regard to property damage and possible accusations of theft as technicians are handling personal belongings.
CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. A low-prep alternative is more than an approach, it’s one that can improve customer satisfaction. You’re not asking tenants and homeowners to turn their lives upside down. Customers easily can become frustrated, disgruntled and angry when they’re asked to do extensive preparation, and therefore far less likely to comply. Treatment also may be more effective, which will definitely satisfy customers.
IMPACT ON EFFICACY. Some companies using the low-prep approach report faster and more effective control of bed bugs, which is reinforced by research in heavily infested, affordable-housing communities. One study conducted at Rutgers University found that “out of 114 apartments treated for bed bugs, 95 percent were solved with no involvement from the tenant.” Other companies using the low-tech approach are finding efficacy to be about the same as using a more extensive preparation approach, but as mentioned previously, it can still improve customer satisfaction.
INDUSTRY ADOPTION. “Low prep is a 180-degree switch from what the industry has been doing. It’s becoming more accepted, but companies offering it are still in the minority,” said White. Informal estimates range from 5 percent to 20 percent of pest control companies nationally are offering customers low-prep options, although it’s likely closer to the low end of the range, he added.
Low prep goes against everything the industry has been taught. The industry has been encouraging extensive prep for effective bed bug treatment. Low prep is a drastic change in philosophy and pest control companies and technicians are rightfully skeptical. It’s a completely different way of approaching bed bug treatment and it’s going to take time for the industry to embrace this relatively new concept.
“For a decade or more the industry has been promoting extensive prep for effective bed bug treatment. It’s been the accepted industry position,” said Pinto. “Protocols and methods of pest control evolve. Low-prep options for bed bug treatment is one of those evolutions.”
A scientist at the University of California, Riverside, has rediscovered a tiny flower beetle that was last seen more than a century ago. Adriean Mayor, a research associate in entomology, rediscovered the species in April during ongoing field research in California. Mayor said the beetle, Trichochrous kernensis, has only been seen once before, in 1913, when the five original specimens were collected near the town of Havilah in Kern County, California.
“When something hasn’t been seen for over 100 years, it’s tempting to think it may have gone extinct, or maybe the original research had been in error,” Mayor said. “But here was this beetle, exactly where it was supposed to be.”
Measuring less than 3 millimeters long, Trichochrous kernensis is not easy to spot or recognize.
“I and other entomologists have seen all the related species known from the Havilah area on many occasions, but this particular species had proven especially elusive,” Mayor said. “I had spent some time in the nearby Walker Basin scanning the flowers there but had found nothing. I was walking back to my car when I noticed some black specks in some of the flowers in a wash along the roadside, and, sure enough, the specks were beetles.”
Mayor returned to UC Riverside with a few dozen specimens out of what he estimates were tens of thousands feeding on flowers along the wash.
Trichochrous kernensis is a member of the family Melyridae, which are also known as soft-winged flower beetles. Most adult melyrid beetles feed solely on pollen from flowers and are believed to contribute to the pollination of the majority of wildflowers in California.
Despite this role and their sheer numbers — estimated in the millions or billions for melyrid beetles as a whole — little is known about the biology of these beetles and their larvae.
“In over a century, we’ve only found what amounts to a literal handful of the larvae of this group of beetles, mostly in the soil, but we have no idea what they feed on or how long they live; pretty much everything is guesswork, so it’s a real ecological puzzle,” Mayor said.
Mayor, who recently retired from his position as museum curator for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, now volunteers at UC Riverside. He is one of only two experts studying this group of beetles in the United States. The beetles he collects, many of which are new to science, are deposited along with 4 million other insect specimens in UCR’s Entomology Research Museum.
CCR stickman was an ‘amateur entomologist’
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s outstanding drummer Doug Clifford (pictured, middle) was “an amateur entomologist” in college. He recently told Forbes, “I knew a lot about insects. I started studying ants because they are a lot more interesting than butterflies.”
Live bug pulled from ump’s ear
The Aug. 8 game between the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox turned extraordinarily gross in the ninth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.
Second base umpire Bruce Dreckman jogged off the field during the bottom of the ninth and had to be tended to by Yankees trainer Steve Donohue in the dugout. The reason? Dreckman got a bug stuck in his ear, USA Today reported.
It appeared to be a giant moth and it seemed to still be alive when Donohue and Dreckman combined to get it out, according to USA Today.
Food plants, pharmaceutical facilities, schools and health-care facilities are the most sensitive accounts we service. These specialized accounts also bring increased expectations of us, the pest management professional (PMP), from our clients, auditors and regulatory bodies. Our responsibilities go beyond traditional pest management, and we must consider how our actions can affect people in those facilities and consumers down the line.
It’s no secret that PMPs are exposed to areas with questionable sanitation on a regular basis, including locations rife with rodent, bird and cockroach filth. The same technician who follows up on a mass rodent trapping at a distribution center could be stepping into a food-processing facility or hospital later that day. What considerations are given to the footwear, uniform and tools that the technician is wearing and using from one account to the next?
HOW IT HAPPENS. There are several realistic forms of contamination of food, equipment, packaging or surfaces that we must consider as PMPs: biological (pathogens), physical (your pen), chemical (pesticides) and cross-contact (allergens). Good manufacturing practices outline expected behavior to minimize the risks associated with contamination, but PMPs are not always held to the same standards, or even made aware of them in some accounts, and some sensitive facilities don’t have the same requirements.
Psychologically, there is a clear delineation from one account to the next. New location, new service ticket, new set of tasks to be completed. Biologically? Chemically? Not so much. If you’ve ever sliced hot peppers and absentmindedly touched your eye an hour later, you know what I mean. A spotless uniform can be teeming with microscopic pathogens. The same holds true for shoes that bear no visible signs of where they’ve been minutes ago. How long has it been since your flashlight, which you’ve set on innumerable filthy surfaces, has been sanitized? We owe it to our clients to be thinking about these things because we do not want to mechanically transmit the same pathogens and contaminants as the pests we are tasked to eliminate.
The flow of a service is also an important consideration in reducing the likelihood of accidental contamination of products and surfaces. Food plants typically require you to gown up, wash your hands and footwear, and don other gear when you’re in a sensitive part of the account, but sometimes these measures are not adequately designed, nor well-enforced. However, you must follow the same procedures as the plant employees in each area of the facility, whether it’s enforced or not. If you don’t, you may mechanically transmit pathogens and contaminate surfaces. Think about it like this: If you perform the exterior part of your service first, and then follow the flow of product from raw materials to finished goods, you will be bringing everything that you picked up along the way with you. (Unless additional measures are taken to prevent it from happening.)
Ready-to-eat (RTE) foods present the greatest risk of contamination reaching the consumer, and areas where these foods are produced or packaged should be handled very carefully. If you begin your service clean as a whistle at the most sensitive part of an account and progress to less sensitive locations as you go, you can help reduce potential contamination.
OTHER CONSIDERATIONS. Biocontamination is not the only thing you must consider in these accounts. Anyone entering a sensitive location, including schools and child-care facilities, also must be aware of allergens. The most obvious example is the attractants we add to snap traps, like peanut butter, but movement of food powder containing allergens is also a major concern in many food-processing facilities. Allergen- and non-allergen handling areas of a facility should be well separated and communicated to anyone moving between them, but that message may not reach the technician on-site because their contact at the facility doesn’t understand the risk. Your accounts also may segregate ingredients or products containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) from GMO-free ones, and organic vs. non-organic ones.
We understand pathogens and contaminants, and their movement, much better than we ever have. Have we, as an industry, given our role and our actions sufficient consideration?
The author is director of technical support and regulatory compliance, Copesan Services, Menomonee Falls, Wis.
Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.
As a pest control business owner, manager, president or team leader, you are the one guiding the ship and in charge of setting your company’s direction, including, but not limited to, operations, sales and marketing strategies. But, as you are well aware, it is your employees and team members who are scheduling appointments, providing face-to-face service and visiting homes and businesses every day, who are effectively serving as a company’s brand ambassadors and front line. That’s why it is so important to ensure all employees are fully engaged and singing from the same song sheet when it comes to exactly who your company is and not only what you do, but what you stand for, too. This goes for any company, whether you have a team of five or 500.
Customer service representatives, sales representatives and service technicians are entrusted with your company’s first interactions with consumers, which means it’s critical to make that solid and positive first impression. According to a recent Edelman Trust Barometer, 41 percent of people believe employees are the most credible source of information regarding their company. Ensuring that all employees are in tune with your company messaging and industry knowledge, in addition to being satisfied with and passionate about their work, is essential to your business. Empowering your employees can give them the tools and motivation they need to have impactful interactions with customers, helping to generate organic growth and drive brand awareness.
EMPOWERMENT STRATEGIES. PMPs should consider implementing the following empowerment methods throughout their company’s ranks:
Share the Company Mission and Core Values. One of the most important things you can do is ensure that your employees know the goals, values and direction of the company. If you don’t have a mission statement, it’s worth the investment of your time to develop one. Your employees will follow you if they know where you’re going! A recent Gallup poll found that only 41 percent of workers agreed with the statement, “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand different from our competitors.” Sharing your company’s overall vision with employees can help them feel that they are part of something bigger than their job description, that they are more than just a cog in the machine and that their work is important and vital to the success of the company.
Encourage Employees to Be Social. Increasingly engaged and passionate about their work, empower your employees to advocate for your company and its services among their own social networks, in conjunction and cooperation with any social media policies you may already have in place. Word of mouth marketing is still king and the most trusted source for referrals, so why not encourage employees to be your brand ambassadors in their local communities and social networks as well?
Build Trust. Developing trust between yourself and your team is another essential step. When an employee goes out to conduct an on-site visit or inspection, there should be a sense of mutual trust between management and the rest of the team that they are working together to ensure success. It’s important that they have meaningful interactions with customers and properly represent your company, and that you have properly equipped and trained them to do so. Enable your employees to be successful and impactful brand ambassadors by giving them the necessary information and tools, such as collateral or digital assets for on-site interactions with customers. For example, there is a variety of professionally designed assets available to pest control companies that subscribe to PPMA Mainframe.
Foster Job Satisfaction. Cultivating job satisfaction is a must when developing new employee relationships and for retaining valued members of the team. Closely engage with employees about what they are experiencing on the phones or while in the field, ask questions and actively listen to them, taking their opinions and feedback into account when making decisions.
Rewards for Going the Extra Mile. Recognizing and rewarding employee achievements and hard work, whether it’s a formal acknowledgement or casual commendation, really does go a long way in boosting an employee’s morale. Consider a formal recognition program such as offering gift cards to employees who go above and beyond in making your company look good to customers and prospects. Even consider establishing an employee referral reward program to attract strong, new talent to your door.
BENEFITS OF EMPOWERMENT. Employee empowerment yields several benefits to help ensure customer satisfaction. Employees who understand their company’s vision and goals will be more passionate about their work and able to better communicate the capabilities and necessity of the services being offered. By building trust, you can improve accountability and increase efficiency.
Perhaps most important of all, the increased job satisfaction resulting from employee empowerment has been shown in Gallup studies to boost productivity, cultivate better customer experiences and encourage employee retention. Another study from the Society of Human Resource Management also found that the greater an employee’s empowerment, the more likely they are to go the extra mile and deliver superb on-the-job performance. So, whether it is educating a customer about the various services your company can deliver or just simply providing a positive and enjoyable customer service experience, a well-informed and driven employee can have a huge benefit to your company’s bottom line.
Cindy Mannes is executive director of the Professional Pest Management Alliance and vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. For more information about PPMA, visit www.npmapestworld.org/PPMA.