[My Biggest Mistake] Are Interior/Exterior Treatments Squeezing Your Profits?

When I established RIA Solutions in 2007, there were many reasons to offer our GPC customers quarterly interior/exterior service. Top of the list: Being inside people’s houses allowed us to build relationships. That’s critical when you’re starting out. Besides, we didn’t have that many customers in the beginning, so it was no problem spending an hour at each account.

Five years later, when we had 1,000+ customers, I realized that our interior/exterior model was taking a serious bite out of our productivity and profits. We were spending too much time at each account, last-minute customer cancellations were creating huge holes in our technicians’ days, and routing had become a nightmare as we tried to accommodate customers’ availability. Plus, we were winning so many new accounts that we were having trouble getting everyone onto the schedule. I knew that if RIA was going to continue to grow — and grow profitably — something had to change.

I contemplated moving to exterior-only service. Customers wouldn’t have to be home, so we could route more efficiently. Treatments wouldn’t take as long, so we could schedule more stops in a day. And, maybe most importantly, we wouldn’t have to deal with the last-minute cancellations that had been plaguing us for so long.

It took me a while to summon the courage to make this change. My hesitance in pulling the trigger was that I was afraid we would lose customers. Atlanta is an extremely competitive market. What if customers really wanted/needed that face-to-face interaction? What if they felt they weren’t getting the same high level of service? What if they left RIA for another pest control company?

Long story short, we put the new exterior-only model into place last summer, and we’ve increased stops from an average of six a day to 12 to 14. We lost a tiny percentage of customers in the transition, but revenues from the new customers we’re bringing in far outweigh any minor losses we might have experienced. Turns out people were ready for the change; they didn’t like having to come home from work to meet us any more than we liked sitting and waiting for them. So what was my mistake? Not doing this sooner.

The Successful Transition.

We couldn’t approach customers saying, “We won’t be treating the interior of your home anymore, but we’ll be charging you the same amount.” I thought really hard about what improvements we could offer — how we could make our exterior treatments hold even more value. Then we communicated these benefits to them: We would be widening their external treatment zone from 5 feet to 10; upgrading the materials we use; minimizing the need for pesticides inside their homes; and eliminating the inconvenience of pulling them home to meet our technician. We also still guarantee the service: If a customer reports pest problems, we come back for free.

One more thing: We would make payment more convenient by keeping their credit card information and authorization on file. We had secured credit card information from some customers in the past, but now we require that information of everyone. This ensures that we get paid on time, saves the customer the effort of paying the bill, shaves more time off the service call and helps us minimize skips. In the past, many customers would try to skip their winter service. With our model of exterior service coupled with a credit card on file, the customer’s pest control is on “automatic pilot.”

In terms of keeping communication going to ensure our relationships with customers stay strong, we have developed some proprietary technological tools that are being well received. These new tools have helped us replace the face-to-face interaction of the past with a unique, innovative approach that’s both fun and nonintrusive.

Customers love the changes we have put into place. Our GPC base consists primarily of affluent homeowners who appreciate convenience, quality and forward thinking. By delivering on their expectations, we’ve set ourselves up for continuing growth.

As told to Donna DeFranco.

June 2014
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