[New Technology] Taking on Technology

Features - Technology & Internet

Pest management companies of various size are putting new technology to work for them — and providing more value to customers as a result.

November 16, 2009

Many innovations over the years have played important roles in the growth and development of the pest management industry, perhaps the most significant being the move to using electronic technology. Successful pest management companies have been carefully adopting new electronic technologies over the years and now are making the most of these tools.

Along with pest management industry initiatives to support a more professional image and the creation of safer and more effective products and treatment techniques, several novel technologies have enabled pest management professionals to manage businesses better and in a more sophisticated fashion.

Perhaps one of the most significant innovations has been the development and adoption of electronic data collection and management systems, which enable pest management professionals to have an unprecedented amount of data at their fingertips. Companies utilizing this data wisely are building stronger customer partnerships by providing enhanced customer value and more effective pest management solutions. At the same time, the move to embrace new technology helps enhance public perception about the industry and increase its credibility as it has become more technology savvy.

CUSTOMER BENEFITS. Steritech, a company based in Charlotte, N.C., that does about 100,000 food safety and quality assurance audits each year in its food safety division, invested about $3 million over the past five years to develop a technology platform that adds value and drives improvement for major brands such as KFC, Taco Bell, Wal-Mart and Target. Leveraging that experience, Steritech applied its knowledge and expertise to its pest prevention division.

"We’re a company with a strong technology orientation, and we have used it as an important differentiator," says Mark Jarvis, chief executive officer at Steritech. "Having a good understanding of our customers and what they need and want enables us to use new technology in ways that are meaningful for them and also beneficial for us. In 2009, customers expect this type of sophistication and they place a value on it. It’s helped us gain market share as a result."

Working with a number of technology partners, Steritech invested in building functionality from the ground up, and customizing existing applications where it made sense to seamlessly serve its business’ — and its customers’ — needs.

"Our OnBrand Mobile Technology platform is a customized application for service management, data capture and reporting. We want to ensure that our specialists are at the right place at the right time to do their jobs, and that they capture important service data, which can be used to spot trends and drive changes and improvement," Jarvis says.


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Mark Jarvis, chief executive officer at Steritech, Charlotte, N.C., has a daughter — one that often pleads with him to buy her a horse. And while a horse is a horse, of course, costs associated with buying a horse are not limited to its purchase price. Considering food, training, veterinarian visits and other maintenance costs over its lifetime, buyers should do their homework before making such a valuable purchase to indeed make sure they recognize the ongoing investments it might require.

Jarvis uses this analogy to remind other pest management professionals to consider significant maintenance costs associated with adopting new technology.

"Clearly, there are cost savings. We’ve streamlined our administrative processes significantly, we’re doing a better job of managing our business and we’re performing better financially. However, an exact return on investment is difficult to pinpoint," Jarvis says. "One has to look at the investment carefully and factor in the significant costs associated with information technology infrastructure, maintaining and upgrading the technology, and providing user support."



Because the data is captured electronically, customers have unprecedented visibility over valuable program information and can act quickly to address issues; it is a dramatic improvement to the overall pest management experience.

"However, data without action is overhead," Jarvis said. "When you spend money capturing data, failure to act on it makes it nothing more than an unnecessary expense."

An expense for Steritech — and a potentially serious and brand-damaging problem for its customers. Jarvis uses the example of a luxury hotel that’s missing a door sweep in the main kitchen, offering easy access to mice or insect pests. Failure to correct the problem can quickly result in a health code violation and might even lead to a costly and embarrassing shut down.

"Structural, storage and sanitation recommendations can be pushed out to the customer using e-flags," Jarvis said. "It is in our mutual best interest to correct deficiencies quickly, especially those that are conducive to pest infestations. Using technology, we can spot problems more easily and act on them in a proactive manner, thus offering a more effective service and a better customer experience."

No cookie-cutter approach. According to Jon Bain, director of marketing for Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Copesan Services, electronic data collection soon will be commonplace in the industry but believes the ultimate differentiator will be what companies do with the data that will set them apart.

"Having easy access to the data gives us the ability to forecast where issues might occur, which makes for more effective service. As a result, we are able to prevent problems rather than react to them," Bain said.

Similar to Steritech, Copesan follows up to help ensure customers act on the reports initially to resolve problems, and then takes further steps to develop pest management plans specifically for each customer.

"We provide them with client-driven reports, depending on what they want to see. Each client has different needs so we work to develop a reporting system as specific as possible to give each client what they need," Bain said. "We actually model our data to align with how our customers are set up organizationally — by region, division, etc. That way, our customers can break out data in a way that’s most advantageous for them."

Maximizing efficiencies. Pamela Blauvelt, director of information for Griffin Pest Solutions, Kalamazoo, Mich., says the company is aggressive in its use of technology. Converting to Marathon Data Systems’ PestPac in 2002, the company customized its applications extensively to maximize efficiencies — from developing unique routing features to having the bank post receivables to having a collections company manage "over 60-day" accounts re-ceivables.

However, Blauvelt’s favorite customization tool is the automated appointment notification system.


Footloose and paper free

Electronic data capture and reporting helps pest management companies become more efficient, productive and provide better, customer-specific pest solutions. At the same time, this technology is helping companies reduce the industry’s carbon footprint because it enables pest management companies to go virtually paperless.

Mike Davis, chief operating officer of Black Pest Prevention, Charlotte, N.C., hired an information technology director from Microsoft to help the company do just that. All paper files are now scanned into PestPac, so anyone from any office or hand-held device can quickly access customer information, and the can store and retrieve this data quickly and inexpensively from the server.

"We also developed an executive dashboard, assigning one person to run reports and post them on the company’s computer server," Davis said. "Managers and supervisors can instantly access reports via computer so they don’t need to create them on their own or print them out."

Griffin Pest Solutions is also in the process of going paperless, according to Pamela Blauvelt, director of information for the company.

"Our company has made a significant commitment to move in this direction. All our service vehicles in the fleet have been outfitted with Wi-Fi hotspot GPS units, so that we can upload service information instantly. This will allow customers to see what they need to see online immediately, while at the same time we are reducing our carbon footprint," Blauvelt said.


"Every night our system calls all of our appointments that are scheduled for the next day and for the same day a week from now, which gives all our customers two calls about their upcoming appointment. In the morning, anyone can pull up any customer for the day and see what time the call was made and whether a person or an answering machine took the call," Blauvelt said. "It’s quite a change from technicians calling their stops or sending postcards out."

Griffin Pest Solutions’ customized applications allow nearly everyone in the company access to the same degree of customer information. Blauvelt calls some of the features in PestPac "mission critical."

"Our salespeople, call center agents, supervisors and administrative staff get the same degree of customer information that our technicians get," she said. "We could not operate to the level we do without the scheduling and routing modules, the customer service and notes history, or the messaging system."


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Technicians can easily see essential customer information at a glance: Who has serviced the property; what was done; any calls that have come in; and even limited billing information.

Sales people store documents electronically, so when calling on clients, they don’t need to review paper files from years before to see how the property was diagrammed or past information given to the customer. They simply pull up the address and all the information is at their fingertips. This also helps when replacing sales staff — there’s no more sifting through boxes of files from the prior sales person.

From a management perspective, companies can use the data to monitor individual, branch and regional performance as well as other factors. For instance, managers can set specific criteria to pull reports to review and plan any appropriate actions.

"We pull up calls or messages sent to employees to see if they are returning customer calls in a timely manner. We look at the schedule for a service technician to see if the call center agents are scheduling efficiently or to see how far a service technician is traveling to see if adjustments need to be made," Blauvelt said. "We will also pull up the leads report to review what a sales person did on a particular day."


Technological Innovations Increase Efficiency, Productivity

What do you do after developing an innovative way to protect homes from subterranean termites? You continuously make it better, says Dave Maurer, marketing specialist for Dow AgroSciences, manufacturer of the Sentricon Termite Colony Elimination System.

"The Sentricon System made it possible to protect homes by detecting and then eliminating termite colonies," Maurer says. "But Dow AgroSciences saw the opportunity to improve upon it through investment in new technologies. The central feature will always be proven colony elimination, but a series of improvements have made service with the Sentricon System easier and faster for technicians. The goal was to improve efficiency and profitability."

One major innovation was to incorporate radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, such as in low-frequency electronics used for electronic freeway passes and other advanced applications. In 2001, Dow AgroSciences introduced this with the launch of the Sentricon System with ESP technology. With the addition of the electronic RFID component, technicians only had to open Sentricon stations that indicated a maintenance alert, instead of opening all Sentricon stations.

The addition of ESP technology to the Sentricon System reduced monitoring time and labor costs per site, while improving overall performance. The state-of-the-art technology also helped pest control operators appear even more professional to the homeowner.

The next big innovation came in 2003, when the active ingredient in the Sentricon System was improved from hexaflumuron to noviflumuron. The new active ingredient allowed for faster colony elimination. This reduced labor costs by changing monitoring requirements from every month to every other month.

When the Sentricon System was first introduced, pest control operators were required to assemble two parts together to create each Sentricon station. In 2004, Ready-to-Install stations were introduced. With no assembly required, the Sentricon stations could go straight from the box into the ground — another innovation that reduced labor costs.

In 2005, Dow AgroSciences made improvements to the bait matrix itself. The redesign of the bait matrix allowed twice as much bait to be housed in each Sentricon station. The inclusion of more, longer-lasting bait changed monitoring requirements from every other month to quarterly, further reducing labor costs.

Not only have PCOs benefited from the evolution of the Sentricon System, but homeowners have benefited as well. Requiring fewer service calls has meant fewer scheduling hassles for homeowners who choose to be home when their technician arrives.

The most recent innovation to the Sentricon System — a new, more durable bait, Recruit HD termite bait — received federal registration from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2009. Because Recruit HD termite bait is available as soon as termites enter a station, it can be consumed and shared by termites immediately, starting the colony elimination process without delay. While service is maintained, Recruit HD termite bait remains in all stations all the time and is continuously available to achieve colony elimination and protect against future infestations.

Innovations to the Sentricon System are ongoing and Dow AgroSciences representatives say the company is committed to introducing additional improvements in the future that will enhance system performance, reduce labor or both.


Managers can also review past reports to help better forecast future company and customer needs.

"While it’s great to know where you’ve been, you also have to see where you’re going. We use the reports to project future staffing levels in sales, service and support. We can also project our expected inventory, vehicle and equipment needs," Blauvelt said. "The more you look at these reports, the harder it is to get blind-sided by something you never saw coming."

Another key benefit, Blauvelt says, is the ability to integrate third-party applications into its system.

"If you find some valuable product or tool that you’d like to use in your system, you can integrate it and reduce duplication of work, while increasing the overall functionality of your system," Blauvelt said. "This has allowed us to really customize solutions that work for our company and our customers."

Enhancing Industry Image. Copesan’s Bain says that while making the most of electronic technology has added significant value to the company’s pest management services for its customers, it also has enhanced the pest management industry’s image substantially.

"Today’s professional appearance of a technician is evidence in and of itself that we are with the times and that we work as effectively and efficiently as possible," he said.

Blauvelt says Griffin Pest Solutions technicians frequently hear customers’ comments that they never expected a pest control technician to show up to their home with a barcode scanner. When technicians explain today’s pest management technology and demonstrate its use, some customers express surprise at how technology savvy the industry has become.

Adds Blauvelt, "Then, when they learn they can log on to their account online and print out a report of everything the service technician did, review all the stations that were scanned and the activity of each station, and finally, pay their bill online, they are just amazed."

The author has been writing about the pest management industry for more than 15 years. She can be reached at cbrazell@giemedia.com