[My Biggest Mistake] Putting Technology Training on the Back Burner

You can’t hide from technology — especially when your clientele is primarily commercial, as ours is here in New York. Select Exterminating services about 50,000 customers in the city’s five boroughs, Long Island, Westchester and northern New Jersey; 80 percent of our accounts are commercial. Tech-savvy employees are requisite to keeping these customers satisfied. They want automated inspection reports, online payment options and the kind of efficiency you can achieve only when your company is fully automated.

My mistake wasn’t in recognizing this trend; it was in allowing some of our key employees to resist the inevitable changes and underestimating the investment we needed to make in technological training if we were going to grow. We had plateaued, and I realized that if we were ever going to grow again, we needed to invest some dollars and restructure the organization. We did exactly that.

It started with the addition of a general manager. We already had a manager and a service supervisor in place who had been part of our staff for many years, but in this new generation of automation, they were floundering. We hired a general manager to oversee them and two managers — one assigned to routing, the other field supervision — who would report to them.

During what became an extensive interview process, we made sure our new general manager had the technological knowledge and capabilities to lead the team in our automation efforts. He brought not only that expertise but also a very strong “what if…?” mentality to the table. Once he came on board, he started actively pushing efforts through that we had been passively discussing for years. He would look at our established protocols and say, “Hey, Lloyd, let’s figure out how we can do this better.” He brought an open mind and a seemingly unlimited supply of new ideas and insights.

The next couple of years were a whirlwind of activity. We added a sorely needed training component to our culture and rewrote the book on our office and field operations. We hired customer service staff members who were eager to learn the new technology and move our business forward. We upgraded our technology where we had already been utilizing it and added it where we had not. We successfully migrated all of our routes and accounts so that virtually all of our scheduling, tracking, invoicing and communication could be managed electronically.

Today, we always know where our technicians are, and our customers always know where they stand with their accounts. Our technicians can reach us quickly when they need support, and our office staff has all of the information they might need to answer customer queries right at their fingertips. Our people are revitalized, and customer retention is through the roof.

We’ve invested significantly in technology and training, but our ROI is high as enhanced efficiency saves us money every day. (Sharing the most basic example, it used to cost us a dollar for every invoice we produced prior to going paperless. Multiply that dollar by the thousands of invoices we issue each month, and the savings are phenomenal.) Our business continues to grow each year, and our infrastructure is strong enough to accommodate twice the business we have today. Thanks to our technological transition, we are in position for major expansion, whether through acquisition, organic growth or both.

Moving a business forward requires the vision to recognize opportunity and the confidence to invest in people, processes and infrastructure. When we step out of our comfort zone and begin exploring all of the exciting possibilities, we open the door to new growth and prosperity.


As told to PCT Contributor Donna DeFranco.

December 2013
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