An emphasis on teamwork and pitching in to help whenever possible is what helped Joe Avery become the PCT/BASF Termite Technician of the Year. Avery is a lead termite technician at the 35-technician-office of HomeTeam Pest Defense in Winter Garden, Fla.
Avery began his professional career in law enforcement, working uniform patrol for the traffic unit in Clermont, Fla., for seven years, investigating traffic accidents, monitoring aggressive driving and even assisting with a K-9 unit. He then worked as a security officer for Loews Hotels and Universal Orlando for a few years, taking the midnight shift seven days a week. “It was fun,” Avery says, “but the pay just wasn’t there.”
During this time, Avery discovered German cockroaches in the house he was renting and called a pest control company to assist. He became very interested in the treatment process. “Because I’m a very technical person, I wanted to know what was going on … and the [technician] showed me how everything was done,” he says. And that was it. Avery became interested in pest control, decided to switch careers and started working with HomeTeam Pest Defense, a 25-year-old company headquartered in Dallas, Texas.
A DAY IN THE LIFE. At HomeTeam’s Winter Garden office, Avery is the lead termite technician, having performed termite inspections and prevention treatments on a daily basis and almost exclusively for the past three years. If time allows, he performs mosquito services, a system on which he is cross-trained. With his termite work, “ninety-eight percent is residential, whether it’s brand-new construction for houses or homeowner association buildings, like town homes,” he says.
Avery explains that he provides termite pre-treatments on new homes, and then after the first year, when the builder’s warranty expires, the homeowner assumes the warranty. He provides an inspection and a treatment on the house and continues to provide services annually if necessary.
In Florida, “when it comes to termites, you need to have an inspection done. It’s the cheapest peace of mind you can have to know that your house is being protected against an insect you will never see,” says Avery. The only way to find termites is to be properly trained to look for the various signs of termite activity, he explains. Even outside of Florida, Avery recommends that anyone buying a new-to-you house should schedule a “wood-destroying organism inspection” for insects that will cause damage to the structure.
A SKILLED PROBLEM-SOLVER. Avery enjoys his daily interactions with customers, especially noting the variation between working with people as a technician versus when he was a police officer. “I interact with everybody and anybody, and I like talking to them,” he says. In his previous career, he explains, he “dealt with the same people every day, but for bad reasons.” Today, when he interacts with people on the job, “ninety-nine percent of it is a good thing,” he says. Per Avery, paying a smaller fee for a warranty renewal is much better than paying thousands for termite damage repair.
“It’s like a puzzle,” says Avery when it comes figuring out where termites are coming from. He can certainly find termites coming out from under a slab in the garage and into a wall, for example, or find them in the wall coming from the baseboards. “But, can I backtrack them out of the house?” he says. “How are they coming out of the ground and into the house?” He explains that the most satisfying part of the job is to actually find the termites and get rid of them. Another enjoyable part is to visit a home where the preventive treatments are continuing to work, which make customers extremely happy. “Then, on top of that, just going to different houses, talking to different people; that’s enjoyable in itself,” he says.
WORKING AS A TEAM. Additionally, Avery very much enjoys working with his HomeTeam crew of technicians and managers. “We’ve come leaps and bounds,” Avery says, because over the years, “we’ve gained a lot of good technicians. We have a great team.” Avery’s General Manager Stephanie Hill challenges him to investigate and find answers and offers him opportunities to attend classes. “I’ve gone to Texas A&M’s termite courses and the University of Florida Pest Management classes,” says Avery.
On the corporate level of HomeTeam, Avery feels that “they put people first,” he says. “We’re called HomeTeam for a reason. We all work as a team.” If one branch is behind in work, technicians from other branches will travel to lend a hand.
Avery is a part of a continuous improvement group that HomeTeam calls the Engagement Squad, which is “a group of individuals who are all leaders on the frontline. We try to figure out ways to make things better and continually improve our office,” he explains. As a part of the Engagement Squad, Avery checks in with new technicians to inquire about their routes and needs to make sure that operations are running smoothly. New technicians will spend an entire day with Avery to learn as much as possible about termites in that period of time.
“By the end of the day, their brains are fried, because I am like a book,” he says. “If they want to know something, I will break [the information] down to the molecule if I can.”
Because of his past traffic control work as a police officer, Avery is part of the HomeTeam Safety Squad, a safety committee that promotes a safe environment both in the office and in the field. They evaluate high-risk drivers to understand and fix the issues that are occurring. As a result, the driver scores at the Winter Garden branch are now continuously in the top 10 in the company.
“Joe is continually trying to improve himself” by taking classes and acquiring more knowledge, says Hill. “He’s also trying to improve the branch,” she says, by being a part of the Engagement and Safety Squads. Avery also wants to help others in the branch to improve. “Whether it be through teaching or working beside them, he just really has that drive for continuous improvement,” says Hill. The other technicians look up to Avery. “He’s a colleague, he’s a peer, he’s a friend. He’s everything to his fellow technicians,” shares Hill.
And working at HomeTeam is fun, says Avery. For example, once a quarter, the Winter Garden Engagement Squad focuses on one of its core values to serve others. This quarter, the team decided to start a clothing drive for Matthew’s Hope Ministries in Winter Garden and challenged another HomeTeam branch to determine which team could collect the most clothes. The Winter Garden team won by collecting close to 60 bags of clothing.
TRAINING, ATTITUDE, FOCUS. “Something that has always been instilled in me since I was in the Police Academy is that you will perform how you train,” says Avery. If a technician trains and learns to perform a process “the right way,” he or she will “perform the same way,” he says. Avery believes that always wanting to learn more is a way to improve performance and exceed customer expectations.
Attitude is important to customer service, Avery has learned. Even on those not-so-good days, he says, “you do what you’re supposed to do and do it with a smile.” He learned from his father, who was in the hazardous waste industry and had daily interaction with customers, to “talk to them how you want to be talked to as a customer; you treat every house like it’s your house,” Avery says. Because at that moment in time, the customer you are working with is the only customer you have. “Don’t worry about the next one. Don’t worry about the one before that,” says Avery. Focus on the customer you have right now, and give them your undivided attention.