Tips for Improving Pest Control Programs for Commercial Clients

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What makes a successful pest control program for a commercial client? Although at face value this seems a simple question, the answer can be much more complicated.

For a hotel manager, a successful pest control program means guests are not seeing or reporting any pests, the property is not receiving poor reviews for pest issues and the hotel is not having to issue customer refunds or credits. For a small retail store, cost and responsiveness may be key, while for a third- party-audited facility, maintaining “the book” may be as critical to that client as the pest control program. With the variability in client needs and their expectations of a customized experience, it is important to understand that a one-size-fits-all program doesn’t cut it in the commercial pest control business.

Consistency in an effective pest control program is critical to building a positive customer experience. Customer points of contact and the service personnel assigned to the account change, but what must not change is the service execution. Having clear, documented processes for setting an account up for success, as well as what to do when something changes on either our end or the client end, is critical to sustaining an effective pest control program.

UNDERSTAND CLIENT NEEDS. Too often, we evaluate a client facility based on a single, specific pest issue rather than evaluate the facility as a whole. This leaves gaps in our programs. The business of pest control has been evolving since its inception. Recent advances in connected devices and data platforms are introducing us to an entire realm of controls and tools that past generations of pest control operators never imagined. While the tools at our discretion are changing, evolving and improving, we cannot implement them without a firm understanding of our client needs. “Needs” is a broad term, but it can be broken into a few categories:

  • Needs caused by environmental pressures. Start wide and narrow your scope down. You naturally will have more external pressures when the facility is surrounded by conditions that support larger populations such as overgrown fields and water sources. In urban settings, if your client doesn’t have access to the full connected structure, your program needs to be adjusted to address pests coming in from spaces you don’t have access to. Account for pests in your area that require unique controls.
  • Needs caused by internal processes and conditions. A facility with extensive turnover of material, such as a restaurant, is going to have more opportunities for pest introduction than an office building or bank. Additionally, recurring conditions at a facility will dictate the populations of various pests that can be sustained there. If the facility is in a state of disrepair, it is critical to adjust the program to account for that until repairs can be made.
  • Needs around documentation and access to information. Generally speaking, when a pest control program is effective, the client is not seeing pests and the service is largely invisible. The only way that the client knows what was done is through communication and documentation. The specifics on a service report will vary, but at a minimum, it is important that the client can easily validate that the items in their pest control program were completed and view findings around those items (pests, conducive conditions to address, etc.).

Finally, when evaluating customer needs, it is important that we actively listen and educate to help turn “wants” into “needs.” All too often, PCOs have been held hostage by a customer telling them exactly where to treat and how to perform their job. Wanting to make a customer happy, they do so and inadvertently shoot themselves in the foot, missing out on an opportunity to educate their customer and establish themselves as the professional. One of the most impactful statements you can use to translate these customer directives into sound pest control is, “Help me understand what you are trying to accomplish with that.” This allows you to transition to a collaborative conversation, educate the customer and build controls and measures in your program that will accomplish what the client actually wants.

MEASURE PROGRAM EFFECTIVENESS. When a client contracts with us for pest control services, their expectation is that the program implemented will address their needs. If we adequately defined their needs, our program should do this. That being said, as PCOs, we are dealing with ever-changing facilities and pest pressures. Our programs must periodically be adjusted to account for this. The question this brings up is how do we know whether our program is effective? One word: data.

Clients have different thresholds of pests that they find reasonable. For some clients, they may be perfectly willing to accept the occasional ant but have zero tolerance for rodents. For other clients, one pest sighting is too many. Your service documentation should be detailed at the level that provides the client the information that they need for each of the pest-vulnerable zones. As an example, the graph on page 66 may indicate pest levels that are perfectly acceptable in a warehouse storing documents but would trigger massive alarms for a pharmaceutical manufacturer.

The information you glean from your data is only as good as the data you enter. Data entry must be accurate and consistent to be actionable. Referring to the graph on page 66, you can see a spike followed by a high plateau. Because the data is sufficient to build a trend line, you can quickly see that the adjustments made after reviewing the plan at the end of 2018 prevented having the same spikes in pest activity the following year.

ANALYZE FAILURE MODES. When our data guides us to the conclusion that our program needs to be adjusted, how do we know where exactly we need to adjust? A few things can cause an otherwise sound program to fail, and analyzing these failure modes can help us make simple incremental improvements to our overall programs.

  • Adherence to program. A great program is only as good as its execution. If you do not have visibility into what is supposed to be done during each service appointment, the likelihood of doing the correct thing on the correct service is very low. Evaluating how effective a program is cannot be done without first executing the program in place. Inconsistent data is usually a result of failure to adhere to the specified program.
  • Changing or missed conditions. Our facility evaluation is based on conditions and processes as we understand them at the time that we build our programs. It is not uncommon for a facility to introduce a new product line, change vendors for raw materials or have a perimeter wall or overhead door damaged by a forklift. Any significant changes to conditions or processes need to be documented, reported and accompanied by adjustments to our program to address. Good communication is critical to ensure that we are aware of these changes. Sharp spikes in pest trending activity are typically due to something that changed.
  • Stable activity over accepted thresholds. Stable activity indicates that a program is being adhered to. This is a good thing when that activity is below accepted thresholds and what the client is communicating back to us is consistent with the data. When it is stable over accepted thresholds, it is an indicator that the program is not aggressive enough to maintain an acceptable pest-free environment.

CONTROL THE PROGRAM. The business of commercial pest control is one of relationships built on our ability to effectively solve customer problems. If you have the best program in the world, it matters very little if the client does not know what you are doing and why. Communication at every step in the process is critical. Develop sound programs that address client needs, explain why you are doing what you are doing, consistently execute what is agreed upon, and monitor your programs and address deviations from expected results aggressively. Planned, implemented, communicated and monitored correctly, your clients will have no doubts about the effectiveness of their pest control program and how integral your relationship with them is to their business.

Stephen Hoxworth Jr., A.C.E., is the senior manager, commercial operating model, for Terminix International. He has 18 years of experience in pest management and is certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt by IASSC.