Service vehicles certainly are a means of getting from one account to another. But they’re also one of your biggest capital assets, one of your greatest risks to employee safety, and one of the very first impressions you make on customers.
“Every vehicle is an advertisement” that can influence a potential client, reminded Clark Pest Control Vice President Terry Clark, who manages a fleet of 950 cars and trucks for the Lodi, Calif., company. If a vehicle shows wear and tear, “I don’t want it on the road,” he said.
The condition of the fleet impacts employees, as well. If it consists of “old beaters that aren’t maintained and aren’t safe, what message does that send to your employees?” asked Brett Mackillop, regional vice president of Abell Pest Control, which operates more than 400 service vehicles across Canada, Michigan and Ohio.
Driving in cities and for long distances poses “a potential risk to our employees” and it’s important to mitigate this risk, said Mackillop.
In fact, transportation accidents remain the greatest single cause of fatal workplace injuries. In 2015, roadway incidents accounted for 1,264 fatal work injuries, up 9 percent from the year prior, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We want all of our colleagues to get home safely each night,” said Steven Tsambalieros, president of Rentokil Steritech Canada, which has more than 300 service vehicles on the road.
TRAINING & ACCOUNTABILITY. Rentokil Steritech does this by placing a heavy emphasis on reducing and eliminating driver distractions. “In addition to provincial laws and Rentokil Steritech’s policy that prohibit cell phone use and texting while driving, we also provide driver education upon hire and refresher training and learning throughout a colleague’s tenure,” Tsambalieros said in an email to PCT. The company also asks employees to avoid drinking coffee or adjusting the radio while operating service vehicles. Training covers proper tire inflation to winter weather driving to the increased risks around time changes.
Many companies have managers inspect vehicles monthly and drivers ultimately are responsible for their vehicles meeting company standards. Checklists range from ensuring locks are functioning (important since vehicles carry professional products and equipment) to making sure tires are in good shape, lights work and that vehicles are clean.
Employees of Gregory Pest Solutions in Greenville, S.C., have an extra incentive to care for their vehicles: “Ultimately it’s going to be their vehicle when we do decide to retire it,” said Fleet Manager Jason Mack, explaining how the company gives retired vehicles to drivers who have five-plus years of tenure.
Clark Pest Control inspects and rates its fleet twice yearly and awards best-in-fleet honors to employees and to a branch. The branch with the lowest fleet score pays a larger share of insurance, holding managers accountable and providing extra motivation for proper fleet maintenance.
TECHNOLOGY ADVANCEMENTS. Using telematics (or GPS vehicle tracking) to help manage the fleet is one the biggest advancements in this space, said Ken Gong, who manages more than 500 service vehicles for Orkin Canada. “We have GPS in the vehicles, which allows us to promptly correct driving behaviors, reduce speeding, idling, accidents and improve fuel usage,” he wrote in an email.
Likewise, Abell Pest Control vehicles are tied to GPS-based fleet management software that “provides a whole gamut of metrics,” analyzing hard stops, excessive speed, mileage, location and engine data that flag maintenance issues, said Mackillop. Customer service representatives know exactly where everybody is so routes can be adjusted if a customer calls in. “It’s great for customer service; it’s great for our employees. People aren’t traveling excessive distances and from a fleet management standpoint, it’s a very helpful tool,” he said.
While “it’s not intended to be a big brother situation,” the technology does help encourage safer driving and “absolutely” helps with reducing auto insurance, Mackillop said.
Video recorders that capture footage inside and outside the cab helped Clark Pest Control “cut our accident rate in half” the first year they were installed, and maintenance bills decreased as well, said Clark.
Data generated by onboard systems helps protect employees in the event of an accident, providing details of what was happening at the time of an incident, said Tsambalieros. The technology also has backed up technicians’ claims of servicing accounts despite customers complaining otherwise, said fleet managers.
As technology evolves, so will pest management professionals’ ability to manage risk and optimize routes. Advancements in technology will help PMPs save money by identifying patterns in order to predict, not just track, metrics like fuel use. Vehicles, themselves, are becoming more advanced with features like self-parking, 360-degree cameras and braking assist. At some point, autonomous vehicles may come into play. Telematics firms are preparing for this future by developing highly detailed mapping technology.
Even standard pest management equipment is getting safer and more advanced. Clark worked with a fire truck manufacturer for 12 years to develop ergonomic, electric-powered hose reels and spray rigs with impact-resistant polyethylene tanks. “Anything we can do to add safety is good not only for the driver — it’s also good for the industry,” he said.
OPERATION & MAINTENANCE. Don Topar, who oversees a fleet of nearly 1,200 cars and trucks for Truly Nolen in Tucson, Ariz., offered this advice, “Manage the fleet or it will manage you.” As such, he suggests firms perform routine maintenance and fix small issues before they become bigger problems. Having to take vehicles off the road when you don’t expect it is a huge inconvenience to the company and its customers, he reminded.
“The less time a vehicle is off the road for repairs, the more productive our people can be,” pointed out Tsambalieros. A well-maintained vehicle is not only safer, it’s greener as it uses less fuel and has fewer emissions, he added.
Truly Nolen uses a fleet management company to track fuel use, mileage and maintenance for each vehicle, as well as process registrations, generate reports, provide roadside support and negotiate repair shop invoicing. Branch managers “don’t have time for all that record keeping; their job is to service the customers,” explained Topar, who early in his career worked as a Truly Nolen mechanic before the company began using the fleet services vendor.
Mack, who oversees the 200-vehicle fleet for Gregory Pest Solutions, tried working with a fleet management company about a year ago but found it didn’t save him money so he went back to managing the process himself. He encourages his seven district managers to develop relationships with local repair shops with the caveat of not paying diagnostic services and seeking out reasonable labor rates. Any repairs over $500 need his approval. “Right now what I feel we’re doing is practical for our needs” but that may change as the fleet grows, he said.
Staff mechanics maintain vehicles at Clark Pest Control’s 12 largest branches, performing oil and tire changes and brake jobs. A dedicated team equips new vehicles with spray rigs, camper shells, printer wiring, decals and video recorders to the company’s exacting specifications.
Managing fleet costs is a huge challenge. “It can easily get out of control if you don’t manage it closely; make sure that you’re getting the return on investment” however you choose to approach it, advised Mack.
That said, “given that the safety of our colleagues is our top priority, this is a non-negotiable cost where we refuse to take shortcuts,” Tsambalieros said.
VEHICLE PROCUREMENT. The most common service vehicles are small to midsize pick-up trucks, then compact sedans. Some companies lease service vehicles; others purchase them outright. Truly Nolen does both: After a vehicle’s five-year lease expires, Topar may opt to purchase a vehicle (depending on its condition) and drive it longer.
Orkin Canada retires vehicles after three to six years of use depending on mileage and wear-and-tear. Rentokil Steritech’s cycling policy is a minimum of six years or 250,000 kilometers (about 155,000 miles). Abell leases vehicles for four years, so every year one-quarter of the fleet turns over.
But finding the right fleet vehicle can be difficult. The needs of an employee working in a rural market are totally different from someone working downtown, said Mackillop. When you’re working in large city centers where parking, traffic and building access are issues “a full-size pickup truck doesn’t work anymore; even a midsize pickup truck is a challenge. Unfortunately, the perfect vehicle is not out there yet for our purposes in a metropolitan area,” said Mackillop, who down the road might explore the “interesting idea” of walking routes in densely populated areas.
To minimize its impact on the environment, Steritech Rentokil chooses light-duty vehicles that are economically efficient and hardy. But over time, vehicles can become less efficient; by retiring them after six years, “we decrease the chances that our vehicles will become less environmentally friendly,” said Tsambalieros. Because these vehicles are well cared for, “our resale value remains on the higher end, allowing us to recoup some of the costs we put into the vehicles through maintenance,” he said.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine.
Scroll through the websites of pest control companies in your market and what do you find? A lot of the same.
Reliance on design templates, stock photography and trying to be too much to too many has left countless firms with a generic, uninspired digital presence that looks and feels just like their competitors.
To create impact with consumers, companies must design websites that reflect their brand personalities, said Eric Boulden, president of Jump Branding & Design in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. That requires staying true to who you are as a company and making your brand “as defensible as possible,” he explained.
Be true to yourself. Consider the new website for City and Country Pest Control in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. It’s got attitude, it’s playful, irreverent, a bit hipster and definitely says “these guys are going to get s**t done,” said Boulden.
It also embodies the kind of experience that clients can expect. “I’m not a politically correct guy; I’m a straight talker and I’m very personable as well” and while of course it’s important to be professional, there’s no reason to be somebody that you’re not, said Horacio Parreira, owner of the pest management company.
Doing so will only come back to bite you. Say after visiting the website you hire City and Country Pest Control; if the technician arrives in a suit or is too prim and proper, the company’s credibility goes out the window. “I’m going to expect that the people who show up are living that same message,” explained Boulden. (Visit www.cityandcountrypestcontrol.com for a sense of how the company’s website reflects its unique corporate culture.)
“Authenticity is very, very important,” agreed Parreira. This may be easier to depict at a smaller company where the brand’s personality aligns closely with the owner’s. But larger companies also have a specific voice, attitude and messaging when speaking with customers, whether written or verbal, reminded Boulden.
CHANGE YOUR FOCUS, SLIGHTLY. Instead of pushing what you can do for customers, share what it’s like from the customer’s perspective.
When Jump Design & Branding flipped its own website a year ago, the goal was to “bring the experience of what it’s like to work with our people forward as best as we can without going too far,” said Boulden. Pages have headlines like “Jump is dead serious about your brand... and not much else” and “An agency is only as good as its people, and our people make us pretty damn good.” Mouse over employees’ photos and you get fun insights to their personalities along with professional credentials.
The agency took a similar approach, but featured employees’ words to live by, when creating a new website for Construction Group, a project management and general contracting company.
EMBRACE THE VISUAL. Some of the more interesting websites today, across industries, use imagery to tell the brand’s story: photography, video, custom illustrations, cinemagraphs, animations. Even new template programs make it easy to incorporate these elements.
But photography, perhaps the most accessible, has been elevated in recent years. “Everybody carries a camera in their pocket now” and with easy filtering and editing options, a “socialization of photography” has developed and is now ingrained into our everyday life, said Boulden. In other words, people expect more from photography these days.
That’s where hiring a professional photographer can really pay off; he or she usually can capture the essence of your brand personality, said Boulden. Parreira used a professional photographer to convey his company’s edgy yet fun attitude. The photos also feature his own employees (not models), adding yet another layer of authenticity.
But for companies that find professional photography financially out of reach, the camera in your pocket may be good enough. “There’s a way to use a socialized type of photography into a brand if that’s part of the (company’s) DNA and it really makes sense to who you’re trying to speak to as a core demographic,” said Boulden.
If you choose to use stock photography, be sure to manipulate it with some photo retouching that ties it to the brand, whether that’s using a filter or color overlay or cropping so it doesn’t look like stock photography, he said.
Photo editing can help draw the eye to emphasize key messages, Boulden said. In a City and Country photo on the company’s website, a small rodent portrayed in full color stands out in a less-color-saturated photo of a woman jumping off the ground, at first maybe for joy until you see the critter (see page 126). In another photo set in a hip restaurant, the color saturation level has been lowered except for a little bit of color around the central figures in it. The photo is “definitely projecting an attitude and an image” that is proprietary to the brand, not only because City and Country employees are the subjects but the style is own-able in the pest control category, Boulden explained.
Just make sure you’re adding visual elements to make your message clear, cautioned Boulden.
HIT REFRESH. How often should you update your website? That depends on the amount of traffic and repeat visitors it receives, which you can track through Google Analytics, said Boulden. “If your website is getting a lot of traffic, then you definitely want to keep it a little bit fresher and you want to get some of your critical messages forward,” he said.
The same is true if you’re trying to engage people as a knowledge resource. This is where an embedded, easy-to-update blog is helpful as you can regularly post pest prevention tips, news releases and educational programs that your company is hosting or participating in, as well as other activities that establish your expertise.
UPDATE YOUR ARCHITECTURE. Design aside, make sure your website is built with the proper architecture; this will make Google happy and increase your visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results.
The most critical is being “mobile first” in terms of execution, said Boulden. Make sure your design is responsive in that it scales to smartphones, tablets and desktops and that three critical pieces of information are readily and succinctly available to mobile users: How to contact you; who you are/what you do; and where you’re located.
And eliminate barriers to engagement. Websites are “a way to connect with you immediately and (consumers) control how that conversation goes and how long they want to stay on your website,” reminded Boulden. If you put up barriers — like landing pages, too much text, photos that aren’t optimized so pages load slowly — people will get turned off and move on to another site, he said. “You need to make that conversation happen as easily as possible,” he said.
When Bobby Jenkins realized that the phones were ringing long after employees of ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin had gone home for the night, he identified an opportunity.
“Today’s consumers — in particular, millennials — want to buy when and where it’s convenient for them,” he says. “Technology is core to this generation, and they don’t necessarily want to talk to anyone before they buy. Companies that want to win these customers over need to be prepared to change the way they do business.”
Deciding to take the leap into e-commerce, Jenkins called Aaron Bramwell at digital strategy agency Monkee-Boy about a year ago. “Bobby wanted to streamline the transaction process, offering online scheduling and payment options, while also cross-selling ABC’s various services,” Bramwell says. It was a challenging process, he adds, given the number of variables that needed to be addressed for each service line. But within a few months, “Click to Buy” became the website’s new call to action.
The toughest part for Jenkins was thinking through the price matrix. “You need to give careful thought to which services you want to offer in this manner. It’s a new experience for us to price a project without having spoken to anyone or going out to take a look at the property. My philosophy is that we’ll win some and we’ll lose some if we price somewhere in the middle. It tends to even out,” he says.
It more than evens out when the customer is so pleased with the service they become a regular customer. As a safeguard from ever taking too big of a hit, Jenkins’ site also includes a disclaimer that ABC reserves the right to adjust the quote in the case of a severe infestation or other unforeseen circumstance. Plus, Bramwell is constantly gathering data on how the buying experience is going for customers; he and Jenkins are able to make adjustments along the way, whether that means refining the pricing or fine-tuning the overall customer experience.
Here’s how it goes:
- The customer chooses their service and enters their address.
- If ABC services that location, the system integrates with Google Maps and Zillow to show a street view of the home and calculate the appropriate square footage. If the location falls outside ABC’s service area, a message informs the user.
- The customer is presented with the price of the service (based on the calculated square footage) and selects a date and time for the appointment.
- They are then directed to PayPal where they pay and receive a receipt before returning back to the ABC site. Here they receive a thank-you message and confirmation of their service appointment, and the order is sent to the service team for confirmation and routing.
Jenkins is pleased with the level of online buying taking place through his site. He is promoting the “Click to Buy” option in local TV and radio spots, as well as through social media. “I want to paint a picture of how easy it is to do business with us,” he says, noting that his e-commerce initiative differentiates his company in the local marketplace. “We are available anytime customers want to do business with us, and that puts us into a strong competitive position.”
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.