A look at the number of apps available for download will tell you that our business and personal lifestyles have forever been changed. From getting directions to ordering Starbucks to booking airplane tickets, apps are as ingrained in our daily habits as brushing our teeth.
How much so? According to the digital data collector Statista, there are 1.6 million apps available for download from Google Play and 1.5 million in the Apple App Store.
For ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin, Texas, a pair of apps has created an effective way to measure both lead generation and connect customers with the company in ways that benefit everyone.
As ABC Home & Commercial expanded its service offerings, the firm found its technicians on the exterior of a customer’s home — for lawn care, landscape services, window washing, pool cleaning — and was concerned that it would lose important face-to-face time with clients.
“As we started doing more outside services the concern was there would be less of a chance to build a relationship with customers,” says Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Home & Commercial. “This is what drove us to develop and deploy the Go Get Quality app.”
Go Get Quality established a virtual service connection with customers that featured a front-end notification and scheduling component, an on-site component that allowed technicians to deliver information on the service and a back-end, follow-up piece for customer feedback.
“It touched all the bases we need to have covered and is probably the most important technology tool we’ve implemented in the last 10 years,” Jenkins says.
The front-end component allows ABC technicians to email and text customers to confirm their appointment time, what service(s) will be performed and an approximate arrival time. The app also allows technicians to share their photo and professional resume with customers so they know exactly who will be knocking on their door.
The on-site component of the app gives the technicians the ability to take photos and record a voice message summarizing the service(s) performed and point out other potential conditions that ABC’s service offerings may be able to assist with, and send it immediately to the client.
“The nice thing about this component is that it adds a personal touch to the service visit whether or not the client is home,” says Jenkins, who deployed the Go Get Quality app in late 2015.
Jenkins says technicians — regardless of the service they are performing at the home that day — are encouraged to report possible conditions or issues that an ABC service might solve.
“Our pest and lawn care technicians can report on a noisy air conditioning unit or peeling paint on a house that our HVAC and home repair unit can help with and vice versa,” adds Jenkins.
The final feature of the app is the one Jenkins felt was missing most from ABC’s customer service efforts: securing client feedback.
An email is sent to the customer following the service asking them complete a brief survey regarding their service experience. There is also an option given to the customer to post their positive feedback to social media and if they do so and refer ABC, they receive a discount on their next service call.
On the flip side, if there is an issue with the service, any negative feedback is sent directly to the technician’s manager to be reviewed and acted upon.
“We received very little or sporadic feedback from customers on our service previously and since we deployed the app the response has been very solid,” says Jenkins. “Customers have told us the app exceeds their expectations from what they expect from a pest control company.”
When determining how much information to share with customers, Jenkins says two or three images and a brief voice message suffices. With fewer consumers home during the day, this information allows homeowners to see exactly what was done at their home when they weren’t there.
TECHNICIAN CONNECTION. Pest management companies have long looked for ways to improve how to track and compensate technicians for new business lead generation. ABC was no different.
“We always want to do more business with current customers and we needed a more efficient way for our technicians to turn in leads,” says Jenkins. “Under the old system there was no feedback to the technician on where the lead went, if it was sold and if they received credit — the credibility was low.”
ABC introduced the LeadNow app where technicians can track the progress of a lead they submit from start to finish. The process works like this:
While on-site at a customer’s home, technicians can submit photos and a voice file pointing out potential service needs — not just pest control — that ABC’s service lineup might be able to assist with.
The information is sent instantly to a dedicated CSR team who then make an immediate call to the customer while the technician is on the premises to set up a follow-up appointment.
The technician can track the leads they submit and see if the lead is closed and what commission they will receive.
ABC also changed its commission structure on lead generation. Previously technicians and sales split commission but under the new system if a legitimate lead is turned in and an estimate provided, the technician receives $10 per lead — regardless if the customer ends up buying the service or not. If technicians turn in 11 or more legitimate leads they receive $20 per lead.
The company tracks the data and plays up the results of who is generating the most leads, most closed sales, etc., in its monthly company meeting and the response from technicians has been very positive.
“The app has made adoption very easy and simple, and the technicians have a lot of confidence in it,” says Jenkins. “The technicians still have to look for the leads and close the sale but the technology helps facilitate the process.”
The author is a partner of B Communications. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather Tutton is co-owner of Ecoskan Pest Solutions, San Bernardino, Calif. She’s also an account executive with Worldpay, a direct credit card processing company. Combined, the two roles provide her a unique perspective on the pest control industry.
Earlier in her career, Tutton’s family ran a cash register business. After a stint managing the company with her mother, and then for a period on her own, she realized she wasn’t happy. “It took a lot of time, I wasn’t loving it, and I wasn’t making much money,” she said.
As Tutton was evaluating her role in the cash register industry, she and her husband Sam were looking for a natural pest control solution to keep insects out of the chicken coop on the small ranch they owned. (Sam had been in the pest management industry for almost 20 years at the time.) After experimenting with a number of natural solutions, they found a combination of products that worked. A neighbor was looking for a similar solution and the couple stepped in to help. Ecoskan Pest Solutions was born.
“We found a solution using botanical and organic products, as well as a minimal amount of chemicals,” said Tutton. “In the process we discovered we really enjoyed finding natural solutions to pest problems and wanted to help others.” Their focus is to find Integrated Pest Management (IPM) solutions that primarily use botanical products. “We believe 99 percent of pest issues can be maintained botanically along with a limited use of produced products,” added Tutton.
One unique aspect of Ecoskan is its pest control consultation service. In addition to providing training on effective eco-friendly pest control methods to food safety inspectors and public health workers, and advising government bodies on eco-friendly pest control practices, the company provides technical and business consulting for pest control companies.
“Our long-term focus includes conducting audits for pest control companies to help them create more Integrated Pest Management programs using more botanicals, as well as establish business practices that are more environmentally friendly, such as doing as much electronically as possible,” explained Tutton.
PEST CONTROL + CREDIT CARDS. That unique experience in both the cash register industry and the pest management industry led Tutton to go to work for Worldpay, a company providing a broad range of technology-led solutions to customers. The firm operates secure, proprietary technology platforms that enable customers to accept a vast array of payment types, across multiple channels, almost anywhere in the world.
“Although I can work with clients in multiple industries nationally, I choose to concentrate on my industry — pest control,” said Tutton.
Tutton says she’s is pleased that Worldpay offers an incentive to California-based pest control companies through its partnership with the Pest Control Operators of California (PCOC). A portion of each credit card processing transaction of participating pest control companies is donated to PCOC. “Aside from offering pest control companies a great rate, Worldpay allows us to ‘share back’ and support the industry,” she said.
CREDIT BENEFITS. It may seem logical to some that running a business using a cash-only model will save money compared to paying fees to accept credit cards. But Tutton says there’s a cost to processing cash and checks, too.
“Recording cash and check payments requires manual tracking and posting, which is time-consuming for administrative staff and there may be posting mistakes,” explained Tutton. “Software can automatically generate receipts with credit card purchases, as well as create a history report of transactions and may be able to post directly to your accounting system.”
“One of the biggest misperceptions about switching from a cash-only business model to accepting credit cards is that it’s only an additional expense,” said Tutton. “Yes, there’s a cost involved, but the benefits far outweigh the cost. In most cases, businesses will make more money.”
“One client in the pest control industry shared that he had gone from a cash-based business and paper invoices to accepting credit cards and using paperless invoicing,” said Tutton. “He found that through electronic processing he reduced receivables from a 45-day pay to a 15-day pay. There were no more customer excuses that they ‘couldn’t find the invoice.’ Services are performed and immediately invoiced using a credit card. Transaction complete.”
According to a 2013 Federal Reserve Payments Study, more than two-thirds of all non-cash transactions are credit and debit card payments. Another report indicates that 58 percent of small businesses are regularly asked by their customers to accept credit cards. If you’re running a business and not accepting credit cards you may be missing out on sales. Several sources indicate that, depending on the industry, business may increase by as much as 40 percent once a company begins accepting credit cards.
It’s been demonstrated that individuals paying by credit card also tend to spend more. In the case of pest control, if a customer has problems with termites and is paying by credit card to have a treatment performed, maybe they’ll pay for repair costs at the same time. (“Ticket-lift” is when a customer is willing to make larger purchases because they’re using a credit card.)
Customers also have personal incentives to use their credit cards, including:
- Convenience. A credit card is easier to use than writing a check.
- Rewards/Points. Many credit cards offer points or cash back. Customers want to rack up as many points as possible and put them toward their next vacation, for example.
- Expense Tracking. Some customers like to track their purchases and using a credit card makes doing so much easier.
- Pay Over Time. Customers have the convenience of not having to pay upfront. This removes the owner’s burden of extending credit in the form of an invoice, which lengthens the payment period.
SELECTING A PROVIDER. “Most companies don’t understand how to select a merchant service provider,” said Tutton. “There’s a lot of misinformation being given by sales reps with the goal of keeping business owners ‘cloudy’ on the process so they can make more money.” Tutton’s approach is based on having been in small business her entire life and owning a pest control company — she stands in the same shoes as her customers.
“I want to help pest control owners understand the process and make the best decision for their company,” said Tutton. “If they already have a processing partner, they should touch base with you every year or two to make sure you’re still getting what you need. It’s OK to get a second opinion. If the agreement with their current processing company is good, I may recommend staying where they are.”
TRANSFER OF LIABILITY. From a security perspective, partnering with a respected credit card processor helps protect the business owner. “Ensure that the provider you select has a secure platform and processing network, and they meet all regulations regarding protecting credit card transactions and storing customer data,” explained Tutton.
“Liability is big consideration,” said Tutton. “If an owner decides to establish their own credit card processing through their bank, which is possible, they also accept some of the liabilities. If they don’t have the network security necessary to process credit cards, for example, their business may be at stake. Fraudulent activity can cripple or close a business. I’ve seen it happen.”
CREDIT CARD TRENDS. “The most significant trend is mobile payments — being able to accept credit cards using a smartphone or iPad,” explained Tutton. “Square spurred the trend and now other companies are quickly following. More and more ‘cash registers’ are now mobile devices.”
Pest control service technicians can accept payments in the field using their company or personal smartphone or tablet. This eliminates additional administrative time back at the office to create, send and track an invoice.
“Another trend is recurring payments for regularly scheduled services, which can be crucial in this and many other industries,” said Tutton. Recurring payments can be established through a processing company. This helps to ensure a steady cash flow without monthly invoicing, eliminates past due accounts and the challenges associated with collecting payments.
CONCLUSION. “You want to make it easy for your customers to pay you. They like paying by credit card, so let them,” said Tutton.
“If you make it difficult for a customer to pay you, they may eventually hire another company,” she added. “The increase in business you’re likely to see as a result of accepting credit and debit cards will outweigh the increased costs of having a merchant account.”
The author is a Florida-based freelancer. Email him at email@example.com.
Ants have consistently ranked as the No. 1 pest in the structural pest control industry. These ants can be either nuisance/troublesome pests or wood-destroying pests. Ants are a diverse group with numbers approaching 14,000 species worldwide. Effective treatment of ant infestations requires correct identification and with the expanding numbers of ant species and the transport of ants from other areas, this is challenging even for the best extension specialists and pest management professionals.
Common names are used for many ants. For example, Argentine ant is the accepted common name for Linepithema humile and Pharaoh ant is the accepted name for Monomorium pharaonis. Problems occur when PMPs and homeowners create their own common names to describe an ant pest. The Entomological Society of America has approved a list of common names for some of these species but common names have not been formally approved for others. Hence, in many cases, the scientific name is used or a descriptive name is created. These names can therefore vary with different localities and personnel and be confusing.
The little black ant (Monomorium minimum) is a good example. The common name, little black ant, is the accepted common name but unfortunately “little black ant” is often used to describe any small ant that is black or dark in color. Infestations of small ants black in color may be odorous house ants, pine tree ants, pavement ants and certain species of cornfield ants (moisture ants). In reviewing trade journals, the little black ant ranks high in surveys of pest ants. Is this ant being identified correctly or are all small ants black in color included in these counts?
Another common name that has been used to describe stinging ants is the term “fire ant.” Unfortunately, this term has been applied to the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta), the black imported fire ant (S. richteri), the tropical fire ant (S. geminata), the southern fire ant (S. xyloni), the European fire ant (Myrmica rubra), the impressive fire ant (M. speciodes), the little fire ant (Wasmannia auropunctata) and others. The term “fire ant” has even been applied to Formica spp., particularly species that have a red-colored head and/or thorax. These ants do not sting but can inflict a painful bite.
Many of these “fire ants” are exotic or tramp ants and have become problems in particular areas because their colonies become large with multiple queens. These ants are often aggressive and eliminate native ants. The red imported fire ant, introduced from South America about 70 years ago, is found throughout the southern states, California, and reported in other states on the East and West Coasts of the United States. The European fire ant, introduced from Europe into New England states in the early 1900s, has spread throughout New England and into other northeastern states, plus southeastern Canada and along the St. Lawrence River as far west as Lake Erie. This ant also has become established in southwestern British Columbia and in Washington state.
Most recently, the impressive fire ant, native to Europe, has become established in Washington state and British Columbia. The little fire ant has become established in several of the Hawaiian Islands. These ants may become problematic because the workers will defend their colonies by stinging people and may cause serious allergic reactions.
Species of Formica (also known as thatching ants) do not have stingers but will defend their colonies with bites and spraying formic acid. Colonies located in close proximity to homes and recreational areas cause problems although generally reactions to formic acid are not of concern. These ants are native and important predators on other insects. Control should be limited to only those colonies that seriously affect human activity.
WHY WORRY ABOUT ID? Ants are a major part of the pest management industry. Both Hedges (2010) and Klotz et al. (2008) cite 35 common names for pest ants. These lists include “carpenter ants” as one common name (but there are 24 species of carpenter ants in North America that are pests!); the common name for cornfield/moisture ants includes 11 species and the Formica spp. includes 20 species. Individual species of ants numbering more than 100 are considered pest ants in North America. Each of these species has unique characteristics related to biology, behavior and habitats. Understanding the differences and similarities of ant species provides information allowing for the most effective control.
Exotic or tramp ants are being introduced into new areas through commerce by the transportation of building materials, plant materials, household goods and the movement of products and people. Changes in environmental conditions, particularly in housing and commercial buildings such as interior atriums, indoor gardens and houseplants where exotic plants are established, may accidentally introduce new insect species, particularly ants. The global distribution of Pharaoh ants and Argentine ants are prime examples.
THE ROLE OF INDUSTRY? PMPs are on the forefront in detecting new introductions, alerting officials and eliminating the establishment of these ants into new areas. Here are PMPs’ responsibilities when it comes to seeing and recording new ants in their areas:
- Identification of ants from infestations. There are a number of photographs and taxonomic keys available either in the form of books (Hedges 2010 or Klotz et al. 2008), extension bulletins, Internet sources, trade publications and teaching aids from chemical companies/suppliers.
- Recognition of a new ant. In inspections or treatments, recognize where there are differences in appearance or behavior in the ants. Field identifications may be difficult in the case of an unknown species. Ants should be collected in a small vial of alcohol to be examined later or sent to someone for positive identification. Hand sanitizers contain about 70 percent alcohol and make perfect collection containers if another container is not readily available. Check the identification with references or contact another professional. Photographs sometimes can be helpful and can be emailed to professionals for identification.
- Record when a new species is identified at your location and where it is being collected. This will assist in determining if it is an established species and the area of infestation.
HOW ARE ANTS MANAGED? An ant is an ant, but not all ants are the same. This is often a difficult concept for homeowners to accept. All ants belong the Family Formicidae. Consider another unrelated family: Felicidae (the family of cats). This family includes the lion, tiger, jaguar, leopard, lynx and the house cat (plus others). Each of these members of the cat family have sharp canine teeth, retractable claws, rounded heads, short muzzles and are hunters with excellent eyesight but distinctive differences in appearance and behavior of each can exist.
So what does this have to do with ants? The family of Formicidae contains more than 14,000 species but all have elbowed antennae, a pedicel (waist), a node(s) and all are social with a queen(s), workers and drones. Each species of ants is as different as the individual species in the cat family in appearance, biology and behavior. Therefore, ants can best be managed if the specific species is identified and differences in biology and behavior are recognized.
Management of ants starts with the proper identification. The next step includes location of their habitat or harborage, followed by non-chemical alterations and finally chemical control. Location of the habitat includes determining where the ants are nesting: soil, wood, wall voids, trees, outdoors or indoors. Identifying and locating foraging trails are important. Trails are seasonal and may be indoors or outdoors. Non-chemical control includes correction of conducive conditions, such as removal of food sources and alteration of harborage. This includes sealing entry points of cracks and crevices and removal of vegetation in contact with the structure. Environmental alteration also includes proper ventilation, correction of moisture conditions and removal of foraging trails.
Chemical control includes the use of baits, dusts and sprays to the perimeter and foraging trails. Baits may be granular, liquid or gel and should be placed in or close to foraging trails. Dusts are effective when placed into wall voids where the ants are either trailing or nesting. Sprays should be directed to the perimeter of the structure, particularly under the lower edge of siding when available, to reduce the breakdown of chemical by sunlight and rainfall. Sprays also may be used in the interior on trails or harborage sites and on the exterior to foraging sites. It is imperative that all label directions be read and followed. A menu approach should be followed so that a variety of strategies can be used as species differ and infestations differ. One size does not fit all species of all infestations. Ant management can be challenging but variations in non-chemical alterations and the menu of chemicals available will enable success.
The author is an instructor in the biology department at Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane, Wash. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hedges, Stoy A. 2010. Field guide for the management of structure-infesting ants. 3rd edition. GIE Media, Richfield, Ohio.
Klotz, John, L. Hansen, R. Pospischil, M. Rust. 2008. Urban ants of North America and Europe, Identification, biology and management. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York.
On June 22, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. (EDT), PCT will host the Virtual Small Fly Conference, which PMPs can attend from the comfort of their home or office. Industry experts will discuss how the small fly market has evolved over time, why small flies may be a symptom of a bigger problem and what the future may hold for PMPs when dealing with these flying pests. Featured speakers and sessions include:Small Fly Control Case Histories by Stoy Hedges, Owner and President, Stoy Pest Consulting
Case histories offer valuable “real-world” insights for both new technicians and veteran practitioners of structural pest control. And no one is better suited to provide this type of training than Stoy Hedges, longtime technical director at Terminix, who launched his own consulting business in 2013. As the author of the PCT Field Guide for the Management of Structure-Infesting Flies, Hedges is uniquely qualified to share “real-world” examples of the most challenging fly infestations he has encountered in more than three decades in the field.
Small Flies in Commercial Accounts by Jeff Tucker, President, Entomology Associates In this entertaining and informative educational session, one of the country’s leading urban entomologists examines the biology, behavior and control of four common small flies — the phorid fly, fruit fly, moth fly and fungus gnat. “These four flies make up the vast majority of small fly problems typically encountered in commercial accounts,” Tucker observes. In this session you’ll learn why small flies aren’t generally the root of the problem in commercial accounts, but the symptom of a bigger problem — and what to do about it.
Small Fly Hot Spots in Residential and Commercial Accounts by Dr. Gerry Wegner, B.C.E., and Retired Technical Director, Varment Guard Environmental Services In this informative educational session, Dr. Gerry Wegner will discuss how the biology and behavior of small flies determines where these bothersome pests take up residence in residential and commercial accounts.