Ant control has the highest callback rate of any pest control service. The industry average last year was 6.3 percent, according to the PCT 2020 State of the Ant Control Market survey, which was sponsored by Syngenta and compiled by independent research firm Readex.
By comparison, the average callback rate was 1.8 percent for termites, 3.8 percent for bed bugs, 4.5 percent for wildlife, 5.3 percent for cockroaches, 5.5 percent for rodents and 5.8 percent for mosquitoes, according to recent PCT surveys.
Ant treatments fail for a number of reasons. The biggest, said pest management professionals, is not engaging customers in the control process.
While this can be a challenge in its own right, engaged clients make your job easier in the long run and may even result in making fewer chemical applications to control the pests. “Communication is key,” said Sam de Jong, owner of Wow Pest Control in Bakersfield, Calif., on winning clients’ support. PMPs shared key messages that every technician should communicate to clients, as well as ways to encourage their involvement:
Ants reproduce fast. This is especially true of colonies with multiple queens. De Jong, who deals mostly with Argentine ants, explains to clients how an ant issue on the property potentially may involve hundreds of queens laying 60 eggs a day. This helps clients appreciate the control challenge and set realistic expectations.
Be patient. Whether you’re dealing with ants indoors or outdoors, no treatment works overnight. As such, advise clients on how the process works, said Patsy McIntire, co-owner, Bug Express, San Angelo, Texas. Explain what they can expect day-to-day and when they should see results. This way, they’re not distressed when in fact treatment is going according to plan.
You’ll see me more than once. Most clients don’t know that some ants — carpenter, Argentine, crazy, odorous house and crazy ants — form satellite or sub colonies. Explain how this makes controlling them more difficult. “We also let them know these colonies can be large and it might require a couple visits to get it under control,” said de Jong.
Put down the Raid. Clients may think they’re helping by spraying DIY products on ants feeding on bait. Explain how this repels the ants, making the colony harder to control. McIntire tells clients: “You’re going to see a big congregation of ants around this little dot of bait. That’s good; the more the better because the more (bait) they take back to the queen. Please just leave it alone; let it work.”
Please clean up. Sanitation is essential in ant control. If spills and crumbs are readily available, ants may not feed on bait. Still, cleanliness is subjective. “They look at you like you should be able to handle this regardless of how my house looks,” says de Jong. Don’t overwhelm clients with a long list of cleaning dos; instead, ask them to complete one or two tasks that will have the greatest impact.
Don’t come back until it’s time. Some insecticide labels require that clients not be present during application and that they remain off site for a prescribed amount of time. Ensure they understand what this means, says Wesley Parker, co-owner of Parker Eco Pest Control in Seattle. “You need to follow what’s on the label” and educate clients on reentry procedures, she reminds.
If you see something, show me. Most clients can’t accurately describe the ants in or around their home. Juan Fernando Sanchez, owner of Python Strike Services and Pest Control in San Antonio, Texas, explains to them how different ants require different control approaches. Before stepping on the property, he asks clients to send him a photo of the ants, so he’s fully prepared for the service visit.
Fix conducive conditions…for a fee. Cutting back bushes and tree branches that act as ant highways and fixing moisture conditions around the home that attract the pests are essential to gain control. But if a client is unable or unwilling to address these issues, Charles Fyfe, owner of Envirocare Pest Control in Gardiner, Maine, will. “I charge by the hour plus any supplies (and) materials used,” he says.
Help them see the big picture. To protect children from fire ants some clients want chemical applied to turf more often, but that’s not possible or safe. “We’ve got laws and regulations to follow,” Sanchez explains to clients. He inspects 10 acres of sports fields weekly, shares findings with clients, spot treats as needed between biannual treatments, and walks away from clients who insist he apply more.
Invite them along. Communicating with clients doesn’t have to be a sit-down affair. “I learned that you can talk and educate the customer while you’re going about and doing your job,” said McIntire. It’s an opportunity to educate clients about why ants are there, what responsible chemical use involves, and how to deter future problems. The more clients understand what you do, the better partners they become, say PMPs.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.