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Sometimes mistakes happen:

One of our most experienced service technicians, who is always meticulous in his work, forgot to secure a customer’s gate after completing a mosquito treatment. Our customer service representative got a call from the customer, who was understandably irate, shouting that his two dogs had gotten out and were at large in the neighborhood. We went into triage mode to make things right, fast.

Sometimes they don’t:

We got a call from a customer insisting that her laminate flooring was peeling due to our flea treatment application. There was no way we had caused the damage. The technician was highly experienced and had done hundreds of similar applications, and the type and amount of insecticide used could not possibly have caused peeling. I knew we had to hold our ground.

When you go into pest management, or any service industry for that matter, you know that you need a plan to deal with complaints — the outlandish ones as well as the legitimate ones. With legitimate complaints — when an employee makes a mistake, or a particular treatment turns out to be less effective than planned, for instance — it’s generally easier to see the solution. In the case of the unlatched gate, for example, the CSR escalated the complaint to management, and the general manager and one of the co-owners both called the customer to apologize, take responsibility for the situation and let the customer in on their plan.

“We called the animal warden, put a blast out on social media and reached out to all of our service techs in the vicinity to dispatch them to look for these dogs,” says Joshua Kramer, co-owner and president of Innovative Pest Management. “I assured the customer that we were equipped to handle the situation and that, of course, we would provide free services to compensate for the error.”

Just 20 minutes later, the customer called back to say a neighbor had retrieved the dogs and all was well. So grateful was he for the pest control team’s quick and sincere action that he apologized for his angry call, pledged his loyalty as a customer and declined the free-service offer. “His only request was that we use the situation as a teachable moment for all of our employees. We absolutely did that,” says Kramer.

In the case of illegitimate complaints, as in the laminate flooring example, the path forward isn’t always so clear. Jeff King of The Pest Rangers made the choice to stand firm that the flea treatment had not caused the peeling. “Once this customer saw we weren’t going to back down, she paid and went away,” he says. “We sacrificed the account, but how good of an account was it going to be if our work was going to be continually challenged?”

PREP IS KEY. How do you prepare your team to handle complaints? Great training! “Our staff members are trained to set expectations for customers, and then to listen as the relationship moves forward,” says Anna Hansen, quality assurance and training coordinator at Adam’s Pest Control in Medina, Minn. “When a customer becomes unhappy, we gather as much information as possible to understand why — what was done in the past, how it was handled, what was communicated, etc. Once we understand the issue, we can move forward to resolve it.”

Adam’s is one of many pest control companies in the nation that rely on their service teams to be the first line of defense in resolving customer complaints. Hansen says that when an issue arises, their technicians take a big-picture view of the situation, evaluating the area of dissatisfaction — why a pest issue persists after treatment, for example — and adjusting the service strategy as needed. “This could include going back and servicing the area for free, arranging a meeting with the customer to sit down and discuss the issue, or calling for a second opinion or a manager,” she says.

In fact, 92 percent of respondents to a recent PCT survey reported giving their technicians some or quite a bit of latitude in satisfying unhappy customers. Nearly as many — 88 percent — also delegate that authority to their customer service representatives (CSRs).

King says that the complaints that come into The Pest Rangers office are usually resolved at the CSR level. “We get very few complaints, and they’re usually based more on miscommunication than error, so once our CSR offers clarity, the issue becomes a nonissue.”

For example, King attributes most of his 2018 complaints to “New Tech Syndrome.” He explains, “We recently re-routed to increase our efficiency, and some customers decided they didn’t like their ‘new’ technician based on nothing more than their misconception that he didn’t have the same level of experience or expertise as their previous technician. Once we explained that he has 15 years of experience, they gave him a fair chance, he proved himself, and the complaint calls stopped.”

MAKE IT FORMAL. Nearly half (48 percent) of PMPs who responded to PCT’s study said they have a written protocol for interactions with unhappy customers. Fifty-one percent do not. Where business leaders agree is that, whether through a written policy or not, employees need to know how they should address and, if necessary, escalate complaints.

“If a technician’s efforts aren’t enough to satisfy a customer, or if a customer is particularly upset, the technician knows to forward the complaint to their service manager. Depending on the situation, upper management may become involved as well,” says Hansen, adding that Adam’s Pest Control has a written policy for handling cancel requests. “The heart of the protocol is understanding. We clarify why the customer wants to cancel, communicate that we value their business, and discuss what we can do to make the situation right for them. Our protocol also outlines how to speak to the customer, including apologizing for their dissatisfaction, listening to their concerns, empathizing with their feelings, and staying calm and polite through the exchange. Since implementing this protocol, we’ve seen a significant reduction in cancels.”

ALWAYS RIGHT? For generations, businesses have clung to the idea that the customer is always right. But PMPs today don’t necessarily see things that way. Fewer than half of respondents to the PCT survey (43 percent) consider this concept key to their culture. Yet 97 percent said that they go to great lengths to satisfy customers. Maybe the fact that 81 percent of them said they have encountered an impossible-to-satisfy customer provides perspective.

“We go the extra mile to make customers happy. We’ve comped services, paid to clean windows after accidentally getting overspray on them, and so on,” says Hansen. “But ultimately, the customer needs to recognize that effective pest control requires a partnership. We might not be successful if they refuse to complete needed repairs or address conducive conditions, for example.”

Customers also aren’t always right when they try to dictate which products or formulations a technician should use to control a certain pest. Savvy technicians know how to talk with these customers, explaining the need to apply pesticides in compliance with labels and according to their own experience concerning the efficacy of various treatments in various situations.

And when customers are just outright difficult — absolutely never satisfied — you have to know when enough is enough. “You do everything you can to make your customers happy,” King concludes, “but when they’re persistently difficult or even dishonest with you, sometimes it just makes sense to let them go.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.

Three Reasons Why You Should Record Your Inbound Phone Calls

By Chris Keenan

Pest control companies spend hard-earned money to generate phone call leads which are the lifeblood of your business. Leads also can provide valuable and insightful information beyond bringing in a potential new customer—assuming you are recording those inbound phone calls.

In 2018, We Get Leads recorded and listened to over 34,000 pest control phone call leads on behalf of our clients. The following are our top reasons for why you should record inbound phone calls and what you should be listening for to improve your business.

#1. To Improve Marketing

Recording your calls gives you the opportunity to improve your marketing, whether that is digital, print, or even door-to-door. Here are a couple of examples we have heard enough times that they are worth mentioning:

Avoid Wasting Money. You might receive calls from outside of your service area or for pests you don’t treat. Chances are your customer service representative will just politely decline the caller and nothing will come of it. By recording the call, listening to it, and keeping documentation, you might discover that your internet marketing campaign is erroneously targeting pests or areas you don’t want and ultimately, wasting your budget. Tightening up your advertising area and targeted keywords is one way to get better quality leads while saving you money.

Determine Word of Mouth or Print Effectiveness. Ideally, your CSR is asking, “How did you hear about us?” Even if they don’t, some callers will volunteer this information. If this information isn’t already being collected, with a recording you can learn how effective your print ads or word-of-mouth campaigns are going. Statements such as “I see your trucks all the time” or “My neighbor uses you” are commonly said and confirm your marketing is reaching the right audience.

Identify Door-to-Door Issues. If your company engages in door-to-door marketing, you are going to get phone calls at some point about someone’s experience with your door rep. While you might have the best team in the world, some homeowners are going to call in a complaint, whether valid or not. By recording the call you’ll capture exactly what the homeowner’s feedback was, enabling you to work with your team to effectively resolve the issue if necessary.

#2. To Improve Phone Etiquette and Procedures

Recording calls allows you to quality control your customer service team. If you have one person answering the phone, you may be able to personally observe phone calls, but with multiple customer service representatives or an outsourced call center, you won’t be able to observe every call.

Some common offenses we hear are customer service representatives not identifying themselves or the company, placing callers on hold for unreasonable lengths of time, and rushing a caller off the phone. It’s understandable that your customer service representative is busy, but you’re spending time and money to make that phone ring. You want to be sure that your customer service representatives are handling ever call with as much care and attention as reasonably possible.

Having calls recorded can allow you to evaluate the customer service experience your customers and prospects receive, and to conduct extra training as necessary with an audio file as reference.

#3. To Improve Service

Your customer service representative team should already convey to you the phone feedback they receive regarding the quality of your service. By recording calls and listening to them, you’ll be able to hear directly from your customers what issues, concerns, or problems they’ve run into with your service. This insight will allow you to identify areas of the customer service experience that can be improved.

If you aren’t recording your calls, hopefully I’ve inspired you to start. The cost to record inbound calls is less than half a cent per minute with most providers. This is a nominal investment for the valuable data and insights you’ll gain to improve your business.

The author is president of WeGetLeads.com a search marketing and lead generation provider. He has more than 10 years of experience marketing and consulting for pest control companies.

 

5 Signs it’s Time to Say ‘Goodbye’ to a Customer (And How to Break Up the Right Way)

By Kate Zabriskie

Goodbye customer! It’s nothing personal (at least not usually). Sometimes customers’ expectations can’t be met, other times customers require an inordinate amount of time, and on rare occasions, a customer’s behavior may expose an organization to undue peril. When any of those situations occur, it’s best to say “goodbye” and to do so quickly in a way that creates the least resentment on both sides. Here are five signs it’s time to part company:

 

1. They cause 80 percent of your problems and don’t contribute even close to 80 percent of your revenue.

From time to time, any customer could require more energy than others. Those high-demand situations are normal. What isn’t normal, however, is the perpetual squeaky wheel that routinely disrupts normal business operations. Customers who buy very little and cost a lot time, personnel, or mental energy to service may not be the customers you want to keep — especially if serving them prevents you from taking care of customers or clients who are more profitable and easier to help.

>> Goodbye Move: When a customer is more work than it’s worth to you, the easiest way to say goodbye is to rely on the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” approach. For example: “Brad, I’m concerned. I’ve reviewed your account and have discovered that we’re doing a lot of rework and revisions to the projects we have with your firm. I’ve concluded that there has got to be someone who is a better fit for you. We’re not hitting the mark with you the way we do with our other clients. This isn’t good for you or us.” If after that they insist on staying anyway, consider raising your rates accordingly.

 

2.They are abusive to your employees.

When management allows customers to abuse employees, it’s the same as perpetrating the abuse directly. Do customers swear, yell, demean, or harass your employees? If so, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and let them know what behavior is and isn’t acceptable. “Julie, we have a no profanity rule here. Respect is one of our core values, and we’ve agreed that we don’t yell and swear at our clients or each other.” If the bad behavior continues, the relationship should stop. “But she’s our best customer. She has a lot of sway.” Maybe so. She’s also the poison that potentially exposes the organization to a lawsuit, erodes morale, and negatively affects the culture.

>> Goodbye Move: When someone is abusive, again, it’s best to say goodbye and to do so in a calm and professional manner. “Julie, you’re obviously unhappy, and my employees are too. For the benefit of everyone, at this point I think it’s best that we part company. We both deserve better.”

 

3.Their behavior is out of touch with your ethics policies and practices.

You are the company you keep. If you are enabling your customers to act in a way that is in disagreement with your organization’s values or the law, it may be time to say goodbye. Do you really want to associate yourself and your organization with those whose business practices are illegal, immoral, or routinely questionable? When you like the people on a personal level, it can feel like a tough decision when you’re making it. The good news is once you do, you won’t look back.

>> Goodbye Move: When someone or an organization exposes you to unneeded risk, it’s prudent to disassociate yourself and your organization from them pronto. “We’re a very conservative organization. While we understand others have a more robust appetite for risk, it’s typically something we avoid. For that reason, another vendor is probably going to better meet your needs. At this point, we’re really just not a good fit.”

 

4.They expose you to unneeded financial risk.

If you spend more time chasing payments than performing work, it’s time to consider a new payment plan at a minimum or a permanent breakup if that step doesn’t solve the problem.

>> Goodbye Move: Just as it doesn’t make sense to stay involved with someone who exposes you to ethical and legal risks, an organization that puts your pocketbook on the line is probably best avoided. “Janet, I know we’ve tried a range of payment options to make this relationship work. At this point, we simply don’t have the financial appetite to accommodate your payment schedule. For that reason, I’m asking you to find another vendor. We can’t accommodate the work.”

 

5.You’re no longer a good fit.

Sometimes people and organizations grow apart. Nobody has done anything wrong; the two parties are just in different places and it’s time to say goodbye.

>> Goodbye Move: This last goodbye is the hardest. When you find you and your customer are no longer compatible, it’s a good idea to start the conversation with something open-ended. “Bill, tell me a little bit about how you see your business growing in the next few years.” Assuming Bill isn’t planning for growth, you might continue with: “It’s good to hear that you’re comfortable where you are. That’s a nice place and a future goal of ours. As you may know, we’re on a growth strategy and have been for a couple of years. What concerns me is our ability to give you the attention in the future that we’ve been able to give you in the past. I think you deserve to work with a partner company that can make your work priority number one, and right now I don’t think that’s us.”

FINAL THOUGHTS. No matter the reason, prolonging a relationship that isn’t working does no one any favors. It’s usually not fun to say “goodbye,” but once you do, you’ll have more time to say “hello” to customers who should conduct business with you.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Five Ways to Navigate Online Reviews

Online reviews can be a critical factor in how a consumer decides where to take their business. Research conducted by the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) in September 2017 revealed that review websites are one of the top three sources that Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers rely on when searching for pest control services. It is important for companies to be aware of how online reviews affect their sales, as well as what they can do to manage them most efficiently.

#1. Pay attention to online review sites.

Yelp, Google and Angie’s List are the most influential review sites for information about pest control services, according to the PPMA. Keep your business’s profile on these sites updated and set up Google Alerts, so you are notified when posts mentioning your company appear online.

 

#2. Stay connected on social media.

Many consumers use social media to interact with companies. On Facebook, users can post ratings and write reviews of local businesses, including pest management companies. Keep an eye out for what people are saying about your services on social media networks.

 

#3. Reply to reviews as quickly as possible.

Not responding to negative reviews may give consumers the impression that a company does not care about its customers’ experiences. The most effective way to resolve an issue is to publicly reply to the review and then handle the customer’s concerns through a private phone call or email. Consumers anticipate quick responses from companies, so aim to reply to all reviews within 24 hours. If you wait too long, the consumer may share their concerns on other review sites or social media.

 

#4. Identify fake reviews.

It is becoming increasingly more common for companies to receive illegitimate reviews, commonly from competitors or professional reviewers. If it seems like a user has posted something inaccurate about your business, report it to the review website. The review website will evaluate the review’s content and determine if it violates its policies and standards.

 

#5. Encourage customers to leave reviews.

Receiving positive reviews can help alleviate the effects of bad ones. Encourage your customers to review your company by expressing that you value their opinion and would appreciate their feedback. Make it easy for them to find your business online by giving out leave-behinds that include your company’s social media usernames and sending follow-up emails with a link to your Yelp page. You can also use positive reviews as testimonials and feature them on your website or social media accounts. — Paige Bennett