“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fire on Christmas Eve?” was the question (statement?) my wife posed in November, to which I responded, “Sure, that’s a great idea.” Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of using our fireplace. I prefer to keep the house a bit cooler and although I have no scientific data to support this theory, I think fires disrupt the overall heat distribution in a home. In fact, since we moved into our house three years ago, we have never used our fireplace. But the one time of year I do like making a fire is around Christmas. (I also might make a fire for a Super Bowl party should my beloved Cleveland Browns ever make it...but I’m not holding my breath!)

Since our fireplace thus far has gone unused, I thought the responsible thing to do was get it inspected and cleaned. Where would I find such a service provider? It was more of a challenge than I originally figured. As it turned out my family and friends either do not have fireplaces or they have converted their fireplaces to gas. So, I asked my neighbor. He informed me he has a gas fireplace, but he gave me a good suggestion: ask the local hearth store for a recommendation.

I called the local hearth store and was given the names/contact information of three companies. My next step was to go online and do some investigative work. Based on a quick browsing of all three websites, none of the three companies stood out, but none raised any red flags either. They all looked very professional and included terms like “BBB accredited” and “fully bonded and insured.” My next step was to check out online reviews. Here’s what I found: (1) company A failed to respond to any reviews, good or bad; (2) company B sort of responded with what appeared to be boilerplate messages; and (3) company C responded with actual detailed answers from the owner. Guess which company I chose? Yep, company C, whose owner took the time and care to respond. I figured if his attention to detail in responding to online reviews was that thorough, he will go the extra mile for me when inspecting and cleaning our chimney.

I tried the same online review exercise with several pest control companies in the U.S. For the most part, I was impressed by what I saw. The reviews were generally good, and when they weren’t, the responses were very appropriate. For example, one negative reviewer left his full name. The astute PCO researched his account before he responded. He then responded by thanking that customer for his years of business, provided possible scenarios why his pest problem was not resolved, and concluded by asking the customer to call him personally. I would think that PCO has a good chance of saving that customer. Regardless, that PCO might be able to secure new business from a potential customer reading online reviews who was impressed with the way he handled that situation.

Without really knowing it, I have become a consumer of the present/future, and my experience is probably not all that different from that of your customers/prospective customers. It used to be that when a customer had a pest problem, he or she would grab the Yellow Pages and perhaps their finger would land on the name of a local pest control company that had a catchy jingle or brightly colored service vehicle they remember seeing parked in their neighborhood. Now, the path that leads today’s customers to your company often starts on the Web and sometimes the online review is the clincher. And on a side note, don’t wait until late November to get your chimney cleaned. My chimney cleaner was booked solid until mid-January, so no Christmas Eve fire in our house!

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One of the highlights of this month’s issue is our annual Technician of the Year Awards coverage (beginning on page 55). We think that you will agree that this year’s winners — Danielle Whitley, Massey Services (residential category); Rob Heisner, McCloud Services (commercial category); and John “J.D.” Donaldson, Parker Pest Control (termite category) — are truly representative of the best that the pest control industry has to offer.

The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT magazine and can be contacted via email at bharbison@gie.net.