Pest management professionals say educating customers is the most challenging part of bed bug control.

But your ability to eliminate the pests is far greater if you can enlist their help as informed partners, whether that’s preparing the site for treatment or stopping the cycle of bed bug re-introductions.

Getting clients on board is a particular skill of Tom Sieminski, owner of Team Pest Control in Sayville, N.Y. He’s a former high school biology and chemistry teacher and once an educator, always an educator, he says. “I’m still teaching,” he adds.

Like many in the industry, Sieminski got into pest control “by accident.” The teacher wanted to make more money, so he began buying and renting houses. He asked his friend who performed pest control at these properties to teach him how; the friend said he couldn’t do that but encouraged Sieminski to take the certification course. Before long, Sieminski was doing pest control for his school colleagues as a “moonlight” job. When he retired from teaching in 2002, he stepped into pest control full time. He now has five technicians and provides service in New York City and the Long Island areas.

HAVING THE TALK. The conversation Sieminski has with customers before bed bug work begins is most important. This is where he sets expectations and explains bed bug biology so they understand the reason for mattress encasements, the timing of follow-up inspections and “why the dryer is their best friend.”

He allots an hour for this talk. Customers ask a lot of questions and you have to be able to address them all, he points out.

“I make sure I am patient and I’m listening to their questions; I’m sensing their anxieties and I’m trying to make them feel better. When you make someone feel better, there’s a greater chance that they’re going to trust you and listen to you and honor the instructions you’ve given them,” says Sieminski, who learned this by coaching youth basketball.

He suggests five steps to gain the support of customers:

1. Say You’re Sorry. When someone calls and says, “I think I have bed bugs,” Sieminski’s first response is, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”

“I give them my empathy first. If I say that, I already can hear their lungs expand and they’re like, ‘Oh, thank you for telling me you understand what I’m feeling.’”

 

2. Tell Me Everything. Next, Sieminski asks the customer to tell him everything and leave nothing out. He wants to hear the customer’s story. For example, where the client recently visited or who visited her, how she traveled, when bed bugs were first noticed.

During this time, “I’m putting it all together, sort of like a detective,” he says. Sieminski thanks the client for sharing and asks if it’s OK for him to now ask some questions. He then becomes “the one who’s overturning the rocks they forgot to overturn.” Key questions he asks include which rooms the client considers to be hot spots, where the suitcases are stored, which closet is available to use to quarantine items. “I’m starting to get them to see I’m doing my side to prepare for what I need to do,” he explains.

3. Connect Treatment to Bug Biology. When explaining how treatment works, Sieminski doesn’t just say he’s going to spray XYZ product here and put ABC product under there; clients don’t understand what this means. Instead, he explains how his treatment strategy syncs with the biology of the bed bug. This helps clients clearly see why he applies products to certain areas, why follow-up inspections take place when they do, why mattress encasements are installed, why items must be put in the dryer on high heat. He uses simple terms (no industry jargon) and explains what the treatment will accomplish.

“Then I say to them, ‘Do you feel any better?’ and usually I get, ‘Yes, I feel so much better now that I’ve spoken with you,’” he says.

4. Explain Their Role. He then asks clients to review the information on bed bugs on his website, but not to confuse their internet search with his master’s degree. Then he laughs and says he’s going to send the client a quiz at the end of the week “so they know I’m still being a teacher” and that they have some homework due.

“I also try to instill in my customers that they have to become part of the team,” and that they have responsibilities, as well for the treatment to succeed. Sieminski asks clients to download the site preparation guidelines from his website. If they can’t or don’t want to undertake prep themselves, he tells them he understands and that arrangements can be made to have his team undertake site preparation.

5. Discuss Price Last.

Finally, Sieminski visits the residence to perform an inspection. “I give them the price at the very end when I’m done with the inspection,” he says. He also allots time to answer any additional questions the client may have.

“We take care of very demanding people,” says Sieminski, whose affluent clients include professional athletes, celebrities, lawyers and doctors. While his bed bug work comes strictly from word of mouth, many PMPs emphasize the benefits of service in their bed bug control marketing efforts.

According to the PCT 2020 State of the Bed Bug Control Market survey, which was sponsored by Bayer and conducted by independent research firm Readex Research, key marketing messages are having certified technicians (61 percent), excellent control (57 percent), a service guarantee (49 percent) and free inspections (44 percent).

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.