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Whether a pest management fleet is made up of four vehicles or 400, pest management business owners are purchasing GPS services to help them reduce fleet operating costs, improve operations and routing, effectively manage employees and improve their bottom line. And with some basic plans starting at less than $100 per month, services are increasingly affordable.

“Our deployment of our GPS solution has continued to increase with wide adoption based on the business management benefits GPS can provide PCOs,” said John Cole, director of mobile solutions at ServicePro.

CAN YOU SEE ME NOW? One of the biggest benefits to GPS tracking is finding where you need to be. “Nothing is worse for a technician than spending 20 minutes to try and find a home when it doesn’t pull up properly in Google Maps — except treating the wrong home,” said Jared Green, founder of PestRoutes pest control software. “We let the technicians adjust the latitude and longitude coordinates while they are on location and show a picture of the home they are going to treat.”

In addition to confirming the service location, GPS tracking also can be a resource for dispatch to get technicians to each stop more efficiently. “If you aren’t using a vehicle-installed GPS tracking solution, chances are once your team heads out for the day, there is very little known about their location or job status unless dispatch calls to get updates,” said Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for GPS Insight. “With GPS tracking, dispatch can see all vehicles live on a map and all routes taken. They can determine who is closest to the next job, and if need be, they can send routes to drivers without printing anything or picking up the phone. Best of all dispatch can provide accurate ETAs to customers.”

BETTER CUSTOMER SERVICE. But that’s not the only way GPS services help PMPs better serve their customers. “Pest control companies use the technology to respond quickly to customer emergencies, provide location information to customers, service more customers per day, confirm job completion and bill more accurately,” said Driscoll.

Cole added that these services also safeguard technicians from customer complaints. “As an example, if a customer disputes whether work has been done, GPS allows real-time proof that the employee was onsite and servicing the customer’s needs,” he said. “With the ability to potentially increase customer service satisfaction, this benefits the employees with increased business and provides more opportunities for employees in the future, especially those based on commission.”

PROACTIVE POLICIES. In addition to validating time technicians spent at service locations, GPS service also has the capability of alerting managers when a vehicle is out for a joy ride.

“With PestPac’s GPS solution, you can also set geofences to create a virtual perimeter around a specific geographic location and define authorized operating hours,” said Andrew de la Chapelle, an industry strategist for mobile technologies and WorkWave. “The system will send an alert to appropriate company personnel when vehicles enter or exit a geofenced area or if vehicles are used outside of authorized times.”

While the GPS tracking cuts down on unsanctioned use of trucks and supplies, it also decreases the costs associated with maintaining a fleet.

According to Driscoll, a standard GPS service can cut fuel costs by reducing speeding, idling, unauthorized usage, poor routing and fuel card fraud. It also can reduce labor costs by offering a comparison between time cards to time stamped location information and routes.

It even decreases maintenance costs by tracking all required maintenance, and automatically reminding management and drivers when it’s time to get serviced.

And if the truck breaks down, some GPS services even come bundled with roadside assistance. “A huge benefit has been the roadside assistance feature,” said Ray Johnson, owner of Johnson Pest Control, which utilizes Network Fleet through Verizon. “We have utilized this benefit five to six times. If one of our vehicles breaks down, we just call them and they send a tow truck with no charge and tow the vehicle to the office or repair shop. We don’t even have to provide a location, they are able to directly pull it from the GPS.”

SAFE DRIVING. According to Driscoll, not only do GPS services keep the actual vehicles in safe, working condition, they also promote safe driving techniques.

“GPS solutions also give management the ability to coach and monitor driver behavior,” he said. “This is something that has literally been impossible to do unless they sat shotgun with the driver.”

According to de la Chapelle, the average vehicle crash can cost an employer about $16,000, plus cause as much damage to the brand as the vehicle. “PestPac’s Driver Behavior increases safety using in-vehicle alerts for risky driving behaviors such as harsh braking, cornering and excessive acceleration,” he said. “The feature helps improve driving behavior in real-time, and provides robust reporting for managers to identify drivers in need of additional safety training. With the Driver Behavior feature, you can reward good drivers and even set up friendly competitions to help further reduce risky behaviors.”

Driscoll said proactively improving fleet safety with driver safety tools can lead to reduced insurance premiums and ensures that drivers are using your moving billboards to uphold a positive public image.

Although GPS services provide a slew of benefits, the key takeaway is they can bring business owners and management out to the field, even when they can’t get away from the office.

“A pest management company’s entire business is in the field so the more insight a business owner can have into field operations, the better equipped they are to make informed decisions and improve their business operations,” said de la Chapelle. “GPS not only helps companies provide better service in real time, with advanced reporting and historical data, it also helps pest management professionals constantly improve operations.”

Device installation is simple, and generally takes less than an hour, plus starting charges for service and equipment can be as little as $20 per vehicle.

According to Driscoll, the only downside when it comes to GPS services is not utilizing them. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” he said. “You lose ROI and savings just waiting to jump to your bottom line.”

Although agreeing to a contract may seem like a no brainer, de la Chapelle recommends vetting the provider before signing on the dotted line.

“When looking into GPS providers, be aware of the contract length and terms offered,” he said. “Be careful not to sign an agreement with an excessively long contract length. As long as you go with a trusted provider there should be no cons to implementing a GPS solution.”

EMPLOYEE COMMUNICATION. After finding the ideal service provider for a company’s specific needs, the manager has to present the new service to his or her team, which can look a lot like “big brother.”

Beau O’Hara, COO of Anstar products, a company that provides FieldWork, an intuitive a mobile pest control GPS app, stresses that the GPS does not serve as a spy tool, but rather as an advocate for the employee. “I think you need to explain to the employee that this is not about tracking them, as much as it is about providing excellent customer service,” said O’Hara. “These type of tools allow the businesses to schedule better and give customers answers as to when techs will arrive on site. It is a valuable tool.”

De la Chapelle said that when it comes to concerns about implementation, communication is key.

“The best way to address any potential concerns is to be transparent with your technicians,” he said. “Let them know you have a plan to implement a GPS system and discuss the reasons with them.”

And although having all that data can make it tempting to dig into every detail, Green recommends taking a step back.

“It’s important to be on the same team as your employees,” he said. “We recommend using GPS as a tool to identify trends in employee behavior as well as correlations between actions and customer responses — not as a tool to micro manage.”

Laura Straub is a Cleveland-based freelancer.