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Editor’s note: The National Pest Management Association’s Global Bed Bug Summit 2020 was held as a virtual event in December 2020. Pest management industry journalist Frances McKim filed the following report for PCT.

Presented very much as a lively double act, Joey Hoke from American Pest Management, Manhattan, Kan., and Jen Fox from Terminix International, Temecula, Calif., explained what is required to put a top-notch bed bug program into place.

Setting the scene for the talk, Fox, director of service for quality and compliance for the Terminix residential business, explained that pest control itself is a unique service industry, but within the industry, there are several service lines each based on a particular pest or problem, including bed bugs. She and Hoke then shared the following tips for developing a strong bed bug service program.

ESTABLISH YOUR SOP. Bed bugs come with their own specific challenges, so it is essential that a company establishes Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

As Hoke, vice president for employment engagement at American Pest Management, explained, “Your first step is to create your SOP. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. If starting out, there are lots of resources available, such as the NPMA Bed Bug Best Practices. Or, if as a company you are already doing bed bug work and have an established crew, find the best technicians and use their experiences [and] quantify these and put them into your SOP.”

As a part of this, decide how many people should go out on a bed bug job, irrespective of the type of service, be it chemical, heat treatment or fumigation. Without doubt, a minimum of two staffers is the number both speakers strongly recommended. Over the past year, COVID-19 made it difficult for companies to send multiple technicians to the same account, as PMPs had to decide if technicians should travel together or in separate vehicles.

However, Fox and Hoke explained that a lot of physical effort is involved in bed bug work, and if performing one treatment after another, one person alone will simply be unable to deliver a top-notch service. “For example, one person on their own is going to struggle flipping over a couch to inspect for bugs below it,” Hoke said.

Making sure you have the right tools for the job is fundamental. “At this particular time with the coronavirus, some clients are very sensitive to having technicians in their homes, so having the right protective clothing is vital. Not just to protect the client but also to protect the technicians going into the house,” Fox explained.

A good flashlight should always be part of the kit, and with a solid checklist as part of your SOP, it won’t be forgotten. A handy recommendation from Hoke is the use of a lint roller, ideal for tracking down eggs or nymphs on light-colored cloth. Another idea when treating high-rise buildings is a small cart to load all equipment in. “Anything practical that makes the job easier for the technician is worth the investment,” said Fox. “By making a technician’s life easier, they can spend more time searching out problems and doing a more thorough and professional job.”

PMPs need to recognize that no two locations are the same. Bed bugs are unique, and so are the locations. Nursing homes require a different approach than low-income housing, hotels or schools. All regulatory and compliance requirements must be adhered to in each location. “There is no such thing as a bed bug cookie-cutter account — every job is unique,” said Hoke. “When creating your SOP, consider carefully where you will be treating. Each different location really needs its own unique SOP.”

It is key that all knowledge and experience is passed on and shared within the company. Fox suggested technicians go out with experienced technicians, asking questions and learning from what they do. Capture their tips and tricks. As Hoke said, “There are no trade secrets at American Pest Management. If you want to know how we do something, ask and I will tell you. By doing top-notch work, it brings everyone’s game up, and this, in the long run, not only helps my company but the whole industry.”

BEST TECHNICIAN TRAITS. Having your procedures in place, you now need the technicians. What makes a great bed bug technician? Bed bug work is different and requires a different skill set than everyday GPC work.

In quite an impassioned statement, Fox explained how a technician can become desensitized when they perform bed bug work continuously. But, for a customer, particularly a homeowner, having bed bugs in their house can be a traumatic experience. They likely will have a whole series of questions. So the most important characteristic in a good technician is compassion. The technician needs to recognize this and explain that they are there to assist the customer and resolve the problem.

Second, they need to be inquisitive. Ask questions. Think outside the box. Dedication is also called for. Tenacity is needed, as callbacks are likely. The technician must be willing to follow procedures until success is achieved.

But the technician also must be a good communicator to manage the customer’s expectations. For example, they should explain what they are going to do, what is happening and why something might not be working as quickly as the customer might like.

Attention to detail is another key characteristic. Every little detail has to be examined and considered. Leave no stone unturned. One screw hole missed on a bed frame may well lead to that callback.

Summing things up, Hoke said, “Finding the right person is the heart of the matter. If you find the right technician, they will have these qualities. If you keep this person engaged within the company, they will stay with you and more than likely end up in management. You will want them and recognize them as a leader.”

Hoke explained that finding any new employees now isn’t easy, never mind someone with these characteristics. “Always have your eye out,” he said. “If you find the right person, do whatever it takes to keep them as part of your organization.”

TRAINING. Having found the right person, how do you get them up and running? Classroom training is one way, and training aids to carry with you are useful, but both speakers agree that there is nothing like on-the-job training. Hoke said, “Don’t let a technician go out alone — not until they have been out numerous times with experienced technicians. An old hand will be able to point things out you might never ever have thought of. If new to the sector, reach out to other NPMA members, and they can share with you a world of knowledge. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel!”

COMPANY COMMITMENT. Having all the procedures and excellent technicians in place is ideal, but they need the full support of the company behind them. Everyone from the top to the bottom of the company must understand the procedures, the program and the expectations so they know how to back up the technicians in their work.

The technician must know he or she is supported. As Hoke explained, “You want a technician to think outside the box, but they must feel comfortable that you give them the authority to go outside the accepted procedures. They will come across situations which your SOP doesn’t cover. So long as they are performing ethically, legally and morally, let them come up with the solution.”

Commitment is not just to the technician, it’s also to the client. Clients need to know the company is standing behind them too. If you offer a bed bug program, the client needs to know you will be there until the problem has been solved. Every part of the company must follow the same process and give consistent information so the client knows exactly what is to occur and what input they are required to make. With conflicting details from anyone in the company, the client will become dissatisfied.

“Bed bugs are the most emotional journey I have been on,” Fox concluded. “It’s a great service to offer, and I get real satisfaction taking care of clients’ problems and letting them once again sleep comfortably in bed without fear of being bitten.”

The author is a UK-based freelance journalist. She was the co-founder of the independent Pest magazine and its accompanying website, Pest+.