Consumers have diverse opinions when it comes to rodents and their control.
Some favor a scorched earth policy — kill them all! — while others want pest management professionals to live-trap the vermin and release them elsewhere. (None of the PMPs we interviewed do this, despite a growing number of client requests.)
Ultimately, however, customers want the pests gone, which makes gaining their buy-in essential. After all, they have responsibilities, too, if you are going to solve the problem and achieve lasting control.
Pros-in-the-know shared tips for how to gain client support.
MAKE IT PERSONAL. “I think there’s an onus on us pest control operators to educate our clients, not just go in, do the service and disappear,” said Nate Nunnally, CEO of Custom West Pest Control, Missoula, Mont.
Yes, the grocery store and assistant store managers are busy people, but you need to build relationships with them. “I want to make sure they know who I am almost on a first-name basis, and I also require that of all of my staff,” said Nunnally.
In addition, get to know other key employees like the person in charge of facility maintenance, who can be a huge help when it comes to doing rodent-proofing and exclusion work. “They have a budget to work with,” he explained. “It’s their job to make sure those door seals are fixed.”
Communicating with residential customers is just as important, especially if you’re performing outdoor perimeter treatments and not meeting face to face. If customers don’t understand the value of the service you’re providing, they may be inclined to drop it.
“You’ve got to talk to your client on a regular basis,” reminded Nunnally, “because there’s nothing worse — and I’ve experienced this by not being a good communicator — than when your client calls up and says, ‘You know, I keep getting this bill from you but I never see you, I never hear from you, I don’t even know what you’re doing for me, so I don’t want to pay that bill anymore.’”
Help clients understand how your service is essential to their overall success. “We can’t see our own success until we’ve made our clients successful in their pest management issues,” said Nunnally.
UNDERSTAND HEALTH RISKS. Consumers generally do not appreciate the health risks associated with rodents, reported PMPs in the 2021 PCT State of the Rodent Control Market survey, which was sponsored by Bell Laboratories and compiled by Readex Research, an independent research firm based in Stillwater, Minn.
In fact, while nearly half (49 percent) of PMPs believed the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the industry’s role as protectors of public health, only 21 percent thought the public fully understood the health risks associated with rodents.
PMPs felt consumers did not understand that rodents trigger allergies and asthma (64 percent), cause fires by gnawing on wires (63 percent), bite infants and children (59 percent), contaminate food (45 percent), cause structural damage to homes (42 percent) and potentially vector disease (38 percent).
There also isn’t a shortage of risk. According to the survey, most PMPs said the number of house mouse, Norway rat and roof rat infestations in their markets either increased or remained steady over the past year.
That said, only 22 percent of pest control companies emphasized the public health risks of rodents when advertising their rodent control services.
WHAT’S INVOLVED AND WHY. Explain to customers what rodent control service involves: the specific activities, frequency of site visits, time frame and how integrated pest management (IPM) works.
And when it comes to IPM, “let’s practice what we preach,” said Nunnally. Prioritize sealing entry points, rodent-proofing structures, reducing habitat, improving sanitation and actively monitoring for and documenting rodent activity.
More PMPs are using electronic means to record rodent activity and control practices, providing customers with data and trend reports that are easier to analyze and act upon. According to the PCT survey, 20.8 percent of PMPs on average used electronic service records for rodent control in 2021, up from 16.2 percent in 2014.
Customers also should understand the potential for additional fees and expenses. Pricing jobs can be a challenge, especially when every rodent control job is different.
“It can be as simple as catching one or two (rodents) and being done, or it can draw out for weeks or months,” explained Glenn Fordham, owner-operator of Olympic Pest & Termite Control in metro Atlanta. Before quoting jobs, Fordham always inspects the site. He often gets called after people have tried to take care of the problem themselves, and by that time, “it’s already gotten to be a big issue,” he said. He added he’s also seen people leave toxic bait laying out “where anything could get into it.”
Improper use of toxicants can lead to secondary poisoning of non-target animals and resistance issues in rodent populations. According to the PCT survey, rodenticide resistance was a concern for 41 percent of PMPs in 2021, up from 29 percent in 2014.
For Fordham’s existing general pest customers, rodent management is an add-on service. His technicians inspect for signs of rodent activity during service visits and upsell customers once activity is documented to prevent a major infestation from occurring.
FOOD AND RODENT ISSUES. To eliminate the conducive conditions that attract rodents to structures, PMPs need the help of customers. “They play as important a role as you do as the professional,” reminded Marty Overline, president of Aardvark Pest Management in Philadelphia.
Their willingness to help is linked to your relationship and professional expertise. “They’re really paying you for your knowledge,” Overline said, not your ability to check traps.
As such, educate clients on the reasons why rodents are attracted to the property. “(Access to) food is the No. 1 important thing,” said Overline.
Knowing this, clients may be more willing to put garage-stored dog food in sealed containers, clean out garbage bins and more frequently power wash commercial trash collection areas, repair parking lot potholes that collect rainwater, sweep up trash and even pick up fruit that has fallen from trees.
Bird feeders are the biggest rodent draw in Fordham’s market. To better see the birds, customers put the feeders close to windows, but the fallen seeds attract rats to the house. “That is a huge issue in our area, because everybody likes to feed birds,” said Fordham. “I like to feed birds, but they need to be away from the house.”
And sometimes, it takes a community to address the food source of rodents. In Huntington Beach, Calif., rats have access to trash and food from homeless encampments, which makes bait in stations less appealing.
“Food is just all over the place,” said John Ethridge, president of Seashore Pest Control. “As long as there’s an abundant food source, they’re not going to go looking for it in a black box.”
DO IT, THEN BILL. Sometimes, an appeal for structural repairs and exclusion will fall on deaf ears. If the client won’t make structural improvements after repeated requests, and they’re OK with you “doing your best” despite the potential consequences, make sure you have solid documentation to protect yourself should a rodent infestation occur at some point.
In some cases, you may want to take a calculated risk by making the needed repairs yourself and charging the client for the extra work. PMPs need to appreciate and respect where clients are coming from and balance this with what they were hired to provide: results. Sometimes, this means sending them an extra bill for installing a door seal or sealing an opening, said Nunnally.