One of the lessons we can take away from living through the COVID-19 pandemic is that we often don’t know the level of hardship, loss or frustration others may be enduring. It’s a good reminder that empathy, kindness and compassion are among the most valuable tools you can take into a customer’s home or business. Pest infestations tend to throw people off balance in good times; now that we’re living in more trying times, they need calming reassurance more than ever before.

Elijah Miller of Reign Pest Management has built his business on not only having the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide his customers with exceptional pest management solutions, but also being genuinely concerned about their well-being. Having studied theology at Zion Bible Institute (now Northpoint Bible College) in Haverhill, Mass., Miller has felt the calling to minister to others since he was 16. Today, as a minister at Soul Winners Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., he says his dual roles require similar insight.

“My experience in the ministry helps me better understand and connect with my customers. I’ve become a better, more patient listener, which gives me insight into what people are feeling,” Miller shares. “When someone is struggling financially or having family issues, for example, what they need is someone to hear them, see them, help them.”

Miller offers tips for building strong relationships with customers, understanding their state of mind and making sure you take good care of your own.

PMP and minister Elijah Miller suggests practicing empathy and truly listening to customers to foster positive connections.

Building Relationships.

How you approach people makes all the difference. Miller offers a list of effective behaviors:

Connect. Gaining a customer’s trust requires you to be mindful of their personality and how they communicate so that you can connect with them in a meaningful way. “When I first came to Memphis from Chicago, it took my customers and me a while to understand one another because of the regional differences in the way people speak,” Miller says. “I realized then how important it is to adjust your approach to the person you’re speaking with to make sure they feel comfortable. You never want to come off as judgmental or aloof. Communicate ‘I’m here to help’ in whatever way they will best understand.”

Show Respect. This one’s easy: Wear shoe covers, don’t text or talk on your phone unless it’s to get an answer to a customer concern, and be respectful in all conversations. In short, always be considerate of your customers and their property.

Listen and Hear. While it’s great to think some options over based on what you know before going into an account, don’t let a preconceived notion get in your way of actually hearing what the customer says. They will share information about their pest issue, as well as their concerns and expectations. Each of these is important to know as you strive to get the
                                                                job done right.

Be Empathetic. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. How would you feel if you had this issue? How would you want the situation to be handled? What would help you trust this person coming into your home?

Keep Lines of Communication Open. Find out what the customer’s preferred method of communication is — phone, text, email or paper — so they will welcome any communication from you. Also make it easy for them to request a service call, pay their bill or ask questions.

Share Your Knowledge. Educating customers about the pest and the treatment process empowers them to play their part in control efforts and helps them see the value you bring to the situation. “Customers don’t pay you for just what you do but what you know,” Miller says.

Project a Positive Self-Image. Set out to make a good impression. A clean vehicle, neat appearance and upbeat attitude set the stage for a positive experience.

Overcoming Fear.

As you know, it’s not unusual for customers to feel some level of fear or embarrassment over their pest issues. By responding with empathy and confidence, you can de-escalate the tension and put them at ease.

Look the Part. “It’s important to wear a face mask to the door, to show the customer right away you are respectful of their health. I also gear up in gloves, knee pads, my tool pouch — right away, the customer sees that I mean business. This gives them the peace of mind of knowing that help is at hand,” Miller says.

Reassure Them. If the customer is clearly embarrassed to be telling you about their bed bugs, cockroaches or other pests, let them know that you’ve helped plenty of people with similar issues. Explain that bed bugs are hitchhikers and not some reflection of whether or not their house is clean, and remind them that you are there to resolve the problem.

Go Straight to the Trouble Spot. Once you’ve talked the matter over with the customer, waste no time asking to see where they have seen or heard activity.

Share the Plan. After assessing the issue, tell your customer how you plan to approach it. Knowing you have a well-thought-out plan of action can be a real comfort. “Many times, customers will complain that another company came in and took their money but didn’t solve the problem,” Miller says. “I tell them I’m sorry that happened and explain what’s different about my action plan. I make sure they understand that I am reliable and accessible, and that I stand behind my service.”

Do as Much as You Can in That Visit. If you can take care of the issue in one visit, great. If it’s going to take more, then explain when and how you will follow up. Every customer wants their circumstances to be better when you leave than they were when you arrived.

Follow Up. Whether through a visit or a phone call, check back to ensure the pest issue is resolved. Not resolved yet? Get back there in a hurry!

Miller shares a quote by author and brand strategist Jay Danzie that helps him stay focused on providing the best customer care: “Your smile is your logo, your personality is your business card, and how you leave others feeling after having an experience with you becomes your trademark.”

Taking Care of Yourself.

Putting on a happy face and really being there for your customers all day long, day after day, can be exhausting. Remember to take good care of yourself. Eat right, sleep well and de-stress whenever you can.

“As I drive from account to account, I listen to something uplifting — classical music or jazz to unwind, or if I need to re- energize, I might listen to John Maxwell’s ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,’” Miller says. “I also think back to what my dad taught me from his experience at American Airlines: Always put the customer first. If they get angry, respond softly. Treat them with the same kindness you extend to your own family. You never know what problems they might be facing.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.