Maintaining Customer Service Expectations With a Diminished Workforce
Brett Lieberman, owner and CEO of My Pest Pros in Fairfax County, Virginia, doesn’t have to go far to experience great customer service. He finds it every time he’s in a drive-thru, picking up a chicken sandwich.
“Look at Chick-fil-A. Is their chicken sandwich the best out there? People would say no, but it’s their customer service,” Lieberman said.
In fact, he believes so strongly in the differences that he once sent an employee to a McDonald’s drive-thru and Chick-fil-A to compare the difference. “While she admitted that it was overall a better experience at Chick-fil-A, she still preferred McDonald’s because it was wham, bam and you’re out the door. She didn’t want the chit chat.” It quickly became clear that employee was not a good fit for Lieberman’s company.
Good customer service remains at the heart of pest control—and the fact that it is challenging to hire employees doesn’t seem to matter.
“I understand the workforce challenges when I go out to eat. I’m tipping my server more,” said Sara Cromwell, director of people excellence at Abell Pest Control. “But I don’t have a mouse in my house, or a bed bug infestation. Customers understand that it is hard to find workers, but when you’re in a state of fear, you don’t care.”
But how can a pest company maintain the level of quality service with fewer workers? In some ways, it comes back to creative solutions, technology and good old-fashioned training.
Step 1: Keep Who You Have
While Cromwell has seen hiring improve in recent months, “over the pandemic, it was quite difficult.” Abell invested in its employees, customers and community. “We didn’t want to lose that touch,” Cromwell said. With turnover, she’s hiring between 100 and 150 people per year for the 600-person team. This turnover comes even though Abell was recently named one of the Best Places to Work in Canada 2023 by global research and consulting firm Great Place to Work, and was also named a Best Workplace for Women. Working on building relationships with employees has helped reduce turnover, she said.
Lieberman has found the same thing, and My Pest Pros has upped its 401(k) and offers fully paid healthcare. It also does things for the employees’ families, such as renting out a luxury box at a local minor league baseball game. “We’re trying to do more for employees to make them feel appreciated.”
Happier employees are not only more likely to stay, but also more likely to buy-in to company values about customer service and to deliver.
It also has meant providing flexibility when appropriate. Abell has experimented with work-from-home for certain positions. “If they have a little sniffle, if they feel they can continue to work, they can continue do so,” Cromwell said.
While the same thing isn’t available for field staff, flexibility means a sick employee can make up the hours later, if they choose to. Abell also offers staff the ability to work overtime to help ease shortages. “There are always people at different stages of life. Some maybe want to take on more and get more money so they can save for that down payment on a house. When we’re able to offer that to them, it helps them and us,” Cromwell said.
Today’s workers demand that level of flexibility. While Lieberman prefers his staff be in the office, “if the choice is somebody being off or working remotely, we’re able to give them that flexibility.” That is in part thanks to cloud-based CRM and phone system.
He also would like to implement alternative scheduling, such as working Tuesday through Saturday or potentially experimenting with a four-day work week. “We’ve looked at it, but we haven’t cracked that yet. It’s an issue of staffing size,” he said. My Pest Pros has about 10 technicians.
Step 2: Work Smarter Through Technology
During the height of the pandemic, both Abell and My Pest Pros leaned heavily on technology as a solution. Abell offered e-ticketing, which allows customers to receive an invoice via email. Technicians use a handheld device and use voice command to communicate with customers. An added bonus: “Customers can read it more easily,” Cromwell said.
Staff meetings—once a monthly branch meeting at the office—was moved to Teams, something that continues. “Some of our technicians might be three or four hours from the branch,” Cromwell said. “Now we’re able to do it more frequently and have more training.”
And that keeps technicians on the road.
With My Pest Pros technicians navigating Washington, D.C.-area traffic, the roads were the problem and routing software the solution. “The more effectively we can utilize our software, the more stops we can get in per day and better take care of our clients,” Lieberman said. He estimates each technician can add two to six additional stops per day.
He also has moved some services—like termite monitoring—to less busy times of the year to keep technicians focused on customer priorities. “When business is a little slower, we’ll have that as filler. But during the busy months, it’s not taking away from the more pressing things you need to get done.”
Step 3: Deliver Every Time
Understand that some customers will not care about hiring problems. They’ll want their pest situation solved regardless of whether someone has called in sick or the team is short a few technicians. Know that on the front end—and surprise them anyway.
For Lieberman, this means communicating when the technician will arrive and sticking to that as closely as possible. If there are problems, technicians let the customer know what’s going on and what to expect. “It’s just a common courtesy,” Lieberman said. “Everyone hates the cable guy with a four-hour window, and they’ll show up in the last five minutes. We don’t want to be the cable guy.”
What he does want to be, though, is a solution. He’s a frequent networker and often asks his customers if they need any other work done. If so, he typically has a recommendation handy and customers appreciate the insight. “Having a referral to address a drainage issue will help us do our job better,” he said. “If they address the drainage issue, they may have fewer crickets inside.”
And after his technician leaves, they should have fewer spiders—or at least fewer webs—too. He heard something a few years back at a PestWorld event and has since employed it. His technicians have a small duster brush for inside the homes. “A lot of technicians say, ‘We’re not there to clean.’ If you saw a roach there, you’d do something with it. It’s a small thing to knock out spiderwebs if you see them. It takes two seconds, and it leaves a big impact with clients.”
That kind of above-and-beyond service stands out—especially these days. Customers have come to expect poor service in a variety of industries. So, when a pest company can deliver, “they’re really impressed,” Lieberman said.
We really are a customer service company. Yes, we have to get rid of, or prevent, their issues. But how we do it is the key. It’s not the treatment, it’s the overall service.
-Brett Lieberman, owner and CEO, My Pest Pros
Ultimately, there are some customers who “no matter what you’re going to do, they’ve got a pest problem and they want it taken care of today,” Cromwell said. “What they really want is communication. If they feel a strong level of trust as their provider, they’ll wait out a few days if they have to.”