Constructive Criticism

American author and management expert Ken Blanchard once said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” These wise words certainly hold true for every service business, particularly those in the pest management world. Without feedback, pest control leaders would have no way of knowing if their customers are happy with their service. And it’s no secret that customer satisfaction is key to your company’s success.

Consider this: Every satisfied customer tells an average of nine people about your awesome service, according to an American Express study. This positive word of mouth can lead to loads of referrals for your company, resulting in new customers and a bigger bottom line.

Unfortunately, studies show that disgruntled customers are even more vocal than the satisfied ones. Research by Lee Resources International reveals that unhappy clients tell an average of 16 friends and relatives about their negative experiences with a company. That means for every unhappy customer, you could ultimately lose 16 potential customers—not to mention the original dissatisfied customer who’s spreading the word.

So, what can you do to avoid this disaster and ensure your customers are happy? It all starts with asking them how they truly feel about your service.

Understanding the “why”

Customer feedback is essential because it answers that all-important business ­question: Why?

“The collection of data for pest control companies is always extremely important,” emphasizes Robert L. Kunst, consultant with Fisher Environmental Services in Louisiana. “Even though you may be doing wonderfully well—gaining new customers and experiencing a net monthly gain—you probably don’t know the real reason why. You may attribute it to good sales performance, good product or good service, but you don’t really know why.”

On the flip side, Kunst says you may not understand why you’re losing customers. “If you’re having a lot of cancellations, you have to ask, why?” He says customer feedback is the only way to answer this question.

“When you get customer feedback, it allows you to know exactly why the customer is buying or cancelling your service,” he explains.

Even if a customer fills out a cancellation form on her way out, her reason for leaving probably won’t be very insightful. “They may write, ‘Doing pest control myself now,’ or ‘Not seeing any more bugs.’” Kunst says. “That’s just something they say quickly—but an in-depth analysis is required, and it’s very helpful.”
This is why it’s important for pest management companies to collect detailed customer feedback.

Take the bad with the good

Of course, when you start asking customers what they think of your service, not all of their responses will be positive. However, Malcom Firsker, owner of HomePro Pest Control in Ontario points out that negative customer feedback is often much more valuable than positive comments.

“Although we certainly appreciate the regular ‘pat on the back’ from our customers, I prefer dialogue with customers who have any negative comment about our service,” he explains. “This is the best way for our company to become better. Too often, we get so involved in our day-to-day operations, we forget to think about how we can better ourselves.” Firsker says when they receive unfavorable customer comments, they take that feedback and use it for in-house training.

While negative feedback offers an opportunity to improve customer service, positive feedback can help boost the staff’s morale. “Positive comments are shared with all ­members of our company, reminding all of us why we enjoy working in this industry and how we impact the lives of our customers,” he adds.

Collection tactics

There’s no question that customer feedback is extremely valuable—but how do you go about collecting it?

Firsker says HomePro Pest Control gathers this information from customer calls, Google reviews, HomeStar reviews and the occasional letter or email. “From larger commercial and multi-residential customers, we get regular feedback via email sometimes on a daily basis,” he adds. “These are issues that need to be resolved in a timely fashion.”

As long as you respond to complaints or issues in a timely manner, Firsker says you’ll likely end up with a satisfied customer. “Being willing to communicate and fulfill your promises will almost always end with a positive outcome,” he says.

In addition to calls and emails, customer surveys are an increasingly popular method for collecting feedback. However, Kunst says it’s crucial to build a solid relationship with your customer before you start asking them to complete these surveys.

“First, you need to develop a relationship with the customer that allows you to talk to them,” he explains.

At Fisher Environmental Services, Kunst says every new customer is assigned to a customer service representative. “We insist that all customers get to talk to a human being,” he says. “So, from the very first service, when the technician gets to the customer’s house, they have to call the office and put the customer on the phone.” This customer service representative explains exactly what the tech is supposed to be doing. Then the rep asks the customer if the service has been satisfactory and if there’s anything in particular they need for that visit.

“Every few months, each customer gets that personalized phone call, and they recognize that voice,” Kunst says. “They develop a relationship so that when something goes wrong, they can call their rep, and we can get to the bottom of any issues. So, you have to show respect to the customer.”

Once you’ve cultivated that relationship, then you can start sending out automated emails with customer feedback surveys. While these surveys can be enlightening, Kunst points out that they are still not the most effective feedback gathering tactic.

“It’s good to have surveys on social media and on your website, but those have to be short to get anyone to participate—so you never really get a true in-depth picture,” he says. That’s why Fisher Environmental Services holds focus groups.

“We bring people to an offsite location, like a hotel, and we offer them a free meal,” he describes. “We have a paid moderator who goes through and asks serious questions, and they can pinpoint little things that make a big difference.”

For instance, Kunst recalls a focus group they held several years ago, back when the Yellow Pages were still all the rage. “One of the phrases we used in our Yellow Pages ad was, ‘most comprehensive guarantee on the market,’” he says. “According to the focus group, everyone translated the word ‘comprehensive’ as ‘complicated.’ Now do you want to advertise that you have the most complicated guarantee on the market? I don’t think so!”

These are the little things you can discover during a focus group that will make a big difference for your business in the long run. “It helps you understand what attracted these customers and what it is that keeps them with you,” Kunst adds.

Transform feedback into new customers

Once you’ve collected in-depth customer feedback—both positive and negative—you can use this priceless information to recruit new customers. Believe it or not, Kunst says this is the easy part.

“Once you find out what it is you’re doing wrong, you correct it!” he exclaims. “And it may be something small, like the word ‘comprehensive’ in our Yellow Pages ad.

We got rid of that word right away, and changed it to ‘the best guarantee on the market,’” he adds with a laugh.

When your customers start offering their honest opinions, Kunst says you can easily adjust your services to keep them satisfied. For example, let’s say your technicians generally show up to a customer’s house, take care of the outside service and then knock on the door afterwards to talk to the customer. “If you have a lot of customers who say they don’t like that, that they’d rather the technician tell them as soon as he’s on their property, all you have to do is change the routine,” he suggests.

Every time you make a service improvement, Kunst says it’s important (and advantageous) to notify your customers. “We’ll send out a letter saying something like, ‘We did some independent research and found the vast majority of customers prefer this. And therefore, we’re changing our ­service to make it more convenient for you,’” he explains. “We want to let them know that we spent some money and took the time to find out what they actually want, and then we make that change. They love that!”

What happens when a customer loves your service? Not only will that customer stick around, but he’ll likely recommend your company to at least nine friends and family members. To top it off, when your company is well-known for its exceptional customer service, you can charge more. In fact, 86 ­percent of customers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience, according to the American Express study.

By regularly collecting customer feedback and adjusting your services accordingly, you’ll boost your customer base and your bottom line. It’s that simple.

By Amy Bell

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