Technology in the Field

As far back as high school, Todd Leyse was unknowingly preparing for a career in pest control—by studying, of all things, computer science. His father, always looking for improvements to his company, brought him to an NPMA PestWorld conference decades ago to seek out possibilities in software. Ever since, he said, he’s never stopped watching or considering what could be.

“I kept thinking, I could do this better,” said Leyse, president of Adam’s Pest Control in Medina, Minn. So he did. He developed a field service management system, with options for companies of every size. It allows, for example, scanning through smartphones, tablets or small Bluetooth devices; audible guidance to the technician’s next inspection point; voice-to-text capabilities for entering notes and conditions; and data entry into forms using voice. With that last one, he explained, imagine a technician at a multiple-catch mouse trap. “They can say, ‘caught three mice,’ and three separate fields will be filled in, all hands-free,” he said. “And the software is smart enough that they can say it in any order, such as ‘three mice caught.’” This enables the technician to keep their phone or tablet on the body or in their service bag, making them more efficient in the field, he said.

The system Leyse developed also incorporates route optimization and a “best fit” tool that allows an agent to slip a new customer or callback into the schedule at the optimal spot. “It presents the agent with several efficient options, as well as several rapid-response options if that is demanded by the customer,” Leyse said. “This way we can satisfy the customer, keep our technicians efficient, and allow our agents to be efficient, too. They can do this very fast and move on to help the next caller.”

Leyse’s success is the perfect storm of industry experience, technology know-how and enough curiosity to ask “what if?”

These days, many pest control executives can claim two out those three. They may understand that greater efficiency and easier processes are possible, but not know where to start. As a whole, Leyse said, the technology available to the industry has continued to get stronger—and he looks forward to seeing how, for example, artificial intelligence might one day help companies predict which customers are most likely to cancel and take action to prevent them from doing so.

Communication with the customer is another area primed for growth.

“Twenty years ago, we were inside people’s homes with every service,” he said. “Nowadays, we’re dealing with alarm codes, and not seeing the customers that often. Sometimes the only tangible proof that we were there is the invoice. But they want more information now than ever. They can find information about pests online, so we have to be smarter than ever.”

Route Optimization

At Environmental Pest Service (EPS), based in Tampa, Fla., one way to smarter, more efficient service is the use of route planning and optimization software. Andrew Barrows, director of mergers and acquisitions for EPS, says his role allows him to see the difference between companies that are being strategic about route optimization and density—and those that aren’t. Some are still using paper files.

“This is a route-based industry,” he said, “similar to package delivery or any number of other industries based on routing trucks from Point A to Point B, and on recurring revenue. You’re going from home to home, or commercial unit to commercial unit, and you’re only getting paid when you’re at one of the sites. If you’re spending half of your day driving, you’re spending half your day not making money.” Using technology to build up density allows the service professional to do, say, 15 stops a day rather than 10, at the same time reducing wear and tear on vehicles. Then there’s the built-in advantage of providing greater visibility and accountability.

John Judge, director of field technical operations at EPS, said the company has been using a visual route manager for a decade or so, and the technology continues to improve. The company also is in the process of expanding its experience with route optimization; the software uses algorithms to route schedules for greatest efficiency at the beginning of each month. EPS is currently using the software in two regions, but may extend to the rest of the company by third quarter.

“In the future, what we see is, as a service professional is ending one appointment, the computer system will identify how long it will be until the next stop, and automatically send out the word that John is on his way, and will be there in 20 minutes, without having to press a button,” Barrows said. “We’ve expressed this is something we want.”

Judge also talks about future evolutions, already in development, in which the service professional could snap a picture while inside an inspection report, and easily email the customer with findings and service opportunities. “We see most of our customers on a quarterly or every-other-month basis,” he said. “We don’t see them every month, so you don’t get a lot of interaction with them. The more information you can provide on that service inspection report, the better you can serve that customer.”

Customers also want the ability to choose how they’re contacted, whether phone, text and/or email. And then, Barrows said, there are still those who want to be there to shake the service professional’s hand onsite and “smell the pesticides so they know that it’s working,” Barrows said.

“Figuring out the software that can service all of those different types of customers is something that we know is important, and something I think all of the providers are trying to figure out,” Barrows said. “I think they’re making great strides at doing so.”

Electronic Trap Monitoring

Speaking of strides, there’s another area that continues to grow: the practice of electronic trap monitoring, not only for nuisance wildlife but also for rodents in places with limited access.

Jeff Campbell, VP/GM of Trutech, LLC, and Critter Control, Inc., is excited about the possibilities, considering it a tool to improve customer service as an industry.
“It really kind of opens up our industry coming into the 21st century,” he said. “It also creates the opportunity to have an immediate solution for the customer.”

In terms of wildlife, electronic monitoring is a legal method of checking traps in four states: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio. The reasons it hasn’t reached further aren’t contentious, Campbell said; it’s simply a matter of awareness. He encourages anyone involved with rules or laws within states to look into it further and help push it along.

Dominique Sauvage, senior director of quality, training and field operations for Copesan, said he’s come across numerous companies testing options for remote monitoring in rodent control. There’s tremendous possibility in, for example, places that might require a lift, ladder or key to reach. But along with the possibilities come questions: What are the expectations of the client if a monitor sends an alert? Should that response be 24 hours a day, seven days a week? If the client wants immediate action, how will that impact rerouting? Should the service be sold? Rented? Available to all, or just to accounts with specific challenges? Also, what about the use of deer trap/hunting cameras to monitor not just what is in the trap, but also what is moving nearby?

Sauvage admits fascination with the ability to gain insight from seeing rodent behavior.

“I’ve been doing this a very long time, and you would think a mouse would just walk up to a snap trap, assess it and go for the bait,” he said. But it’s not always the case. “It’s so enlightening.” Also enlightening: potential challenges with privacy laws. Placing cameras in the ceiling voids of a retail store becomes entirely different, he said, if they happen to be above a fitting room.

In terms of remote monitoring possibilities for individual households, that might be possible—but only, he said, if prices come down first.

“We’re still considering where we could use it to get the most benefit,” he said.

By Fiona Soltes

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