All business owners understand the value of the phrase, “Work smarter, not harder.” For pest management companies, this can cover a wide range of strategies that include effective scheduling, enhanced communications among employees, managers and customers, and making sure field technicians have access to the information they need to provide good customer service.
Many pest control companies have turned to technology to provide the seamless communication, quick access to information and time-saving processes that produce a more efficient, more successful company.
“Technology has been a huge part of our business since day one,” says Jeff King, president of Pest Ranger. The use of technology enabled his company to operate without customer service representatives (CSRs) for the first nine years in business.
“Between automation and processes that revolved around readily available technologies, we were able to handle day-to-day operations without the use of full-time CSR,” he explains. Two years ago, a full-time CSR was added to the staff, and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephones and software that creates a seamless connection among all employees, whether they are working in the office, from their homes or in the field, continued to provide an efficient approach to work.
“Because the customer service representative has access to all information, she can work from home,” says King. “We also rely on GPS to create more efficient schedules, or for the CSR or service manager to determine if we have a technician in the area when a customer has an emergency request.”
One of the most beneficial technologies adopted by Pest Ranger is an app for the mobile phone that enables group communication, says King. “We can use the application for messaging individuals or groups, tracking progress on projects or sharing documents,” he says. “We also set up a messaging group for our larger clients, so we can notify them when we are onsite and share photos of problems we discover.” Larger commercial clients have the option of adding the app to their phone so they can be part of the group assigned to their account. The ability to communicate with each other and with clients results in immediate decisions and approval to proceed with services, he adds.
Improved Work-Life Balance
Modern Pest Control, a third-generation family-run company that began operating in 1952, uses software for billing, scheduling and accounts payable, but the most important features are the mobile applications they began using in 2013, says Del Lawson, vice president of operations. “We have one office location on the extreme western edge of Houston and serve all of the Houston area, which meant technicians were having to drive to the office to pick up schedules and then go to their 7 a.m. appointments.” Depending on the location of the technician’s home, this might mean leaving for the office as early as 4 a.m. “Mobile capabilities now mean that they can check their schedules for updates in the morning and head straight to the appointment,” he says. “This move saved one employee two hours a day.”
In addition to making the employee’s workday simpler, eliminating the office visit each day also saves on fuel and maintenance costs of the trucks. “We do let employees take the trucks home, and we try to schedule them in areas near where they live, when possible,” says Lawson. “This helps us improve the work-life balance of all employees.”
All Modern Pest Control employees also have company-supplied smartphones with larger screens to access their work orders, make notes, produce an invoice, accept credit cards and email a receipt to customers. “The software also tracks chemical use so we can monitor inventory,” adds Lawson. “The best part of relying on mobile applications for these functions is the ease of posting work order completions and payments with one person in the office clicking a button,” he says. The process, which required manual entry of information when paper forms were used, required hours of work and there was always the risk of errors when transcribing information, he says. “Now, we know that day if we missed a customer and can contact them to reschedule.”
Another benefit of automating the collection of information is improved accuracy, says Julie Fredlund, director of office operations for ABC Home & Commercial Services of Austin. “Because digital forms do not allow for free-form document completion as paper-processes do, the data collection is much more accurate, searchable and usable,” she points out. “Paperless processes company-wide eliminate the need for double-entry by office staff and provide immediate transparency internally and to our customers.” Emailed service slips, service notifications, statements and web portals have made customers more self-sufficient, which creates less demand on office staff. “We’re able to grow our business without increasing the size of our office staff,” she adds.
“Field staff use mobile apps such as the NPMA Field Guide, fleet management tools, general training, traffic and weather apps,” says Fredlund. “Technicians also have mobile apps to keep them connected and engaged through human resources software, our internal IT Helpdesk and company-related social media outlets.”
Enhanced Customer Communication
Employee engagement is not the only benefit of technology, says Fredlund. “The customer frequently is not home during the time of service, so we’ve had to find creative ways to use technology to connect personally,” she says. Technicians send a photo of themselves when they are on their way, and at the end of each service email photos of findings and a personalized voice message to the customer, all as part of the company’s “virtual service,” she says. “The use of video technology has allowed us to better communicate internally across the branches, whether it is a small private meeting, a one-way broadcast of meetings to all locations, or anything in between.”
Selecting the best technology for a specific use varies from company to company, based on size, type of clients and number of locations served. “Our business structure is quite complicated because we have many branches and various lines of business, so our number one priority is finding software that can meet the demands of our business and grow with our needs,” says Fredlund. Researching software by talking with other companies currently using the software provides a better understanding of the software’s capabilities and limitations than just talking with the provider. “We then discuss our findings across our executive management team to determine the best solutions.” She adds that research and evaluation does not end with the purchase of any technology. “Once the decision has been made and implemented, we meet regularly to adjust our methods or develop new features to make sure we are providing the best and most efficient product possible.”
When choosing technology, always think bigger than what you are today so your solution gives you room to grow, suggests King. Even if you don’t use all the capabilities at the beginning, having them in place for future use will save time and prevent the need to train everyone on new technology. “We had another VoIP provider but switched to our current provider when I learned about the ability to share files, communicate via text messages with a group, search for forms and print in the field,” he says. “This has enabled us to work smarter, not harder.”
By Sheryl Jackson