One thing that successful businesses in any service industry share is a base of loyal customers who not only continue to use the business but also recommend the company to friends and family through word-of-mouth referrals as well as online reviews.
Building that loyal customer base takes more than just offering the right service at the right price—it requires creating an excellent experience that meets most, if not all, of a customer’s expectations.
Creating an excellent experience requires a close look at the “customer journey”—the total sum of all interactions with your company from the first moment that a customer searches for a provider to making the appointment to the day of service and all subsequent follow-ups. Looking beyond transactions—single points of contact—to evaluate a company’s ability to meet customer expectations is what differentiates successful pest control businesses from other service providers in all industries.
Technology has enabled innovations that help pest control companies better manage and automate a number of operational activities such as setting routes and automating invoicing, but technology also offers benefits that can improve the customer experience, points out Jeff Fenner, partner, B Communications in Mentor, Ohio. “Technology can be a double-edge sword since the immediacy it offers can raise customer expectations for immediate responses to questions, feedback and requests for service.”
Although many companies have invested in technology to handle the volume of messages sent through website contact forms or social media by automatically responding to contacts, scheduling appointments or asking for feedback and reviews of service provided, it is important to make sure the company’s level of customer service is consistent throughout digital and human communications, says Fenner. “You can take advantage of the convenience of technology, but successful use of technology to enhance customer service is very simple—make sure follow-up is prompt,” he explains. “If you rely on call center staff to schedule appointments or conduct follow-up calls after service, be sure they understand the need to respond quickly, whether the request came from an online message or a phone call.”
The baseline factors that contribute to a good customer experience are simple, says Kevin Smith, chief marketing officer of Rollins:
- Did you take care of the problem?
- Was it easy to schedule and pay for service?
- Did you communicate clearly when explaining services and prices?
- Did you respond promptly to questions or follow-ups?
- Did you keep your promises?
Although technology supports more effective scheduling and communication, it is important to remember that pest control is a “human business,” says Smith. For this reason, employee training is critical to ensure that service matches the expectations set in the initial contact with a customer. “Once you’ve set expectations for customers, every employee must do the same thing every time to provide the experience we promised.”
Smith admits that no training program or process is foolproof, but says, “If we forget one step, maybe we’ve done enough throughout the rest of the experience to provide excellent customer service.” It is important to continually evaluate customer feedback to confirm that service met expectations and identify opportunities for improvement, he says. “Review the customer’s web experience with explanations of service, online contact or appointment scheduling forms, and online purchases to see what is promised, then pay attention to feedback surveys and online reviews to see if you deliver what you promise.”
Convenience is a key component of providing an excellent customer journey. Technology can improve convenience for customers with online appointment requests, automated communications that include texts, emails and phone messages to confirm appointments, as well as online payment portals and requests for reviews following service, but don’t rely only on technology.
Even with all of these customer-focused technologies, don’t forget to arm your technicians with technology that enhances the customer experience, says Fenner. “Empowering technicians to solve problems they encounter by providing mobile resources such as the NPMA Field Guide not only enables technicians to identify and address pest issues, but also allows them to show customers what they’ve found and share information on how they plan to resolve the problem.” Training and technology combine to reassure customers that the technicians are qualified and able to meet their expectations for service, he adds.
Although meeting customer expectations sounds simple—after all, no one goes into business to lose customers—companies that are successful make a conscious effort to understand what a customer expects in a service-related relationship, evaluate performance regularly and constantly look for ways to improve the customer experience.
Continuous review of the customer journey is important because customer expectations as well as how they find service providers and how the evaluate services are constantly changing, points out Smith. “Ten years ago, customers asked friends and family for recommendations, but today people turn to online reviews,” he explains. For this reason, it is important to monitor online reviews, thank people for posting positive reviews, and offer to talk offline to those who have negative experiences. “Also, look for trends in the negative reviews because these are often the first clues to subtle changes in customer expectations or your customer service,” he adds.
Rollins is currently in the process of reviewing the customer journey, says Smith. “We use an online survey to obtain a large sample of current customers and ask them to rate their experience with each step of the journey,” he says. “We also talk to our team members in the field to find out what customers are saying—negative and positive.”
While gathering data is important, and easier than ever before with today’s technology, data is only valuable if it is meaningful and relates to key performance indicators set by the company, says Smith. “Measure factors that play a role in the customer experience and compare against previous years to identify opportunities to improve,” he says.
“We have to be more customer-centric while balancing the economic feasibility of customer desires,” admits Smith. “At Rollins, we have the benefit of seeing best practices in large and small businesses that make up our company, and we draw new ideas from all of them.” For example, smaller companies find it easier to ensure consistency in the way a phone is answered, or a process completed, because there are fewer variables in terms of who answers the phone and who provides technical information. “As companies become larger and more complex, there is a greater need for standards, protocols and well-defined expectations for activities such how fast the response to a customer’s question should be.”
Every business owner understands the importance of customer service to retention, which is less costly and more effective than focusing only on attracting new business, but Smith points out that it is critical that all pest control companies invest in the people, time, training and technology necessary to create a customer experience that sets the industry as a whole apart from other service providers. “As an industry, we all need to focus on delivering the experience that we promise,” says Smith. “This effort not only improves the image of the individual company but the industry as a whole.”
BY SHERYL S. JACKSON