Service providers and retailers have anticipated the increasing reliance on e-commerce and the need for enhanced virtual presence for years. Retailers have moved more quickly to offering online purchases and customer service, but the effects of COVID-19 highlighted the need for digital services in the pest management industry as well. Not only did more consumers find themselves relying on virtual services for everything from grocery purchases to doctor visits, but about 50% of people ages 25 to 54 say that they are more likely to continue shopping and scheduling services online after the pandemic ends.
“Consumers have been trained by every other industry to visit a website for information, purchases and customer service,” says Les Stobart, director of marketing for ABC Home and Commercial Services. “They expect to be able to see videos or photos that explain services or answer questions, and they want to get estimates or book appointments online.”
The first step to improving a company’s virtual presence is to make sure consumers can find the company. Because 81% of consumers have searched online for a service or product, it is important to optimize websites to increase the likelihood that your company is one of the top results in a search. Google is used by over 70% of consumers for searches, so it makes sense to look at Google requirements to improve searches. The complicated search algorithm relies on factors including keywords, page loading speed, length and quality of content, ease of access, links to and from other pages—including social media and other websites—and regularly updated information.
To attract and keep consumers on your website, be cognizant of the type of content you include, suggests Stobart. Use short videos and photographs on your website to offer insight into how service is performed or what the signs of a specific pest infestation might be, he says. “For search optimization purposes, be sure to include content that clearly describes services and provides information or answers questions that consumers use in a search.”
Although Google representatives have said that there is no magic number for website word counts, studies have shown that pages with less than 350 to 500 words are considered “weak” in the search algorithm.
“One way to evaluate the effectiveness of your website is to reach out to multiple vendors and ask for an audit of your website,” suggests Haley Damron, strategy manager for American Pest. “These professionals can provide honest feedback from multiple perspectives, which is very helpful if a company does not have a large marketing department or wants a new perspective,” she adds. Feedback from an objective review can lead to website changes that make it easier for customers to find information, reach specific pages and know how to contact you, she adds.
“If you do have the staff and expertise to monitor the website, you should be checking site speeds, Google results when searching for services you provide—testing your search in incognito mode—and the list of pages most commonly visited,” says Damron. “Also, listen to feedback from your customers and employees.” Feedback from customers often helps you discover links that don’t work, missing information on pages or incorrect content, she says.
Although Google Analytics provides tools that can track how many people visit your site and provide some insight into their demographics and behavior, Damron has also used a tool that offers enhanced behavior analytics and user feedback to better determine which images, icons and call-to-actions are most effective and what the customer wants to accomplish—such as information only, schedule an appointment or price a service.
KEEP FOCUS ON CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Although optimizing a website to ensure it pops to the top of the search listings is important, don’t forget to focus on your customer’s experience. Once the customer looks at a pest management company’s site, there are a few key features that enhance the experience and can turn a website visitor into a long-term customer. These features include:
- Online estimates and scheduling requests
“Our pricing is pretty straightforward so we can give a customer an accurate estimate by determining the size of the house and the type of service the customer wants,” explains Damron. “They complete and submit a form on our website, and we respond with the estimate.” Customers can also request an appointment online and employees contact the customer to confirm the appointment time and day.”
Even though the actual appointment might be made via telephone or email, the information provided by the customer gives our employees more information about the customer’s needs and preferences before they call them,” says Damron. “They can check the technicians’ schedule before contacting the customer, which allows them to make the appointment immediately rather than asking the person to hold while they check the schedule.”
- Click to buy
ABC Home and Commercial Services also offers customers the option of buying the service online and paying for it as they schedule the call, says Stobart. “This has been a very popular feature, and we are looking at adding more services to our Click to Buy option.”
Getting an estimate, scheduling services and paying online are all features that are very attractive to younger customers, who are very transactional in nature, points out Stobart. “Older customers might prefer to talk to a person, but whichever way we communicate, the contact ends with a pest specialist on their doorstep.”
Chat technology allows website visitors an option to “talk” to a customer service person via the website in real time rather than using a phone.
“We’ve offered chat on our website for the past 18 months and it was popular before COVID-19, but its use exploded in the past six months,” says Stobart. “We handle about 1,000 chat conversations each month to set appointments, schedule service and answer questions for customers.”
A centralized group of customer service agents handle calls and chats for all ABC locations during the week. “Within our group, we had some people designated as chat operators because not everyone can communicate well while typing conversations,” points out Stobart. “Although all of our customer service group interacts well with customers, chat operators must possess a different skillset.” If a customer activates a chat conversation during non-office hours, an automated message appears to ask for contact information and a description of the request, and lets the customer know that they will be contacted when the office opens.
American Pest also offers chat for website visitors, but the company partners with a vendor to staff the service, says Damron. “The vendor provides real people, not chatbots, to handle the conversations and gather the information we need for the follow-up contact with the customers.” After gathering information, the chat operator informs the customer that someone from American Pest will call and provides the number they will be using so the customer will recognize the caller, she adds.
“We are constantly evaluating different options, including the use of a chatbot along with a few of our people dedicated to chat,” says Damron. “It’s a great tool but we need to make sure that it meets customers’ expectations and provides a good customer experience.”
There is no one technology or website feature that can meet every customer’s expectations, so the best approach is to offer options, says Damron. “Not all customers want to communicate online and some conversations need to occur via phone, so let customers choose how they want to communicate—online forms, chat, email, text and phone.” She adds, “It’s all about making it easy and convenient to create a great customer experience.”
1. Kemp S. Digital 2020: July Global Statshot. Datareportal. https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2020-july-global-statshot2. Chaffey D. Search engine marketing statistics 2020. Smart Insights. September 3, 2020. https://www.smartinsights.com/search-engine-marketing/search-engine-statistics3. ibid4. Lloyd-Martin H. What’s the “Best” Word Count for Google. August 2019. https://seocopywriting.com/whats-the-best-word-count-for-seo-copywriting
BY SHERYL S. JACKSON