The pest management industry may not be on the cutting-edge of technology, but it’s not susceptible to digital disruption like Amazon’s impact on retail, or Uber on taxis.
But some companies aren’t even trying to take advantage of technology that could improve their businesses, said Andrew Barrows, chief strategy officer for Greenix Pest Control. While at a former company, he worked on a recent acquisition project where the pest management company was still using a dot matrix printer. It was so outdated that the paper had to be special ordered, he said.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, are companies that invest in technology for the sake of having the latest and greatest— without properly rolling out the new tools and potentially frustrating customers.
Barrows has long helped NPMA members find that happy medium of technology that makes sense. He has presented the last few years on technology innovations at PestWorld events.
“Implementing the right technology at the right time can be highly impactful,” Barrows said. “Of the 20,000 pest control companies in the United States, there are a surprising number of companies that still operate on pen and paper and have not embraced technology as they could.”
COVID-19 has certainly had an impact, pushing many companies to move to primarily exterior service with inside service upon request. With the industry’s move toward Integrated Pest Management (IPM), there has been little need to be inside a customer’s home, except for those whose clientele still request inside services each time.
When COVID hit, “newer companies that had email and cellphone on file could text and email. They could send videos and pictures without having to be face-to-face,” Barrows said. “Those companies are going to benefit, whereas companies that don’t have the ability to text message a photo of conducive conditions will struggle to effectively communicate the problems that they’re solving and the justification of the services they provide when the service has shifted from inside to the exterior.”
Technology extends well beyond replacing paper, and when deployed correctly, can positively boost a pest management company.
Barrows suggests investing in an operating system as a good starting place for a technology implementation. “An updated operating system is a worthwhile investment for any company, unless you’re going to sell your business in the next six months,” he said.
The pest management industry has a number of companies that can help take others to “a deeper level ability to review the data within your company, improve route efficiency and produce invoice payments in a cleaner manner. They should pay for themselves if implemented correctly. That’s the lowest hanging fruit.”
Those who want to kick it up a bit may consider route optimization, which uses algorithms to determine the most efficient routes for stops. “If you have a technician making 12 stops a day who can suddenly make 15 stops in the same amount of time, it creates a much more efficient route with less labor costs, less vehicle costs and lower maintenance.”
It has an added benefit for employees, Barrows said, particularly when technicians can start their days directly from home. “It saves time and energy. If they can make more money and spend less time working, employee retention goes up. And when employee retention goes up, the retention of customers goes up.”
Technology isn’t just about what happens in the field. Paperless entry can lower administrative costs. “That’s very impactful for the bottom line of a company and is more efficient and scalable.”
At a previous employer, Barrows was involved in acquisitions of 33 different companies. “About half were on a sophisticated operating system; the others were not. When you move them to a new operating system, you find greater efficiencies within your brand operation. Companies that needed an administrative staff spending time on data entry could be redeployed to inside sales, driving the growth of the business.”
Improving ways to gather recurring payments and send emails can also add up while eliminating the need to chase bad debt. Added bonus: With credit cards on file, “you don’t need to send statements or paper invoices. It is more money in your bank account quicker. This allows you to spend more time growing the business.”
While having credit card information on file is an easy place to start, Barrows recommends taking it a step further. Automated Clearing House (ACH) payments are bank transfers, which do not have fees associated with them. The payee will receive a check instead of a credit card. But for those who prefer credit card processing, don’t forget to renegotiate with the credit card processor as volume grows, Barrows said.
Barrows sees a lot of opportunity in technology that improves workplace and driver safety. Things like GPS tracking can provide daily reports on how drivers are behaving behind the wheel. Another that he has seen is use is technology that disables a driver’s phone when the vehicle is moving.
He also has seen a number of benefits in learning management systems, which can push out safety content to employees no matter where they are. This is especially useful for large brands that operate in a number of regions. “You can build a safety culture into individual markets as if you were there in person,” he said.
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
There can be too much of a good thing, Barrows said. “You already have a good business; you don’t want to disrupt it by implementing too many new technologies too quickly.”
He has seen route optimization fail when rolled out poorly in branches. “These rollouts have to have plans around them that are well thought out and well executed. Rolling it out in branches without effectively communicating with customers will provide poor results. Switching from paper tickets to email invoices is a big adjustment to that customer base.”
A communication plan is part of any technology deployment, ensuring changes are being done thoughtfully, so that “they’re not surprised by it. People are OK with change, but not OK being surprised by change,” he said.
It is particularly important for companies of all sizes to understand the gaps that technology can fill. Barrows recommends chatting with vendors to gather information. “Use the resources in front of you to get a true understanding of what can be accomplished and how it can improve your company. Dive into how it can go wrong. Vet these opportunities by talking to those who have gone through the same conversion. And not just any company, but those like your company. It’s better to get a one or two things right than to do too much and get it wrong.”
It also is vital to evaluate the talent and abilities you have in your staff. “It is disruptive and you have to understand your business. Can your organization handle the change? You have to understand how it can impact the business positively and negatively. That plan needs to be well thought out. You have to pilot it and test it.”
But don’t let the often-confusing technologies prevent any type of action. “If you’re going to be in business in 10 years, you’ll lose more business if you aren’t embracing technology. And if you’re thinking of selling, you’ll get a better purchase price if you’ve embraced technology.”
BY SANDY SMITH
PHOTO: OZZ DESIGN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM