Master the Fundamentals

Document and Train to Protect Your Business Against Liability Claims

master the fundamentalsEvery time your technicians visit a residence, you put your reputation and business on the line. Given all that can go wrong during a client service call, it pays lasting value to equip and train your team to do the right thing in every situation.

The problem is that every customer is different, and every visit poses a unique challenge. While enterprise-level pest management organizations have support structures to keep teams ahead of the curve, smaller businesses must find their own way. No matter how big or small you are, the key to staying active and increasing your impact in your community is solidifying your operating philosophy and values so your technicians can represent your business intentionally and with pride.

As vice president of quality assurance and technical services at global brand and franchise leader Rollins, Inc., Judy Black lives those values every day. Black and her team help strengthen and advance technical and quality assurance goals across the Rollins organization.

“Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t run into liabilities,” she said. “We want to help firms learn from what we know so they don’t get themselves into those situations.”

And from his position as president and CEO of family-owned Colony Pest Management, based in Brooklyn, Joe Sheehan strives to put the right tools in his techs’ hands so they can confidently handle all challenges.

“You have these internet geniuses following the technicians around,” he said. “Anytime you have techs second-guessing themselves, it creates liability issues.”


Sick pets, intrusive odors, damage to baseboards, outdoor siding, floors, carpets and more—firms face potential liability claims like these constantly, and they have the power to put a small business on its heels.

The chief mitigator against that risk, Black and Sheehan contend, is good documentation. There’s no better way to stave off customer claims pertaining to product than to ensure techs have tools to dot every i and cross every t.

Although it’s possible to create and use a paper-based service management solution, digital is dominant. In addition to handheld access, modern digital solutions provide for photo verification. At a minimum, documentation must stipulate the product used, the amount and the location.

Black once fielded a complaint from a customer about an odor they thought emanated from chemicals in the laundry room. In handling the claim, the service report wasn’t much help because the tech hadn’t documented what areas of the interior he had treated.

Sheehan’s team uses an integrated CRM solution with equipment bar code scanning and a digital learning platform with protocols that update according to the job and the season.

“We have a list of those protocols, so if they’re on their way to a carpenter ant job and it’s May, and they haven’t done one since last August, they can do a refresher,” he said. “There’s also an IPM template to document location, issues and actions—and they can attach pictures to that.”

Digital may make documentation more seamless in theory, but it doesn’t do the work on its own. Look for platforms that mandate specificity and train your employees to use them properly.

“It’s about making it easy for the technician to create good documentation,” Black said. “Even though we’re all doing it digitally on handhelds, ask yourself if documentation has gotten any better than when we did it on paper.”


Training must also incorporate proper use of the service kit. What matters is that the tech brings all the tools and equipment they need to do that service and then handles them correctly.

Sheehan once had a situation where a dog consumed rodenticide out of an unzipped service bag.

“Thankfully, there was a vet across the street,” he said. “But you’ve got to zipper your bag—there’s a zipper there for a reason.”

Pet management is central to many application issues facing techs. Naturally, that includes understanding where pets are. It also requires knowing whether friends or relatives bring pets to visit and whether new pets have come into the household since the previous service call.

Children are also an issue, and techs need to avoid obvious play areas. The best methodology is to use integrated pest management and treat only when and where required.

It’s a question of perception, Black said.

“If toys are lying around, that should be an immediate indicator of the care you need to take—you probably don’t need to even treat in that area,” she said. “Keep in mind that someone may see you’re making an application near a toy and start worrying about that.”

Application issues also arise from equipment dysfunction. Black once observed a poorly maintained sprayer discharge product at a 90-degree angle into a toy area. Sheehan’s team has a great solution: its CRM incorporates maintenance.

“We bar code and scan everything, so we know where our devices are, when we checked them and the amount of pesticide that we put in a particular device that day,” he said.

Even a seemingly innocuous water spill at the tailgate can pose an issue. Service calls generate attention from neighbors, and a curious neighbor may mistake water spillage for chemicals.

“They may think you had a toxic waste spill,” Black said. “I teach people to treat a water spill as if it were chemical—soak it up, wipe down the area and reassure the homeowner.”


Photo documentation also carries sensitivities. Due to regulatory and privacy considerations, techs must not include personally identifying attributes in photos. That includes people, of course, but also house numbers or anything that would enable a third party to identify a person or place.

The camera plays a role in another way. Perhaps the most practical method for dealing with customer perception issues is to train all customer-facing personnel to behave as if they were always on camera. Just as cameras protect law enforcement personnel during their interactions with the public (and vice versa), the mere idea that a camera might record events protects technicians and clients.

And never let up on training. Most states require licensure and continuing education, but ongoing training should be at the heart of every growing pest management business’s governing philosophy.

Training helps your business stay abreast of regulatory changes and technological and procedural industry innovations. It protects employees from getting themselves into unfortunate situations. And it gives them a chance to advance in their careers.

“Everybody deserves to have the opportunity to learn more and to be reminded about the things that will make them successful,” Black said. It all adds up to a significantly more nuanced job than the general public realizes.

“Killing bugs is easy,” Sheehan said. “About 90% of what we do is risk management.”