We all seem to know someone—a nephew, a child, a friend, a grandchild, or even ourselves—who simply will not talk on the phone. Not only do they avoid phone calls, but they also seem to have little interest in e-mail. Instead, they text to check in with a friend, book a hair appointment or manage a doctor’s appointment.
Different generations truly have very different ways of communicating, and tailoring your customer service and your marketing based on a customer’s preferred means of contact is necessary these days, two pest-control customer service experts say.
“We know our customers are changing, and that’s been taking place for some time,” said Bobby Jenkins, president of Austin, Texas-based ABC Home and Commercial Services. “We have our younger customers, our middle-aged customers and our older customers, and even people within those groups aren’t all the same. We want to communicate in the way our specific customers want to communicate.”
Jenkins added that making it easy for customers to do business with the company is one of its guiding principles. “You need to be responsive to what your customer wants,” he said. “You must have multiple ways to interact in efficient and effective ways.”
The shift to new ways of doing business isn’t always easy, but it is necessary to keep customers happy and to grow your business, said Julie Tesh-Clark, director of marketing and communications for Pest Management Systems Inc., a family-owned pest-control company serving much of North Carolina. The company, which goes by the initials PMI, recently implemented a new software system to help it better determine its customers’ contact desires, and make it easier to seamlessly use those preferences to communicate with those clients.
“We know our customers have a choice when it comes to their pest-control company,” said Tesh-Clark, who also handles PMI’s customer care and community outreach. “And if they want to communicate differently—and you are hearing it again and again—change is necessary.” She acknowledged that many of the company’s 70-plus employees were skeptical to accommodate these new realities, “but we knew that we needed to do this to stay competitive.”
The good news, Jenkins said, is that software and programs to meet customer needs are generally available off the shelf, requiring just a little customization.
PMI saw the trend toward texting, and three years ago began looking at options for software that can help it meet customer needs. “It was clear that services we rely on every day—whether it’s our veterinarians or hair salons—communicate with us through text. And many people really seem to like it better and find it more convenient,” said Tesh-Clark, who acknowledged that she personally has embraced the trend wholeheartedly. PMI wanted to give its customers the same convenience, she said.
“A small segment of our customer base still doesn’t even want an email on file. They don’t text. They want us to call them to remind them of their appointment and send a paper bill,” she said. “But another segment—which is growing every day—is high tech. They want to text almost exclusively to communicate, and they also want things like auto-pay and paperless billing.” And it isn’t just customers that prefer texting to calling, but also many of its team members, Tesh-Clark said. “Matching to everyone’s preferences has been a challenge, but it helped us realize that across the board everyone in the industry is in the same boat,” she said.
Jenkins said personalization extends to sales, as well. “We have prospective customers that want someone to come out and give an estimate for service,” he said. “These individuals don’t even want to talk on the phone. Some are happy to have a detailed conversation with sales staff by phone and get an estimate that way. Others—mostly the younger generation—just want to click ‘buy’ on the website,” he said.
ABC’s website, run by Monkee-Boy, is integrated with its Evolve customer-outreach software, Jenkins said. The website is set up to allow the company to offer service estimates, schedule services and pay for the work online in one session, he said. “For some problems, we need to have someone come out to give an estimate,” Jenkins said. “But for all the services where we can offer online estimates, we want our prospective customer to have that option.”
PMI recently switched to a software system called Pest Routes that helps it communicate with customers more effectively, Tesh-Clark said. “The first step was to survey and to listen to customer needs. By surveying, we can determine what each customer desires in terms of methods of communications and billing, and tailor our approach to meet their needs,” she said.
Once the company has information about customer preferences, it can connect with the customer in their preferred method. The software system also has the capability to set up a dashboard of important information readily available to the technician and the customer care representatives. “This allows us to see the bigger picture,” she noted.
Still, a computer system is only as good as the data inputted, and getting that data requires a commitment by employees. For service inquiries that come from the website, the company proactively asks about preferred communication methods, and that data is automatically added to the system through the software. Inquiries that come in from phone calls or emails require data entry on the part of employees. “The most important thing is to connect with our customers the way they want us to connect with them,” Tesh-Clark said.
Tesh-Clark warned that companies must be prepared to pivot. She explained that some customers started saying that PMI was contacting them too often with payment reminders. “We had to change the settings to reduce the number of touches to our customers,” Tesh-Clark said. “There’s a fine line on how many times they want to be contacted, and we certainly don’t want to alienate our customers. We want to give our customers the best and easiest experience from start to finish in this process.”
Jenkins said his company has offered various communications methods for some time. For several years, ABC has used texting not only for service and payment reminders, but also to provide customer service with a personal touch. “When a tech is leaving Mr. Jones’ house to go to Mrs. Smith’s home, we text or email Mrs. Smith to let her know the tech is on the way,” he said. “We also send a picture of the tech and a little bit about him or her.” While the customer might not be home, “it’s still a way to make contact with them and let them know the work is starting,” Jenkins said.
Once the technician completes the work, he will send a link to the customers’ preferred method of communications that includes a voice file detailing the work, as well as files with photos, a written report, a survey and a list of other services the customer could consider, said Jenkins, whose family-owned company offers not only pest control services, but also lawn, pool, air conditioning and plumbing services.
This personal touch—even through text or email—allows the company to develop relationships and helps in marketing to grow the business. “If the customer has a good experience with our company for a pest-control job, they are more apt to hire us for other services,” said Jenkins, whose 1,000 employees serve about 150,000 customers in Texas.
Customer service excellence is even more important in the world of smartphones since people generally have fewer personal interactions, he said. While ABC maintains a robust email marketing campaign to new and existing customers, technician on-site reports of other services the customer might need also help immensely. “We do a drip-marketing campaign that allows us to reach back to our customers at a predetermined frequency—either 30, 60 or 90 days—to see if they want a quote for another service or perhaps to offer a promotion,” he said. “This allows us to touch the customer multiple times to develop a strong relationship. And we do this all seamlessly with technology.”
With the market constantly changing, companies must manage their businesses with technology and use “data, data, data” to determine what they are doing right, what their customers desire and what they could do better, Jenkins added. “You must be on top of technology changes if you want to be successful,” he said.
Tesh-Clark’s best advice to other pest-control companies struggling with offering new methods of contact and embracing new technologies: “Don’t shy away from change. It’s easy to fall into a routine. You might think it’s better to stay with this status quo, but it isn’t. You must adapt to grow.”
BY CATHY LANDRY