The days of customers not knowing when your service technicians will be on the property, what products they will apply, what they should do concerning the application, and how to finalize payments are over.
“There are a lot of new tools out there that have helped us to streamline our operations, increase efficiency and support internal communication,” said Brett Lieberman, owner of My Pest Pros in Fairfax County, VA. “These have enabled us to deliver a smoother, easier process for our customers, avoiding the hiccups that used to arise with the standard manual processes.”
Recent technology solutions help your clients to be more informed, and an informed customer tends to be a loyal one. Are you implementing these advances in customer service?
There’s nothing more annoying than running into dead ends when one needs information. The most up-to-date website can only do so much, and few pest control companies have the infrastructure for 24-7 live communications. That’s where a chatbot might come in handy.
A chatbot is a text-based software app integrated into a site, programmed to mimic in some part an online conversation with a live agent, mostly to get a sense of what the potential client is seeking. This could cover a range of questions: from something as specific as costs and when services can commence, to questions that are harder to pin down, such as, “I see strange holes in the wood in my house. What might be causing this?”
Built to respond in a friendly manner simulating normal conversation, depending on the depth of the preset data and dialog programming, the chatbot could refer the person to topics on a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page, offer more direct answers, or route the message to a live respondent who can provide a greater level of specificity.
Mickey Thomas, senior vice president of the customer care department and inside sales for Arrow Exterminators, headquartered in Atlanta, GA, said that the chatbot function has helped not only inform potential customers but also assist in setting up services. “(We) don’t accidentally miss a customer from a lack of information, and we can capture dates and times for a potential visit.”
Pest control companies like Arrow Exterminators are also active with marketing events and conference expos, and in the past, the paper trail of forms filled out by client leads could not only result in a loss of new customers but in those potential relationships being soured by inattention.
Thomas said that her company has had great success with QR codes in streamlining processing. “Whenever we’re doing home shows, if someone comes to us for termite protection, for example, instead of filling out a bunch of paperwork, they’ll fill in their information on our booth tablet. That generates a QR code that goes straight to our lead system. We can follow up from there.” In a time-sensitive industry like pest control, the sooner services can be rendered, the better—and happier—a client will be.
Now that the customer has reached out to your company—possibly in several ways—that information needs to be organized so that services are neither ignored nor duplicated.
“There are software-as-a-service products that assist with customer communications,” said Lieberman who uses Zendesk as a central inbox for email communications. “This helps us avoid what is known as ‘agent collision,’ where you might have more than one service agent responding to an inquiry.” This messaging clarification achieves a few goals. First, it aggregates various mail services into a single flow. This makes sure that only one agent becomes an ‘owner’ of the request, avoiding unnecessary bombardment of the customer by other employees. Having more than one point of communication means potentially having more than one version of an assessment, which confuses your client. This level of assignment protects against one employee accidentally undermining another’s messaging.
Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are available to capture all communication surfaces with the customer. “We tied the CRM (into our system) so that any emails or notes or communications with customers are automatically updated to that customer. It saves us time from having to copy and paste it into their account.” Automatic updating also preempts a situation where an agent might forget to enter this data in, affording a gapless information trail that helps avoid errors in assessments and estimates.
Thomas added that by having such a paperless system, aggregating communications not only from calls and emails but also from a technician’s handheld device has been a “game changer.”
When it comes time to alert customers of upcoming service appointments, accuracy is key, and this tends to be the make-or-break point for outstanding customer service.
“We utilize email scheduling with an e-blast stating it is time to schedule your service,” Thomas said.
Issues with work-life balance—for employees and customers alike—were cited as a reason to go with email scheduling, particularly when requests were attempted during business off-hours. This could have potentially led to missed calls and opportunities, as well as dissatisfaction, which might have provoked customers to seek out other providers. “We’re not calling them at 5 or 6 at night during their family time to set up the timing or make them aware we are coming, and our customers appreciate that consideration.”
With the ability to lock in scheduling, companies can use routing systems to aggregate all customers within specific regions to one day’s service, which can provide greater specificity in terms of not only what day applications will happen, but approximately what time the technician will be there. Thomas said, “If our techs are going to a specific subdivision, we can set it up so that when they are there, they can perform all the services we provide in that region, on that day.” While this level of routing is possible manually, it is also time-consuming and does not easily integrate changes or additions.
Text messaging to customers has also been helpful for pest control services. When implemented in tandem with emails to alert clients of when their applications will take place, they can go on with their day with certainty they could not count on before.
Lieberman admits that a bit of the important human connection is lost in the process of such automation, but customers tend to appreciate the certainty. “It makes it so much easier. In the past, the company would have needed to call every customer to remind them they had a service coming the next day. Being able to assure them that the pest control specialist will be there between 10 and 12 tomorrow, and not have that communication drop in a gap because of a manual process, helps.”
On the day, thanks to an integrated service app, the service provider needs only to hit one button to alert the next customer that they’re on the way. “It makes it easier for the technician to stay in communication, and that is the greatest benefit in the customer service chain, to avoid those messaging gaps,” Lieberman said.
New systems already being used by companies such as Uber and Amazon are starting to gain entry into the pest control industry. With these, a customer will be able to see online how close their provider is on the route, and will be able to estimate with better accuracy when they will arrive on the site.
Another benefit of digital communications: clients are sent a biography and photo of the service technician who will be showing up. This functionality offers peace of mind when it comes to strangers being on their property. After the application, information can be delivered detailing what has been sprayed on the premises, down to specific amounts; how long a treated area should be left alone, if at all; how the treatment might affect homeowners or pets, and more. Again, an informed customer tends to be a loyal one.
“(Payments) have been one of the biggest areas of advancements for us,” Thomas said. “We have a customer portal online where a customer can log in, go into their account, and along with all their history with us, they can make payments using a credit card.” The system is secure and after the initial setup, Arrow Exterminators only sees the last four digits of the card number.
Another step, which Thomas said was in the works, was implementing NFC (near field communication) “contactless payment” technology. NFC allows two devices to talk to each other when they’re close together through radio frequency identification (RFID). While there are many different usages for NFC, the ability to have a client’s phone and a payment terminal connect is of specific interest to traveling service providers like pest control technicians to take payment on the spot. Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay are leaders in the NFC contactless payment arena right now.
CUSTOMER SERVICE REQUIRES CONSIDERATION
“It’s still important to remember the human connection,” Lieberman said. “Technology gives us a lot of tools to work with, but our clients still appreciate that personal engagement, and we don’t want to lose that.”
An example of this: There is always a need for phone interaction, no matter how seamless automatic systems may be. For excellent customer service, it is crucial that such calls stay focused and informative, and don’t frustrate the customer. Few things are as well-remembered as a bad customer interaction. Solutions are available that score phone calls as well as provide coaching for customer service representatives to learn how to better handle calls. Tools can also integrate with solutions that tie into many CRMs to connect call recordings to accounts. They also let the office know which client is calling.
But how the employee engages with the client depends upon their training, the policies of the pest control company, the company’s culture and expectations of conduct. Great customer service requires personal consideration for the said customer, regardless of the systems provided to fulfill it.
Lieberman concluded that while some interactions have been supplanted by technology, if a technician sees something out of the ordinary happening on a client’s property that could result in customer hardship, don’t hesitate. “If it’s urgent, call.”