Litigation Prevention in the Pest Control Industry: Part II
By Greg Crosslin
Training Technicians is the Key!
I recently had the opportunity to make a presentation to another one of Lloyd Smigel’s Discovery Retreat groups. As a side note, if you’re not familiar with Lloyd’s program, you really should check into it. It is perhaps the most dynamic and intensive management focus groups for pest management professionals I have ever seen. The results of his presentation is nothing short of astounding.
In any event, one of the most recent seminars I attended included the discussion about what is the most important tool a pest management company has in his business. I firmly believe that the best tool to prevent litigation in our industry is a properly trained technician doing a good job, according to the terms of the contract with the homeowner, based upon sound science and using good products.
Now this sounds like a mouth-full. It is and that was just on one thing. But at the heart of litigation prevention is the technician.
Unfortunately, I am beginning to become of the opinion that this is also one of the least areas we pay attention to in the operation of our daily businesses. In our high-glitz and fast moving business environment, we spend a lot of money on slick advertising, television spots, radio spots, magazine ads, door hangers and the like, relating to the latest marketing ploy of the manufacturer or the latest “silver bullet” product. Folks, let me tell you again that there is no such thing as a silver bullet and the closest thing we have to one in our industry is our people; yes, our technicians. Anything about your business operations can be controlled and addressed through this philosophy. It doesn’t matter what kind of product you use, whether it be the latest chemical termiticide, the hottest bait or the latest mechanical alteration, without good people these products are virtually useless.
Moreover, it doesn’t matter how good your marketing is, how fancy your television ads are, how wonderful your radio commercials sound, and how impressive your brochures, leave-behinds, yellow page advertisements, newspaper advertisements and magazine slots are, without good people, these are worthless.
While we probably won’t like to admit it, no matter how good our management philosophies are, no matter how thorough our systems approach may be, no matter how well developed our documentation programs may have evolved, without good people these too are meaningless.
Unfortunately, I believe we have spent more time on marketing, managing and looking for one-liners in our business in past years than we have teaching our people. There are success stories in our industry (and there are many) that will tell you that they have survived the different eras of the development of pest control because of their people and not because of their products. We often forget, that we as pest management professionals don’t sell products (although we may sell some from time to time), and as a rule we don’t design products or manufacture them (although we may work closely on an experimental basis with the manufacturers who do so). Instead, what we sell is experience. The experience is gained, earned, and hopefully learned by our people in the field – our technicians.
So as we look for business planning topics this year, I strongly suggest that one of the central points of your focus be on training, systems and approaches. I do not believe it is possible to overtrain our technicians any more than they believe that you can overpay them. Technicians should be taught not only the basics of inspection, biology, termiticide application, but also about business protocols and company policies and procedures; they should be taught on an ever-evolving basis all aspects of our business. This includes the why’s and wherefore’s in our contract. Why is it that we have a chemical sensitivity exclusion clause in our contract? They should not only be taught the proper way to fill out a contract but how to explain the terms of the contract if they are the people on the front line dealing with the customer. After all, if your own employees do not understand the terms of your contract how can you expect your customers to?
If your own employees do not understand why you are performing a certain task in a certain way or a certain technique or a certain chemical or mechanical treatment, then how can they have confidence to explain to a customer that they can help that customer to manage their problem and protect their property?
There are numerous training materials within our industry and many are quite good. There are plenty of resources out there and the NPMA tries to find an initial starting point with training techniques that will help the employees extremely well. So it’s not a lack of resources that we face.
Instead, in my opinion, it has become a lack of focus. As we focus this year on how to become more profitable, how to become better participants in IPM, how to become better environmental stewards, better employers and better in what we sell to our customers, I think we should focus on providing better teaching and training to our technicians.
Just like with the tremendously talented athlete, a good coach can take a properly skilled athlete and place them in virtually any system. This applies to baseball, basketball, football and virtually all sports. An athlete with good skills can adapt to any type of system utilized by his team. Conversely, the athlete who lacks basic skills and all aspects of a certain game will under coached in certain things (i.e. shoot three point shots but otherwise be unable to defend) and actually harms his team.
Can the same be said for our technicians? Aren’t we better served by having properly trained technicians who know all aspects of the business to include termite biology, how to inspect for termites, understanding termite harborages, understanding termite treatment, understanding the different techniques used to handle different types of building construction, etc.? Don’t we better serve our customers (and thus our businesses) by having technicians who can use whatever the latest, greatest, silver-bullet product there is because they understand termites, they understand treatment, they understand construction methods, and they understand our business philosophies than training someone on just how to use a single item?
Aren’t the days gone where when we treat, how to walk into a house, turn left, begin spraying baseboards and quit when you get around the house to the door where you started? Don’t we now require IPM because that’s in the best interest of our customers and our environment? And if so, are we doing a good job in explaining this philosophy (required techniques) to our people?
In my opinion there is no such thing as an overly trained technician. There might be an under utilized employee but that’s the fault of management, not the employee.
In conclusion, this month’s comment can be summarized very simply. Invest in your people if you want a return on an investment you have made in your business. This is one of your best opportunities for business success.