Service and Technical Manager, Cleankill Environmental Services
We have all come across individuals who seem to think that they could do your job better than you can. It is usually when somebody who is bored with their job sees you checking the bait boxes in a warehouse or office and makes the assumption that a pest control technicians job must be easy if that is all that you do, and so the inevitable query will follow; “I could do that…have you got any jobs mate?” You may quite probably (and quite correctly) at this point take one look at them and think to yourself “no chance”.
It seems that a lot of people these days under-value the role of a good pest control technician. As an industry, we regularly see unqualified companies and individuals come and go. You can just imagine them saying “that pest control lark looks like easy money – we’ll have some of that!”
Having worked for two different companies in various roles (technician, field biologist, service management, training and quality assurance roles primarily), I think I have a fairly good idea of what makes a good technician. I would add that I currently regard myself as being fortunate enough to be working with a few of them, and to be helping one or two other s to develop in that direction.
Let us assume that you do not have a criminal record, and that you would pass the Enhanced CRB check that will enable you to carry out pest control in nurseries and schools, then here are a few of the other skills that you will need:
Some individuals are naturally well organised, some need to learn to be well organised, and some will always seem to be that little bit disorganised. A smart and tidy looking technician, in a clean and well organised vehicle, makes a huge difference for that all important first contact with a new customer.
Technicians will also need to be well organised with the order in which they carry out their service visits, so that they are not wasting precious time driving back and forth across their areas. This takes a bit of planning before you set off to work and will sometimes involve asking customers if they can be visited at a different time than usual to fit in with your planned work schedule (and adapting to sometimes being refused of course).
It is often quoted in the retail industry that “the customer knows best”
In a general sense I am quite happy to agree with that statement, but if however, you find yourself in a situation where the customer is asking you do something that is unsafe, against your company policy, or even illegal – you need to have the strength of character to say to them “I’m sorry but I can’t do that as its illegal, but I can do ….”
A good technician will be able to produce a positive outcome from such a potentially difficult and confrontational situation, having provided the customer with an alternative legal and safe solution to their problem. The technician will then leave site in the knowledge that he has done the work properly, and not lie awake at night worrying that he may have done something that could lose him his job…not always easy if the customer is, for example; a very aggressive Head Chef who is used to getting his own way and leaving the rest of the staff cowering in his wake. It takes a strong personality to be able to tell him that unless he improves on his cleaning in the kitchen, his pest problems are likely to get worse, but that is sometimes what you have to do.
Anybody who has employees working for them in a service industry will know that not everybody suits working on their own. An employee who may seem brilliant in training can suddenly falter when having to complete a full day of work on their own, and then having to repeat it every working day. In these days where companies employ all manner of tracking and monitoring devices, you will probably not last long if you can’t get up in the morning, or like getting home a bit too early.
I remember a story of one technician who, having completed his 6 week in-house training, arrived outside his first customer but could not physically get himself out of his van to go into that customer on his own. At this point he called his Supervisor and resigned from his job – 6 weeks of training time wasted.
If you make an appointment with a customer, then they will expect you to be there – they may have made special arrangements with their employer to be in just for you. If you can’t keep appointments, you will not make a good technician. Customers will of course let you down from time to time, that is their privilege as they are paying for the service.
I have to be honest here – my practical skills leave a lot to be desired. I can just about fit a bristle strip to a door and block a few holes up with mesh and filler foam, but that is about my limit. However, the practical and inventive skills of some of the people I have been lucky enough to work with over the years, has on occasions left me open mouthed in amazement. (I won’t deny that there have been the odd occasions where poor proofing has left me open-mouthed in amazement for the wrong reason).
Preventative pest control is not just about putting a few baits boxes down, it is about finding out how the pests (be they rats, mice, squirrels, pigeons etc.) have got into that premises, and finding out if there is a safe and effective way that you can stop them from getting in, and then doing that proofing work in a skilled and professional manner.
Diplomacy & Professionalism
A pest control technician will be quietly making his way around a customer site, and people will routinely ask, usually just as a means of making conversation; “have we got mice here then mate?”
Without being rude, you need to establish whether or not this person has a right to know the answer to that question. If you suspect he is a customer, then the answer is something along the lines of “No – just carrying out a routine preventative pest control check.”
If, on the other hand, that person turns out to be an Area Manager on a visit to one of his sites, then you definitely do need to let him know what the pest situation is.
I recall a pest control “urban myth” story of a technician who having completed a thorough treatment for Bed bugs, then proceeded to relate the treatment details, including the number of Bed bugs he had found, to somebody who he thought was a hotel manager. It turned out that the gentlemen in question was a potential customer who was thinking about using the hotel to book his wedding – we will never know whether that customer booked his wedding at that hotel, but he may well have had second thoughts, and the pest control company involved may well have ended up with a terminated contract.
You will occasionally encounter extremes of emotion – for example; hysteria because a mouse has been seen by a customer who is genuinely petrified by their presence. At times like these, you will need to be more a counsellor than a pest controller, calmly re-assuring the customer and filling them with confidence that you will be able to sort their problem out.
The whole spectrum and diversity of life is out there, and you will get to deal with it all as a pest control technician – you will see a few things (good and bad) behind the scenes that not many other people get to see. You will meet different races, classes, religions, political viewpoints – some you may like and some you may detest; but you need to be able to communicate confidently and clearly (both verbally and written) to all of them – a skill which takes time to develop. You are going to make the occasional mistake – we all do, just don’t do it again!
Customers who are used to seeing us do one particular job on their premises, are usually amazed at the wide range of work that pest controllers undertake, particularly when you start telling them of all the different types of pest and problems that you have to deal with on a daily basis. If people realised how much you have to learn to pass your BPCA/RSH Level 2, they might have second thoughts about stating that “I could do your job mate”
Things in the pest control industry change at an alarming rate – you need to keep abreast of new products, technologies, techniques, product label modifications, and changes in the law. You need to have all that knowledge at your fingertips – you never know what the next customer question is going to be. Some of the techniques that were previously employed are no longer approved, for example; contact dust for rodent control has been withdrawn. However, new many new techniques are becoming available such as ultra-violet tracking dust, cheaper motion sensor cameras etc. Knowing the right time to consider using new techniques can be crucial in keeping customers from looking elsewhere for their pest control.
Don’t forget all the different site-specific customer specifications that you have to memorise – forget to date the boxes, or fail to make the correct frequency of follow-up visits to site following a pest sighting, and you could be the one blamed for damaging that “special relationship” that the sales team have worked hard to develop with a major customer.
Ability to Work Safely
Last but definitely not least, major contracts can be won and lost on a company’s safety record. A technician who has all the above skills, but who is reckless with regard to the health and safety and the manner in which they handle toxic materials, can lead to horrifying consequences, and is not somebody that I would want in my team.
Not forgetting the most dangerous aspect of most pest controller’s work (excluding footmen of course) – the driving. You need to be a safe and courteous driver. Most company vehicles have a big label on the side with a phone number, so “sticking a finger up” to somebody who has just cut you up can all too easily go horribly wrong. That person could be related to one of your Company Directors, or be one of your major customers; and you could suddenly find your whole world has gone horribly wrong!
Anybody out there who thinks pest control is easy, I hope that this article has made you think again.
Incidentally, if you are not currently working in the pest control industry, and after reading this article, you still think you have the skills necessary to be a good pest control technician – there are plenty of Service Managers/ Supervisors out there who would like to hear from you, and I would be one of them.