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Exterminating the Hassle From the Pest Control Experience

Season 2: Episode 26


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When Ben and Jenny McAvoy struggled to get in touch with pest control providers in the Phoenix area, they took matters into their own hands. The couple created Insectek, a pest control business that puts communication and customer service at the forefront—and their efforts paid off. Hear from reviewer Rosie P. on how Insectek turned a stressful pest encounter into a seamless experience. You’ll also hear more from Ben and Jenny about the values that guide their hiring and training processes.

On the Yelp Blog: Round up 4 tips for improving your customer service with empathy.

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. On Behind the Review I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur…and the reviewer… about the story and business lessons behind their interactions.

Let’s see what’s behind this week’s review.

ROSIE: So I am Rosie, and I’m an avid Yelp user. I’m definitely somebody who likes to go into situations with a little bit of research or background.

But in this particular situation, My dad passed away recently, and that was a whirlwind that turned my life upside down. I was coming home from Las Vegas from a music festival, and I got a phone call that he had passed. So I stepped off the plane and headed back to my mom’s house. And unknowingly that would be the day that I moved back in with my mom. And dad was the one who for the past 49 years, took care of all of our pest needs at home. So within about two weeks of dad being gone, it became really apparent that we were having bugs take over the backyard. As much as I was out there every day, sweeping it seemed that the spiders in particular were really winning us.

So I reached out and I did some research on Yelp, but where I found Insectek was actually through a friend and they mentioned that they were really wonderful and that they were always on time, which was really important for us. So they gave me the information and that’s when I did a little bit of research into the company through Yelp and my first interaction with them was really, really, really great, and so it just went from there.

EMILY: That was Rosie P. telling me how she found Insectek, a pest control company in Phoenix. While these were unfortunate circumstances, it was great that Insectek could come to the rescue and help her get rid of the bugs during a tough time. Let’s hear her review.

ROSIE: Cole was absolutely amazing. He was not only knowledgeable and professional but also very kind and friendly. He treated both the inside and outside of my parents’ house, along with the garage, and was very thorough even in the 100+ degree weather. The customer service end of things were also really great, and Jared took excellent care of us when my mom unexpectedly landed in the hospital the day of our treatment. I can’t wait to see the results and to be able to enjoy our patio again sans bugs. Would definitely recommend this company for anyone looking for pest control in the valley.

Update. After about three weeks, I noticed more bugs again, so I reached out to the Insectek team and they were able to get Cole back out the same day. Truly impressed with the customer service and with the work Cole did again. He even remembered my mom being in the hospital on the last visit and commented he was happy to have her home this time. It is not often a company makes its customers feel so cared for. Insectek is really doing it right.

EMILY: Rosie had such a great experience that she used Insectek again and even updated her review the second time around! The experience she had was so good, she couldn’t help but share!

When Ben and Jenny McAvoy started Insectek, they hoped to improve the customer experience for pest control customers like Rosie.

BEN: We’ve been in business for 10 years. We originally started the business because we always wanted to be small business owners and entrepreneurs. And we came out of corporate careers. I was in the investment world, and Jenny was working in finance. And so “how did you start pest control coming from those backgrounds?” And when I was in college, I sold pest control door to door as a summer job. And so, I always had in the back of my mind as like, “Oh, that’d be something to start,” but I had these grand visions of “I’m going to start a software as a service company” or “I’m going to start some FinTech company” or something like that. And the idea, the inspiration never came for that.

So I went back to pest control. I know the economics. I know the sales part of it. I know the service side of it. And then at the same time, we noticed that our current provider was just not good. It would take multiple calls just to get an answer, which I find very common with small businesses when I look for other service providers is just, it’s like the bar is so low. You just got to answer your phone number one.

We found that the bar was just really low for these pest control providers. This was 10 years ago, so a lot of them hadn’t incorporated technology into their system yet. So that meant the communication was poor, the branding was off. There was a lot of inconsistency, right? Because, humans, we’re error prone. So, we found that there just weren’t a lot of operators here in Phoenix that were doing it well. A lot of them were like these legacy companies that had been around for decades and were just kind of coasting, and they didn’t care about their reviews. It was almost a transactional relationship that they had with their clients and customers. And so we found that there’s a niche here and there’s an opening for us as well.

EMILY: What Ben touched on here is a great point that I hear from a lot of business owners when starting their businesses: putting yourself in the shoes of the customer. Ben and Jenny didn’t like their experience with pest control companies. So they created a company that filled the gaps they noticed from their personal experiences.

JENNY: When we decided that we wanted to start it, we wanted to make it the experience we wanted to have. We wanted to make sure that we were being communicated to when an appointment was to come up, we felt safe when a technician showed up at the door and I let him inside my home with my children or with my pets.

What I love now is we have clients that will give us not just their garage code. They give us their house code. They’re not even home. It’s a keypad on the door. They feel so comfortable that any one of our techs will come in, treat their home in the right areas and let us leave, and that shows so much trust in a company, but we’ve built that, and so that’s how we wanted to be able to provide the service.

When people call in, we got a live person. I remember trying to call just service companies, you leave five messages, you don’t even get a call back maybe. If you see a scorpion here in Arizona, you want to make sure you get a hold of somebody. So, the fact that these clients called in and all the sudden they got a live person and was like, “oh I didn’t have to go through a million prompts to find or not even in the right department.” The first part of our training is just listen to what their needs are. They’re really frustrated that there’s a bug that’s encroaching in their space, their living space, and it’s very upsetting. So we teach them that to really relate to that customer.

EMILY: With a service company that comes to your house, trust and safety is SO important, as Jenny mentioned. You want to feel comfortable with the people coming into your home — it’s your safe space. Ben and Jenny’s efforts definitely paid off, as Rosie felt safe when Insectek came over.

ROSIE: Not only is there the safety issue, but there’s a level of vulnerability that exists there and letting somebody into your home, seeing the deepest and closest places where you are. So there was definitely that. I think that for me, having the word of mouth from my friend. They are somebody that I trust with my life and I know that they wouldn’t steer me in the wrong direction. So having that recommendation from them was already something that I thought, “okay, if it, if they talk highly of this company, Then I can trust it.” It was regarded there.

But again, I’m a very intuitive person and just in the way that, and it was through text message, so there was no voice tone, nothing. But just in the responses that I got from Jared, I already felt comfortable enough, safe enough that it was really a no-brainer to have them come over, and I’m so glad they did. And we’ve already referred them to so many other people because, just in a customer service aspect, they stand out as one of the best companies that I’ve worked for in all areas of how they have treated us during this situation.

EMILY: Creating a service business with trustworthy employees starts at the beginning: the hiring process. At Insectek, Ben and Jenny look for people’s soft skills when interviewing them and look for their ability to empathize with customers like Rosie.

BEN: That’s definitely been the most difficult part of running a business – is hiring and managing staff. And I would say probably most business owners would say the same. But part of the reason why it’s difficult is because we do go through a lot of resumes, a lot of interviews, and we just hire based off on character.

And so sometimes by having a more laid back conversational interview, they let down their guard and they maybe divulge things that they wouldn’t normally divulge in an interview, but that’s how it gives us insight into their character. And that’s why we have been able to accumulate so many positive reviews is because we do hire people that have good character traits, that have empathy, that take it personally when they have to go back to a home because bugs popped up or something.

EMILY: And it seems like Ben and Jenny are doing a great job at hiring, as this empathy came across in Rosie’s interaction with Insectek pest control technicians, Cole and Jared.

ROSIE: So I come from a background of customer service and in the profession that I’m in currently, I’m a corporate trainer for a large aviation company and we pride ourselves in hospitality. So not just customer service, but we make a really big distinction between what customer service is and what hospitality is. And so customer service would have been somebody coming out and doing the treatment saying, “thank you, here’s your money,” and gone, right? That’s customer service.

Hospitality was those little things. The fact that Cole remembered that my mom was in the hospital, the fact that he empathized with me when I told him that I’m having to take on all of the things of the house now, including the pest control, which was something that I hadn’t before because of my father’s passing.

When I was talking with Jared, which was the person who actually got me the quote and all that, it was all done through text message. That was another thing that I loved, was the convenience. I didn’t have to be stuck to a phone or a specific time. It was on my terms. And so being able to get that was great. And then when we finally did get this set up, my mom had to rush to the hospital for really high blood pressure that day. And so I was really worried ’cause I’ve got a million things in my list that I’ve gotta do now that dad’s gone. I’m trying to take care of mom, trying to take care of the house, the pest control people are coming and now we’re at the hospital.

So it was kind of one of those comedies of errors where all you could do was cry and yet Jared was communicating to me via text. He was very empathetic about the situation, said “if you want someone to come, we can get there. If not, don’t worry. We can reschedule it.” So it was very much just that I felt like I was in the care of somebody who actually cared. And that was huge.

I knew right away once I had those first few interactions with Insectek, that this was a company I could trust and that actually cared about its customers. And I wasn’t just somebody that was in their paperwork.

EMILY: Insectek has been so successful in creating return customers that they were able to build a ‘membership’ model. Customers can purchase a monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly pest prevention plan. This recurring service model is a great idea to lock in return customers. Especially if you are a small business offering a service that people need regularly.

BEN: The service model is something’s been around for a long time, right? The recurring revenue, there’s a lot of big benefits of running a more maintenance type programs. You have the same with pool companies and things like that. From a business standpoint, it’s great because it is recurring revenue.

Sometimes it’s contractual, sometimes it’s not. We don’t have any contracts for our customers, so they remain with us because of the trust and because we do a great job and because, in our market, pest control is common.

EMILY: To provide quick service like what Rosie received, your business needs to be super organized, especially when you have a high volume of incoming leads. Ben and Jenny said it comes down to a perfect marriage of great technicians, great customer service representatives, and great back-office staff.

BEN: It’s kind of like a three legged stool, if you will, where we have great technicians in the field, We have the great people on the phone, customer service, customer support administration, but what people forget about the third stool that I talk about is actually what Jenny was pivotal in creating is the back office. The back office is so important, the back office is scheduling, it’s billing. It’s stuff like making sure a customer doesn’t get billed multiple times. And then that generates another call – and it generates a negative call, right?

So a lot of companies don’t get that third part down. They are not organized. They do not have a good system in place to make sure that you’re not adding something to a customer’s list of why they shouldn’t cancel your service. And on top of that, they’re coming from another experience where, typically coming from another company or something where their billing was always screwed up. The technician didn’t show up. The technician didn’t communicate when he was going to show up. They get billed and, they don’t think the service was done. And so we’ve built in checks and balances and, fail safes and we’ve used technology to enhance, you know what we as humans can do because we can’t do everything. We have multiple softwares in place to make sure that we have super smooth operation. And so it’s that three legged stool. I think that’s made Insectek successful.

JENNY: We were the customers and so I wasn’t getting the communication. So we made sure when we were starting up, texting was starting big and it’s like, why can’t you get an alert, that you’re coming or you’re on your way. We’ve created things where we wanted an exact appointment time. We didn’t want to wait four hours out of our day or take our day off, or work from home for you to show up maybe at the end of the four hours. And now I got to wait a fifth hour. Or not show up at all. And so we were able to create scheduling down to the exact minute of when you can come or, you know when you’re gonna expect us, which we still uphold that to this day. If we’re ever more than five minutes late, you’re getting a call, you’re getting a notice, we’re either on our way, or if you do need to be delayed, you’re notified. So then they’re happy about that either way. Those processes were really hounded in at the beginning when we train our administrative staff.

I handled most of the incoming calls at the beginning. It comes back to, I don’t want the negative work that comes from it. I don’t want the negative phone call about being overbilled. I didn’t want the negative complaint that my tech didn’t show up. So when we created kind of the process of how that’s going to look, we made sure that would never happen.

And then we really wanted to enforce that on our administrative staff in the office now, or that are handling our customer service because they have to deal with that. You go through these steps that sometimes it could be a tedious step or a multi step process to check that every account. We have a saying “no accounts left behind.” We have a monthly review, a weekly review of appointments that didn’t get service for whatever reason. Customer couldn’t do it or we couldn’t show up. They don’t get left behind. They get a follow up the next week. Then we ensure they get their service that month. We ensure they’re getting it because if they don’t, then you get the negative “I got overbilled. I didn’t get my service this month.”  We just wanted to make it an easy work environment. At the end of the day. It’s just bugs. We’re not scheduling brain surgery. We want them to go home and enjoy their family life and still want to come back and handle customer support calls.

And it’s funny when we’ve hired administrative staff. They’ve come from other customer service centers or companies. And they’re like, “all of your customers are so nice.” Like, “why are they so nice to us?” Because they were like answering the phone call ready to fight. But they all really are just because you treat them with the respect and you give them a good service. There’s nothing for them to be mad about. They can’t call in and be upset. And when you answer the phone call so friendly, and you ask about them, they’re not going to come attacking. We Show that through the steps, you’re able to control the kind of environment you’re working in, the kind of incoming communication you’re getting from the clients and creating that environment that you want to work in.

EMILY: While Insectek has these precautions in place to resolve customer complaints, there will always be customers that have issues with their experience and may even leave critical reviews. Ben and Jenny take critical reviews very seriously and try to resolve the issue or even give a full refund to customers when it makes sense.

BEN: if you are running a really solid business, you know you’re doing a good job, you know your employees are great, just with odds, you’re gonna get some bad reviews. We try our hardest to reach out to them and make things right. But sometimes that’s not going to, they’re just unreasonable. The customer may not always be right, but you do need to listen to them. And usually there is some truth in what they’re saying, even if they’re somewhat unreasonable. There’s something where you can take the blame and you can learn from and you can improve.

And so if we do get a negative review, I definitely trust and have faith in our employees and I get their side of the story before we reach out to the customers. But we always listen. We always do what’s best for the customer. And in many cases, we go overboard in terms of refunding money.

We’ve had some instances where stuff accidentally gets broken around the home, a hose reel got broken. And our strategy is rapid response, that smother strategy where we give them attention as soon as possible. We let them know that they’re in good hands and that we’re going to take care of it. If we have to send out a provider, a plumber or something like that to go fix a leaky irrigation line or something like that. We’re going to get them out that same day, and the customers not going to worry about it.

EMILY: Using what Ben calls a “smother” policy to get on top of critical reviews has actually earned Insectek new customers. One time this even happened from a review that was meant for another pest control company! You have to listen to this hilarious story from Jenny when they got an especially critical review.

JENNY: I think that the other company had like “insect” or something “invader” or something like that. And so we were first on the page, whatever they came up in this nasty review. So I look through everything I can, try to find who this customer is. Can’t find the customer. We have managers on there looking and we’re like, well, let’s just try to reach back out to this person somehow either through the Yelp platform, or if there was like a number, or maybe this customer did call in as a lead at one point in time.

And got to the bottom of it. And it was like, “you’re charging me all this money.” And we’re like,
“We don’t see any charges. Send us the invoice that you got.” And sure enough, it’s a different company. That’s how we found out. So they were complaining. And we said, “well, we do provide the service. This is what we can do for you and charge for you.” And they’re like, “okay.”

So they ended up like, “you guys have been so responsive.” This other company, the one that they had a gripe with didn’t even respond back, but they came on board with us. We took care of their problems and they stayed on as a general pest recurring customer with us because we answered their call. We provided that support when they needed it. Because we thought, “Oh, we did something wrong. We better clear this up.”

EMILY: Ben and Jenny respond to all reviews, even the positive ones. And we recommend all businesses on Yelp to do this too. Rosie appreciated that they responded to her review, and this made the personal customer experience she had stand out even more.

ROSIE: So it isn’t often that a business will respond. Generally also, I see them respond more to the negative comments than the positive ones. So to get that feedback for the positive ones, it lets me know just how invested they are in their business. And not only that, but that they really want people to see that interaction. That this is not transactional. We’ve got a two-way street here.

And not only that, but I also loved that they reward their employees for getting those kinds of kudos. The next time that I spoke with Cole, he mentioned that my review got him a kickback on his end. And so I just thought that was amazing because that is really the company helping the customers help the employee. And so it’s all one big beautiful circle and I really love that about them.

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