How To Choose A Pest Control Company
The Difference Is In The Details...
In the world of pest control, as with many things in life, the difference is always in the details. And that's no more true than when selecting a pest control company to handle the services of your home or business. We've outlined some of the main components of most pest control service plans to help make your decision making process as informed as possible.
The History of Pest Control Service
Pest "control," in some form or fashion, has been around for thousands of years. The earliest records of pest control practices seem to date back to around 2500 B.C., where ancient civilizations used sulfur-based compounds in an effort to mitigate insect populations. In the centuries to follow, it is believed that the Chinese and Egyptians may have used herbs, oils, and spices to keep bugs away, until sometime around the 12th Century when the Chinese discovered soap as a viable pesticide. By the 17th Century, tobacco and arsenic emerge as the preferred pest control methodology. Then, around the turn of the 20th Century, a boom in the production of pesticides and pesticide application begins to take shape. Pest control service as we know it today, particularly on the residential side, really only dates back to 1950s or 60s, although several companies had established themselves decades prior.
The Evolution of Home Pest Control Service
Monthly > Bi-Monthly > Quarterly > Triennially > Semi-Annually > Annually
Initially, traditional residential pest control services centered around a monthly service plan, whereby a pest control technician would visit a customer's home once a month to provide an exterior spray application in combination with an interior spray application around doors, windows, baseboards, basements, plumbing penetrations, and other potential points of insect entry or travel. This monthly service protocol continued as the industry norm for many decades, and is still incorporated by a decreasing number of professional extermination companies today.
Eventually, as pesticide product formulations advanced and technician training and expertise improved, the industry began to shift away from the standard monthly pest control service cycle in favor of an every-other-month schedule. Now, instead of sending a technician out every month for a routine pesticide application, this service was done once every two months. During that process, a realization was also being made that routine pesticide applications inside the home, particularly in the absence of an active pest population, probably wasn't necessary in most instances. And so pest control companies slowly began dropping this interior component from their routine pest control maintenance services.
This transition from monthly to every-other-month pest control service came with a risk to many established pest control companies with a commitment to customer satisfaction. Companies knew that the only way this transition would withstand the test of time would be if they could still extend the same type of service warranty and peace of mind that customers were ultimately paying for. And in order to accomplish that, companies would still need to issue the same (or in some cases, newly introduce) policies ensuring that if covered pest problems persist between regularly scheduled service visits, the company will return to address the problem at no additional cost to the customer.
From a business standpoint, this process became somewhat of a balancing act in order to determine what the optimal price point might be for an every-other-month service plan in comparison to what a monthly service plan would have been, taking into account a potential increase in unresolved pest problems in conjunction with a certain increase in non-revenue extra service visits or callbacks between every-other-month services. Throughout this process, not only were pest control companies needing to reeducate themselves and their employees, but also reeducating their customers as to the best ways of providing pest control service.
As time wore on, the advantages to both company and customer of a bi-monthly service cycle became increasingly obvious. As long as the underlying mission of providing a pest-free (or reasonably close to it) environment for their customers was attainable, less is invariably best. Less regularly scheduled services means less time, expense, risk, and exposure for the company, the customer, and the environment. Everybody wins. So positive were the overall results that many companies in the industry soon made another transition from bi-monthly services to a quarterly service cycle, where routine pest control services would now be done only once every 3 months. My own pest control company in Florida from 2007-2016 revolved exclusively around this type of quarterly service cycle.
Today, most pest control companies provide either a bi-monthly or quarterly service as their primary ongoing residential pest control service plan option, with some variation based on geographical considerations. (In more northern states, pest control companies may be more likely to offer seasonal service plans, where monthly or bi-monthly services are provided for the portion of the year when insect pressure is highest). Other companies in the industry, however, have taken the industry progression even further, now offering triennial (once every 4 months), semi-annual (twice a year), and even annual (once a year) services while still offering the same type of service warranty in the event pests return.
What To Look For In a Pest Control Company
Does Size Matter?
To some extent, what matters in a pest control company is subjective...less about what matters in general than what matters to YOU. With more than 20,000 licensed pest control companies in the United States, options generally are not too hard to come by. The larger players in the pest control industry operate on a national level, usually with representation in your area through local branch operations or remote technicians. Companies like Orkin and Terminix are the two largest national pest control providers, with only a small handful of others operating nationwide. A larger contingent of companies such as Truly Nolen or Gregory Pest Solutions are large regional companies, operating across several states but without a presence throughout the entire country. (The PCT Top 100 provides an annual list of the 100 largest pest control companies in the U.S.). Beyond that, the overwhelming majority of pest control companies in America are small to medium sized operators.
Are you likely to get a higher quality of service from a larger pest control company than a smaller one, or vice versa? That may be open for discussion, and again to a larger extent subjective, with excellent service available from any sized pest control company. In general, factors other than the size are typically going to determine your eventual pest control customer experience.
The Pest Control Contract...
Almost every reputable pest control company does (and in most states, is required) to provide a written service agreement in combination with any pest control service plan. From the start, any differences from one pest control company to the next will be included in the details of this service agreement. Contrary to popular belief, pest control contracts aren't used to the detriment of the customer. Instead, they are necessary to define the relationship and protect the interests of both parties involved. Here are a few things to look for:
- Service Frequency: We talked earlier about the evolution of pest control services away from a monthly service cycle towards services at less frequent intervals. Check to see how often routine, regular services will be conducted as part of this service plan, and make sure those service intervals are optimal for the types of insects in your area and the pressure from the surrounding environment. Also make sure you understand whether or not these services will be done year round, or only seasonally throughout the year.
- Annual Price: In order to compare apples to apples, look at the annualized price of each pest control service plan you may be considering. Some pest control service agreements highlight a recurring service fee over the annualized price, which can sometimes seem more inviting or advantageous. (Many states require an annualized amount included within the pest control service agreement). How much should a typical residential pest control service plan cost? That of course depends on many factors, including the type of pest, extent of the infestation, size of the home or property, geographic location, and a number of other factors. Speaking generally, for an average size home with average pest control needs a pest control service plan will probably range from $360-$600 per year, or $30-$50 per month. (But again, pricing can vary).
- Payment Schedule: How and when will payments be processed, and how much will each payment actually be? Some companies allow (or require) payment up front for a year of service. Others process payments automatically in conjunction with each service, where a quarterly service plan would have 4 payments processed each year, for example. Others may spread out the annual amount of the service plan into 12 monthly installment payments regardless of the service schedule, where even a quarterly service cycle would have 12 payments annually. And still others may simply send invoices after a service has been done. One way may or may not be better than another, but it is important to make sure you understand what to expect from a payment standpoint and that it works with you.
- Covered Pests: This is an important consideration, one that is all too often overlooked. Each pest control service agreement specifically includes (and specifically excludes) certain types of pests. Generally speaking, things like ants, roaches, spiders, silverfish, earwigs, and other common household pests are included in most pest control service plans. But other insects, such as carpenter ants, fire ants, bed bugs, ticks, fleas, pantry pests, carpet beetles, rodents, termites, and others might be treated as premium or specialty pests that may or may not be included. Before entering into any service agreement, be sure to fully understand which pests are and are not included and make sure the covered pests actually correspond with your particular needs.
- Extra Service Visits: What happens if you are having bug problems between your regularly scheduled service visits? Will you have to pay extra to have a technician come back out, or will that be included at no additional cost? Most (but certainly not all) ongoing pest control service plans include unlimited, free extra services at no additional cost to the customer.
- Cancellation Policy: Once upon a time, pest control companies had cancellation penalties or early termination fees built into their residential pest control service agreements. Under these conditions, customers not remaining for a pre-determined period of time were subject to paying a certain percentage of the remaining contract amount. By in large, most companies in the industry have tended away from this sort of policy on the residential side in recent years. But be sure to be on the lookout for that. Rest assured, there are plenty of pest control companies that allow for cancellation at any time, for any reason, without penalty or obligation of any kind.
In pest control, experience matters a lot. If it didn't, you might be just as well off doing the pest control work on your own as opposed to hiring a professional. Consider the credentials of the company, its local representatives, and any technicians that may be assigned to your particular property. Effective, long-lasting pest control seldom happens on accident, and there is no substitute for hands-on experience.
Assess The Customer Experience
Beyond the details outlined in the pest control service agreement, the most important consideration when choosing a pest control company is an earnest assessment of what you expect the overall customer experience to ultimately be. Consider how communication with each company is likely to take place, how you may be notified before and after each service, what the process may be for requesting extra services, what their service vehicles look like, and other elements pertaining to the actually delivery of their service. Remember, the difference will always be in the details. And the more details you can evaluate prior to choosing a pest control company, the higher your chances of a positive customer experience.
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