Chasing The Exceptions; The Route Killer

It’s said that 80 % of your callbacks and problems will come from just 20% of your clients. I’d like to add to this equation and say that out of that troublesome 20%, at least 1/2 have the dreaded “Exception to the rule” syndrome. This minority, if allowed to, will run you ragged, spend YOUR every last dollar on fixes and products that you wouldn’t otherwise buy and most importantly, gobble up every spare moment and mental resource you could be using to grow your route or business. With the odds of success against a small pest control company to begin with, you should take the time to recognize and learn how to deal with this route killer.

Exception To The Rule

I’m often critical of pest control manuals, labels and speakers who constantly feed us cookie cutter techniques or laboratory studies that never seem to work in the real world. But then what’s the alternative? They could list every exception out there and every other possible scenario that may only happen once in a blue moon. I guess if they did that our books might just be 3 feet thick and so very little would ever apply. (my apologies to big book makers & gurus everywhere)

No one is saying that any two situations will ever be exact but the clients who fit into this rule are almost always extreme. You give an answer and that won’t work because….. You point out a construction flaw but that won’t solve it because…. You cite the bugs known behavior but for this customer the pest has suddenly forsaken millions of years of built in biology and is acting completely different. It SEEMS there’s nothing normal about this critter and it’s YOUR job to figure it out while it’s the ‘exception’s job to shoot down your every answer.

What Do You Do?

In every case you begin with a positive ID, bar none! I don’t know how many times I’ve chased phantom pests till I was blue in the face. The only result you ever get with that approach is to look like an ineffectual tech and a poorer one to boot. If there is no bug visible (or positive evidence) then just how can you effectively treat? Knowing what bug your dealing with arms you with facts and parameters that your client can’t argue with. (but this 10% still will) Since you know it’s boxelder bugs let’s say, there’s no need for 27 glue boards and a fogging is there? Proper ID for the smallest of critters such as flies, bird mites etc. is probably most crucial but knowing roof rat from squirrel evidence could keep you out of a state inspectors cross hairs as well. Plus, most customers almost always ask “what kind of bug is it?” anyways, so use this opportunity to start the chase of right. If you don’t know, there’s no shame in collecting a sample and figuring it out later. You’ll be glad you did and it’ll be one more piece of knowledge that’ll make you look like a smarty pants later on.

Letting Go

I could literally go on and on about this subject as I’ve seen so much of it over the years. Do you continue to try and please this client? Do you document IPM suggestions on the receipt that you know will never get fixed? How many times have you tried to get colleagues or your distributor to help you in the chase only to get a puzzled look and the shrugging of shoulders? Is the last piece of advice you want to hear actually what deep in your heart you know is right?

Look I know it’s easy for me or some other established company owner who has multiple routes and can easily afford to lose one or two pains in the butt. (truthfully-it’s not easy and we also try to hang on, it’s just that we most often cut the cord far quicker than the struggling entrepreneur) But for the new or struggling routes, every customer is precious if for no other reason it’s one client closer to having our goal of a successful company, a big burgeoning route. Losing even one client can feel like a huge step backwards and it already seems like you’ll never reach your goal.

But at the risk of ‘thinking inside the box’ and conforming to the ‘cookie cutter’ philosophy, maybe it’s time to rid yourself of this unwelcome drain, so you can concentrate on building your service route with quality, repetitive, predictable, money making accounts. This way you can be assured of being around a long time in an industry that can be so hard to make it in. While others fall by the wayside going broke chasing phantom pests or the elusive answer that even if found pleases no one- that’s one time it’ll be great to be, The Exception To The Rule.

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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  • This is a great blog! It is very true that just a few customers will be the majority of a company’s problems. If those few customers determine how a company handles the rest of their customers though, this could spell disaster for the company.

  • I chased exceptions for years and STILL kick myself when I catch myself doing it… but it is (thankfully) so much fewer times now.

    Thanks for the kind words 😉

  • GT

    I know this is old, but damn thats funny. I often wish my company would “cut loose” some of my customers. 80% of them are great and every service goes like clockwork. 15% are picky and take some extra time due to special scheduling & requests that’s all fine and should be expected.The problem comes in with last 5%. I have accounts that require us to be there for 45 minutes (and stays home from work to watch), wants full interior baseboard jockey style treatment (with full exterior as well) & 20 glue traps, wants us to broadcast a 5 acre “lawn” so they can “get their money worth”.

    Oh and my favorite, the guy who has to have service at 630am sharp, doesn’t pay his bill on time, and follows you around bragging about how rich he is/poor I am and how hes surprised I haven’t quit yet because nobody has lasted more than 6 months at his house. He isn’t under contract or anything – he just gets off on messing with people (those are his exact words).

    So for all you business owners out there, NOT cutting off customers will cost you money & demoralize your employees. Don’t tell us to “do a better job educating the customer” or “just get it done”, unless you want to hop in the truck for a day.