Jerry 1:1 In the beginning was route #9 and it was without form, void and a complete and utter mess.
I remember the day my training came to an abrupt end. After a week with John, the branch superstar and the following week with Chrissy, a GREAT technician who taught me so much about running a route I was called into the branch managers office. There was an eery buzz across the office and all eyes were on me as I strolled through the door. I was told to sit for a moment in the lobby and right away it was obvious what was going on. Through the bosses door I could hear a rather heated, although mostly one sided conversation taking place. The secretaries all tried to look busy but their shuffling papers and noses in the filing cabinets was not a good disguise for their strained necks trying to hear every word that came through the office wall. I fidgeted in my seat unsure of what my turn inside the office would bring. After a few moments the door opened and a pale and disheveled tech emerged with a look of shock and disbelief upon his face. It was Ray, the tech who wasn’t really a part of the happy go lucky conclave that brightened the office every morning with their non stop jokes and stories. This was the guy who I thought wasn’t even a part of our branch. But there he was, hat in hand and he asked the secretary to use her phone so he could get a ride home. Ray had been fired and this was the route that I was hand picked for, this was now my route and it was now time to put all that training to use. Route #9 was mine.
No Super Stardom for Me
I was called into the office and my branch manager forced out a smile and said, “Had I known it was this bad I would have gotten you on this route much sooner.” With that he slid a STACK of little complaint tickets across his desk and said, “You’ve got your work cut out for you, be best to get started right away.” I knew right off there’d be no ‘zero complaint’ award for me anytime soon. He spent a few minutes trying to tell me how to handle such a huge mess but it was obvious even he was at a loss for words. There had to be 100 or more little yellow tickets all representing disgruntled clients and a route that had little to no organization. Everything from rats to roaches and some dated back for months. My manager apologized for such a mess and said his hands were tied and he couldn’t just fire the guy without due cause so that’s why it took so long for me to get my route. With that he handed me the keys to my eh emm, new truck and told me to go to work. On my way out the door the secretary handed me 3 more little yellow tickets that ‘just came in’ and so was the beginning of my route, Route #9.
Where To Start
The first thing I knew I had to do was an inventory of my new ‘apartment on wheels.’ That truck was a complete mess. Chemicals spilled all over the place, trash filled the cab and empty product containers of every sort rattled around the tool box. Oh and yes, more little yellow tickets littered the trucks floor representing even more customers who were not happy with his work. I knew from Chrissy what I’d need product wise to get started and my service manager just unlocked the chemical room door and said “Get what you need.”
I decided to first tackle the complaint tickets the secretary gave me and you could hear the shock in the customers voice when I called them telling them I’d be right out. “What?, you’re coming out NOW?” they said in bewilderment. It was late in the day and to my surprise I did not get my head bitten off with the first few stops I made. Night time came and I knew I needed to get home and sort this mess out, besides, at that time the techs set up their own days and I had about 20 calls or more to make just to schedule my regular day. This was going to be a huge challenge for me and none of my training prepared me at all for such a mess of a route, in fact, all the teaching I had from the books up to this point was that of a happy, healthy route with no real problems at all. Sadly,I think it’s still like that to this day.
Sun Up To Sun Down
Route #9 had a bit of everything, 100 year old mansions, inner city projects, hundreds of row homes, businesses (small) and even stops out in the county. By the looks of things there was no rhyme or reason to where this guy went on a daily basis. From the outskirts of the county he’d dive back into the city and then back out fighting the busy streets all the way. His lack of service just slowed things down to a snails pace with the non stop complaint calls. I wondered quite often, “didn’t he get the same training I got?” It was no wonder that his daily production was very low and cancelations were up around 10%. That’s a real sin in this business and not the greatest way to pad a commission check.
Not sure of how to start I began by just trying to tackle all the complaint accounts I could and sneak a ‘regular’ account in when it was close by. This was a great way to reduce the stack of yellow tickets but my service manager reminded me that I had to hit a certain number of production per day in order to hit my quota. So in order to get both accomplished I scheduled all my regular clients throughout the day and my complaint calls from about 5pm til the sun went down. I got a lot of startled looks from those who opened their doors to me at 8pm or after.
At one point, sitting in my truck trying to gather my thoughts in a, eh hmmm, questionable part of town I realized I may not have made the best choice of areas to service so late in evening. Not to stereotype, but just as roaches come crawling out as the lights go out, there were also some pretty scary creatures that were just getting their days started as the sun sank low and gave way to darkness. I had just left a town home where 3 Doberman pincers weren’t real receptive to a man in their home so late. ME! The owner of the house apologized–sort of– and then just berated me about my companies service and told me he had called and canceled already and that I had better leave. For me, that was fine because I was really rattled. While sitting in my truck trying to make sense of those damned little yellow tickets and waiting for my hands to quit shaking from my near death experience–BAMM— something big hit the back of my truck. I was so startled that my handful of complaints tickets filled the cab. When I looked in the rearview mirror I was sure I’d see some huge man with a bat or a gang of hoodlums sneaking up to rob me. Imagine my surprise when I saw John, the superstar tech in his bug truck smiling from ear to ear. He came to my window and I wasn’t sure to hit him or hug him. I tried to play it off but I sure was comforted to see a friendly face and I think he knew it. He told me the boss sent him out to get me knowing I’d be here and they did not want me out this late in such a dangerous area. I gladly agreed and began to realize, it was time for a better plan.
Route #9 Gets A Face lift
It took a month or so but I had finally gotten to the bottom of all those little yellow tickets and people were actually starting to be happy to see me. Still, I always ran behind because of the poor organization of the route and the extra time I had to spend cleaning up the infestations that were left to me. I could see the answer to the scheduling dilemma and my late nights but to pull it off was probably going to mean one more round of disgruntled, inconvenienced clients. The route (as all the routes were) was sectioned off on the map and it made obvious sense to do one section or grid on one day and another on a different day. But the route was HUGE client wise and being made up of 100% monthly accounts meant that to reorganize, some customers I moved would get serviced far sooner than their 30 day interval. In other words I was taking some of my 3rd Thursday people and shuffling them to say the first Monday etc. where I had others right in their neighborhood. (sometimes right next door) So for a good number of folks, their 30 days in between visits was knocked down to as little as 10 days. Most however agreed to the one time reshuffle and wondered why it hadn’t been done sooner. For some, they felt cheated to have to pay for services so close together-for them, it was a slow weaning process so the completion of the restructured route actually took several months.
I remember my service manager just raised his eyebrow in doubt as I used a marker and ruler to update my route on the big wall map in the service meeting room. I sectioned it down to even smaller grids and wrote in, 1st Mon, 1st Tues, 3rd, Wed, 4th Tues, and so on until each grid had an assigned day. This allowed for far more efficient scheduling and if complaint calls came in that were 3 or more grids away, (I forget the exact rule now) I just put them on the next available day that their grid came within that parameter. This way, my manager could easily tell a client on the phone just when I was going to be in their neighborhood. This little improvement helped tremendously in keeping customers happy that at least they had a target date for service rather than waiting for me to get my little slip at the end of the day and then calling later that night. At first my boss thought my plan was a pretty big waste of time and it was even the butt of some early morning jokes from the other techs. It didn’t take long however and they all became a believers when my route started climbing the production ladder and my commission checks got a little heftier.
It seemed as if my routes transformation took forever but eventually it became tidier and far more efficient and I had things down to a science. I settled in to the routine of the pest control route (if there is such a thing) and I was becoming accepted in the morning meetings filled with laughter and sharing great and fantastic stories of my own. I was now a full fledged part of what I thought was the greatest job I or anyone could ever have. Clients were happy to see me and I even got many nice letters of commendation, many of which I have to this day. Many of the fantastic stories I wrote about in my book were from these early days and so many more memorable times and learning moments have yet to be put on paper. I was (and still am) proud of what I accomplished and felt like I had built my route from the ground up, from scratch. I think my bosses were happy too and for a year or so I enjoyed the ‘efficient’ fruits of my labor.
I guess maybe (and not to pat myself on the back) I did too good of a job with route #9. A year or so later, in the spring, my service manager called me into his office, slid a stack of yellow tickets across the desk and said with a wink, ‘I’d like you to work your magic on another route that needs some help, I’d like you to build another, Route # 9.