To this day I remember exactly how I was introduced to this gig. At the time I was working two jobs, an upscale deli making sandwiches by day and a low life greasy Greek pizza place moping floors and doing dishes by night. I HATED my day job because the lunch line would start forming around 11:30 and we wouldn’t see the last customer until 3. The line would extend around the block and I had to slap together sandwiches at break neck speed just to keep up. I don’t know what would keep these people coming back day after day because I made THE WORST sandwiches ever known to man. Whats worse was that only a big plate glass window separated me and the patrons. They could see everything I was doing. As they impatiently tapped their fingers on the counter waiting for their lunch I was sweating bullets from the heat of the grill that filled the tiny kitchen. Feeling like I was in a fish bowl (a boiling one) I tried, I really tried to make their food not only taste good but look good too. Alas, my sandwich making skills never improved and I’d send out 1/2 smashed, lopsided, drippy and God only knows what else–Hey, I wouldn’t even eat my own work at the end of the day. Now I’m not a quitter but I was ready to bolt. At one point I hatched a plan to demand a raise or I’d walk figuring they’d say “hit the road” and I’d be free…. It backfired, I got the raise I really didn’t want and I thought I’d forever be trapped in this deli from hell. Thank God for my night job, free beer at closing time.
So one day in between shifts at my then girlfriend (now wife’s) childhood home I was face down on her couch exhausted. We had been talking about me getting a better job but I had no real skills and there wasn’t much out there. Just then the phone rang and it was for me. It was an old buddy of mine who was doing quite well as a salesman for a pest control company. He asked me if I wanted to make $11.00 an hour? That got my attention and the rest is as they say, history. But this was, as I’d find out, only the beginning.
Read Part one here, Part two here.
Even though for 3 solid months I was only in a small break room my mind never wandered much at my new job, at least not for very long. I was fascinated with this new world that I found myself in. I gave my whole heart into learning everything I could. Partly because of intrigue yes, but also just listening to the techs who had their daily parade through the break room. I was somewhat afraid I could never match up, unsure if I could tackle the horrific situations they all laughed about on a daily basis. I figured I’d better arm myself with every chance of success if I was going to continue in this line of work. I thought I was doing pretty good, passed all the tests, read and watched all the material, (sometimes twice) but that didn’t stop my heart from skipping a beat and a lump of fear from grabbing my throat when the service manager announced one morning, “ Grab your lunch, you’re riding with me today.”
We’re in A Complaint Business
I didn’t know anything of the ‘how’ a route worked but my manager explained in his soft but deliberate way some of the in’s and out’s as we drove across the city in his decked out little truck. He spoke very slow and calmly, “We’re doing complaints today, you’ll get a lot of these if you stay in this job for very long.” This surprised me, how could anybody still have bugs after some of the stories I’ve heard? What could they possibly complain about? He continued, “ The trick is to get in, look at the problem, do what needs to be done and get out quickly, complaints will swallow up your day if you let them lead you around by the nose.”
Our first stop was a home that had little black ants that the regular tech just couldn’t get rid of. The lady of the house was not a happy camper. We hadn’t even made it in the door right and she was berating the manager in non stop form. We stood silently as she went on and on about how her life was ruined because of these pests and how disappointed she was that she hired a company that couldn’t fix the problem. I guess I was in shock because there was absolutely no chapter in the books I read about this, no video I ever saw that covered disgruntled clients. Ever calm and collected my service manager was somehow able to withstand this barrage and glean enough info from her rant to start in on the problem. In an effort to get me out of the firing line (I guess) he sent me upstairs with B&G in hand to treat. That started another line of fire and I could hear her verbally accost the man as I made my way up the stairs. “There aren’t any ants upstairs, what good will that do? she snapped angrily. I think I spent 20 minutes up there moving at a snails pace trying to listen for when the angry tone would subside.
That was my first ‘professional’ job I ever did in my career and I’ll never forget it–In fact I couldn’t even if I wanted to, it’s forever in my file. You see, not even a week went by after this call that I was summoned into the branch managers office where he showed me a scathing letter this woman had written to the company. It was mainly degrading my service manager but one part was aimed directly at me and to this day, that letter is the reason I have a certain policy in my company. She stated that I went into her closets (which I did—hell I had no idea what I was doing) and sprayed for no reason and had no business looking in…. 30 years later, you’ll not catch me or any of my techs in ANYONES personal closet without express permission.
After a day or two of baptism by fire my supervisor arranged for me to ride with some techs. “You’re gonna need to see how a real route works” he said in his slow deliberate tone. “I’ve got a feeling your route will be opening up soon.” At that point I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I didn’t want to get yelled at everyday but at the same time I was excited to finally get out on my own. He said he set me up with one of the stars of the branch, “this guy hasn’t had a complaint call for over three years”. WOW, I thought to myself, how in the world could this guy pull that off?
My ‘super tech’ was one of the guys who came in every morning but wasn’t one that chimed in a whole lot with those fantastic stories. He kind of quietly came in and out and went about his business. He introduced himself as John, grabbed his days work and said “Lets go.” John truly was a nice guy and everybody on his route was glad to see him. What a difference! He had his route down to a tee and we methodically went from place to place servicing happy customers. I eagerly watched his every move to see what technique he possessed that kept everybody content and killed every bug. However to my surprise, John rarely pulled out anything more than a B&G sprayer. Certainly nothing like the tools I watched my supervisor so expertly use. Still, I learned so much from John. The finer points on where to look, the importance of a flashlight and as he said, “thoroughness is next to godliness.” He had a really busy route and I think we did 20 or more stops a day yet he always took time to make the customer feel good about the service, about him. He also invited each and every client to call if they ever had a problem and he’d be back to make it right. Odd, here he is telling people to call but they never do?
The Secret Of Advancement
At one stop with John, I got a ‘shock’ of sorts and I learned the secret to Johns success. We were flying in and out of motel rooms treating for bugs when I guess I didn’t use his flashlight rule and the liquid from my sprayer hit directly into a wall socket. A loud POP and flash of light ensued a second later and the look of surprise was on both our faces. John unplugged the lamp and giggling a bit said we better wait a minute to make sure all was good. At that moment he decided take the opportunity and to call the office.(which we were required to do at least 3 times per day) He spoke with the head secretary/office manager and it was obvious that the two were a little more than just co-workers. Normally I’m sitting in the truck when he made these calls so the conversation was a little guarded with a few awkward pauses and a sheepish grin. This told me all I needed to know. Then the conversation turned to business and he began almost frantically writing down the information she was giving him. “I’ll get on that one right away he said, but the other needs to wait until tomorrow.” Now I’m a little slow but the pieces came together pretty clearly at that point. I had seen John do a few accounts and he never filled out any service ticket and I wondered why. Even my service manager provided a small yellow service ticket with his complaints. You see, there were bonuses for the least amount of complaints on a route and John had eh-emm, earned these for three years running. He was somewhat of a legend in the branch/limb and even at a meeting some months later he was asked to stand and receive his award. I was part of the large tech audience that clapped as he stood and I just grinned as I heard the whispers of those around me…”how’s he do that?” “incredible, I get complaints all the time, what’s he doing?” I just smiled, politely applauded, and kept this a secret all this time, well, that is until today. John was one helluva good tech!