Business Practices

Module 11   Business Practices

Learning Objectives

  1. Know what questions to ask to identify the needs and desires of a client.
  2. Explain how your service meets or exceeds the expectations of a client.
  3. Understand the situations in which your services cannot satisfy the client’s wishes.

Terms to Know

Mal-occurrence   A negative event that happens unexpectedly through no fault of the NWCO.
Mistake   Sloppy work, carelessness, or insufficient knowledge that results in a negative event.
Professionalism   Throughout a NWCO’s working life, the NWCO works to improve his or her knowledge, skills, wisdom, and conduct.
Resident damage   Conflicts caused by an animal that lives on the client’s property.
Transient damage   Conflicts caused by an animal that does not live on the client’s property.

The Other Half of the Business (Customer Relations)

“Half your business is wildlife—the other half is people,” advises one professional. Your success will probably depend as much on the way you talk to customers and treat other professionals as the clever ways you assess situations or modify cage traps.
As you ask customers questions about the job and describe the options for solving the problem, you’ll probably gain a sense of your customers’ values and how they want situations handled. In most cases, you’ll be able to tailor services to meet their needs, but there are two times when you can’t: if doing so would violate a law, or when public health or safety is threatened. You are legally required to follow the health department’s directions about what to do with captured animals (in addition to DEC rules). If the health department wants an animal killed and tested for rabies, you must do this, even if your customer requests that you use only nonlethal techniques.
That explains why you’ll probably get to know some health department staff, but you’re likely to interact with many other professionals on a fairly regular basis, too. Some, such as local police and animal control officers, may assist during an emergency.
Many seasoned NWCOs advise new professionals to develop networks right from the start. Win the trust and respect of your regional wildlife and law enforcement staff, local police, animal control officers, health department staff, wildlife rehabilitators, veterinarians, staff at local animal shelters, town clerks, and your fellow NWCOs. You probably are aware of the practical reasons to maintain friendly relations, but this also is an excellent opportunity to market your business. Often, people don’t know who to contact for help with a wildlife damage problem so they may turn to any professional who works with animals or enforces laws. If you win the trust and respect of these professionals, they may refer customers to you.
Wildlife control is not a 9-to-5 job, especially during the busy season. Some people refer jobs to other NWCOs when they’re too busy to handle them. Or maybe you’re suddenly confronted with a problem that you’re not quite sure what to do. You may want to call someone who is more experienced with exotic species. Some NWCOs partner with construction professionals. Maybe you’d rather remove the bats and leave the repair work of plugging entry holes to someone else, so you’re not tied up at one site for several hours.

Professionalism

“A professional wildlife control operator is a person with demonstrated expertise in the art and science of applying the principles of wildlife damage management to the sound resolution of wildlife conflicts with humans.”
—excerpted from the National Wildlife Control Operators Association’s (NWCOA) application for professional certification.
Professionalism means that throughout your working life, you will improve your knowledge, skills, wisdom, and conduct. Think about those four words. Knowledge is not the same as wisdom. Our knowledge and skills mature with age giving us wisdom. When you hear about a business scandal, the people involved may have had some of these traits, such as knowledge or skills, but probably not all four aspects. It’s the balance of the four, and the way they influence each other, that makes someone a professional — knowledge and skills, followed by conduct that’s tempered by wisdom.
Let’s talk about what professionalism means for NWCOs. Are you proud of your work? Do you have good reasons to be proud? Professional NWCOs must be well informed, well trained, and confident in their ability to safely and effectively carry out a vertebrate pest control program.
The following are good professional goals:

  • Be polite and businesslike regardless of what others say or do.
  • Understand what you are doing and why. You are not “killing animals.” You are protecting agriculture, property, human health and safety, and the natural resources of the state.
  • Understand the objectives of the control program before you begin.
  • Be aware of the laws and regulations that govern vertebrate pest control. Know the liability of your actions. Follow the rules.
  • Know what kinds of toxicants you are using. Be aware of what these chemicals can and cannot do.
  • Know the vocabulary of the profession. Do not use the word “poison” when talking about toxicants. When you use chemicals correctly, public exposure and threats to non-target animals should be minimal.
  • Understand the label. Be aware of other labeled uses for the materials you are applying. You can use many vertebrate pesticides on a variety of animals.
  • Keep product literature, a copy of the toxicant label, and its Safety Data Sheet (SDS) handy when you are at an application site.
  • Use practical and humane methods to achieve control. Often, several control options are equally effective.
  • Know when to answer a question and when to defer to a supervisor or colleague.

Preparation

Make the public aware of your commitment to safety and to the environment. You can furnish background information to help educate people at the grassroots level. Meet and discuss the control program with nearby landowners before starting the program. It is best to deal with concerns early on. Sometimes, an onsite visit may be important. You can describe the pest problems you are dealing with and explain how your program will help.
Talk to landowners before starting a wildlife damage management program. Use these pointers in your discussion:

  1. Tell the truth about your operation. Explain what you plan to do, when, and why. Describe the potential effects that may result. Discuss different control options. Explain why the control method you chose is suitable for the situation. If the area has been treated in the past, explain how often. Describe successful outcomes. Be truthful about disposition of trapped animals. NWCOs who lie and tell clients they translocate wildlife just to gain an unfair business advantage over those who truthfully acknowledge that animals will be humanely dispatched are exhibiting unethical behavior.
  2. Ask the landowners about potential areas of concern (sensitive areas). Are nearby non-target animals, streams, drainage or irrigation ditches, or wells at risk? Are there concerns about personal safety?

Be prepared to answer questions like these:
What control method are you using, and why are you using it?
Will the control method affect pets or other wildlife?
Can other animals die if they eat an animal killed by a toxicant?
How can you be sure the toxicant will not get into our water supplies?
If my cattle eat treated bait, will they suffer harm?
What risk does the toxicant pose to my family and me?
What happens if animals that eat the toxicant leave the area?
Are the toxicants humane?
Are lethal traps dangerous to other animals?
Do trapped animals suffer?
What sort of euthanasia procedures do you use?
How do you plan to dispose of euthanized animals?
Answer all questions politely. Ask questions to clarify any concerns. Listen to what they say. Spend only a reasonable amount of time explaining. Be clear, concise, and complete. Do not argue. Leave your name and office phone number so residents can contact you or someone else for more information.
Professionals in Integrated Wildlife Damage Management are careful to point out the positive aspects of all species. They also understand and stress the need for humane treatment of animals.
Problems with wildlife can cause incredible stress and anxiety for clients. They may express this stress through anger, pleading, or belligerence in their tone, words, and body language. All of these behaviors are normal. It is critical that you, as the professional NWCO, understand that although you are not the cause of these behaviors, you must be prepared to handle the emotions. People feel anxious for a variety of reasons. The way you respond to the public will go a long way in helping many feel more relaxed and in control.
Don’t be afraid to refuse a job if you don’t know how to provide the service requested properly and effectively. Likewise, do not be afraid to refuse a job if the client demands that you do something illegal or unethical.

Help Your Client Regain Control

Your primary task as a NWCO is to help clients regain a sense of well-being by helping them regain control of their personal space. You can accomplish this goal through what you say and do. Surveys of customer satisfaction have revealed two critical factors that strongly influence customer loyalty: effective communication and service interactions.
You begin to put clients at ease the moment you begin fulfilling their expectations. By displaying the five behaviors of effective service listed below, you help clients believe that they have chosen the right person for the job. When you arrive, walk with assurance and purpose, as they likely will be watching you from a window. Bring the necessary equipment, introduce yourself, and hand the client your company materials.
 
Five behaviors determine how clients perceive the effectiveness of service

  1. Setting service expectations
  2. Providing ample service time
  3. Demonstrating technical knowledge
  4. Punctuality
  5. Listening to clients. 

Vehicle Setup

Setup of your vehicle is complicated because wildlife control requires a great deal of equipment. The truck of a NWCO is large (Figure 1), contains many compartments (Figure 2), and is fully loaded (Figure 3). Equipment is bulky; access to it requires many openings. A variety of tools are needed to provide one-stop service.

Figure 1. An example of a NWCO truck: 4-wheel drive extended cab with ladders and a topper, or cap, over the bed. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Figure 2. Side panels of a typical NWCO truck.
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Figure 3. The inside of a typical NWCO truck.
Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Suggested Equipment

The following is a list of suggested equipment for your truck:

  1. 24- and 32-foot extension ladders and an 8-foot step ladder;
  2. ridge hook and corner stabilizer bar;
  3. safety equipment;
  4. catch pole, cat grasper, snake tongs, snake hook, hand net, and gloves for animal handling;
  5. tree branch trimmer and 32-foot painter’s pole;
  6. traps, baits, lures, trap covers, plywood boards, shelf brackets, trap wire, stakes, cage traps in several sizes, and stainless wire to secure traps to buildings;
  7. hand tools, including a portable power drill, wood and metal saws, tin snips, vise-grips, assorted drill bits, ratchets, wrenches, screwdrivers, pointed awl, mirror, shovel, measuring tape, stud finder, square, and level;
  8. flashlights, inspection equipment, and inspection checklists;
  9. rolled aluminum flashing in several colors, ¼-inch hardware cloth, assorted fasteners (including cotter pins), roofing cement, builder’s adhesive, foam, crevice filler (e.g., Copper Stuf-it®, Xcluder®), duct tape, all-weather tape, high quality color caulks and sealants, and rope;
  10. chimney caps and vent screens;
  11. work gloves, water-proof and chemical resistant gloves, respirator, Tyvek® suits, headlamp, and appropriate footwear for climbing on roofs;
  12. forms, brochures, and educational literature;
  13. fire extinguisher (ABC rated), first aid kit, disinfecting hand wipes, extra keys, and other emergency equipment; and
  14. the vehicle should be configured to power battery chargers and a light for the topper.

Identify the Type of Job

After introductions, you must determine whether the job involves damage from a transient or resident animal. Proper identification of the type of damage is essential, as it directly relates to what control measures you can propose to the client. Successful elimination should NEVER be guaranteed.
Transient damage involves situations in which one or more animals harm the client’s property but do not reside on the client’s property. For example, a skunk that grubs in the front yard (Figure 4) but lives two blocks away is committing transient damage. Another example is bark stripping by squirrels.

Figure 4. Holes created by a skunk looking for grubs. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Resident damage occurs when one or more animals actively live on the property belonging to the client, such as a raccoon in an attic (Figure 5) or a skunk under a deck. Damage by resident animals usually can be resolved, provided the law allows the home of the animal to be disturbed. Transient damage is much more difficult to control.
Figure 5. Entrance to the den of a raccoon. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Managing Client Expectations

Many clients are accustomed to and want an instant solution. They may believe you have some magic potion capable of driving wildlife away or luring an animal into a trap. It is very important that you ensure that client expectations are realistic. Explain in detail the service you will be delivering, verify that the client understands, and answer any questions.

Understand Client Needs

Before offering control options, be sure you understand the needs and wants of the client. There is a difference between being asked to catch squirrels and getting squirrels out of the house. The client may not understand the distinction and you may need to help them. Squirrels can be eliminated from buildings by trapping and the use of one-way doors. The client probably is more interested in controlling the damage, not the animal. Emphasize that you help resolve problems in addition to trapping animals. Always explain how a problem might be prevented in the future.

Selling the Job

Quality inspections are the foundation for effective wildlife damage management. Inspections also lay the groundwork for your sales presentation. Inspections provide the information you need to advise the client about the nature of the problem, the damage that resulted, and how the problem should be resolved. The following discussion lists tools that may help you close a sale.
Digital cameras allow you to document your findings and can be powerful tools for showing clients what is happening in remote areas of their home. Take photos of structural damage (soiled and torn insulation, feces, gnaw marks, urine stains) and structural needs (screens, chimney caps, holes, and areas that wildlife can exploit).
Photo albums are essential to WDM. They provide a visual presentation to reinforce your verbal descriptions. When clients hear about caps, screens, and fences, they may worry that the look of their home will be negatively impacted. Photos that show how something looks after installation can go a long way in alleviating the concerns of a client.

Explain Control Options

How you explain the options for control is driven as much by marketing and psychology as by education. Sometimes you can provide clients plenty of choices, but in some situations, you should provide the quickest solution. Ultimately, you must educate clients enough so that they take ownership of the choice.

Customer Demands of Services Not Recommended by a NWCO

A job does not necessarily need to be declined just because the client does not want to follow your recommendation. You should be very clear about the limits of your work. For example, a client’s garden is being ravaged by a woodchuck and you recommend that a fence be installed. Instead, the client demands that the woodchuck be trapped because she does not want to fence her garden. You explain that the woodchuck does not live on her property and that transient woodchucks are difficult to capture when food is readily available from the garden. She, however, does not care and wants you to trap anyway.
When the client makes a request that does not quite fit your original recommendation you will have to decide whether to accept the terms of the client (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Client request flow chart.
Image by Stephen M. Vantassel.

An important consideration when making this decision is determining if the request is reasonable. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the request consistent with the business practices of your company? The protocols of your company are designed to protect the client and your business from unreasonable risk and poor service.
  2. Will your company reach its profit goals? If the request diminishes the standard margin, the job is not suitable for service.
  3. Will the client still be happy if the suggestion fails to resolve the complaint?

The last question may seem strange, but people are not always logical. Customers make demands and they sometimes remain unsatisfied even when those demands are met. It is important to be flexible while performing wildlife control, as animals do not always follow expected behavioral patterns. When in doubt, do not hesitate to contact your supervisor or colleagues. Do not rush into a decision.

Client Obligations

Responsibilities of the client should always be kept to a minimum during WDM. Reliance on a client frequently results in reduced quality of work and profitability. Consider the following tips.

  1. Avoid setting traps in areas where you do not have direct access, such as inside a locked building. Exceptions include businesses that have regular hours that ensure someone will be there or when you have been given keys.
  2. Encourage clients to call if a problem arises, such as a bat flying inside a living room.
  3. Clients should be held responsible for disturbing your equipment. This is particularly important for business sites, where some of the workers may oppose control methods. Clients should understand that failure to protect equipment might result in cancelling the job and involve additional charges. New York has laws against disturbing lawfully set traps and wildlife control equipment.
  4. Clients should not hire another NWCO while you are working on the problem. It is better to resign from a job than to be in competition with another company on-site.

If you decide to take a job, explain in writing and verbally the limits of your work. Also, make a note if the client refuses your recommended treatment. 

Your Obligations

You are required to provide professional service to clients in accordance with regulations and industry standards. The following guidelines may be helpful:

  • Discretion is important, as people love wildlife. Neighbors may want to learn about what you are doing. Be cordial but respect the privacy of the client. Refer the neighbor to the client for more information. Work quickly and without drawing attention.
  • Attractive nuisance is a legal term normally associated with swimming pools. For example, the presence of a pool will draw children to it. To prevent drowning, pool owners must install fences around pools. In other words, you can be held responsible for other people’s irresponsibility. To reduce risk:
  • use exclusion techniques (Figure 7);
  • secure traps in locations that are difficult for the public to access;
  • use solid wall traps and camouflage them in high traffic areas; and
  • perform services when fewer people are likely to be present.
  • Think about the “what-ifs.” If it’s windy, can a strong gust of wind take the trap off the roof? Is the ladder secure?
  • You are always being watched. Act professionally and you should not have a problem.
  • Do not promise what you cannot deliver. Clients may press you to provide guarantees and assurances regarding their situation and your service. What you can promise is that you will work until the job is done and that you will stand by the quality of your work.
Figure 7. A squirrel that has been excluded into a transfer cage. Photo by Tomahawk Live Trap Co.

Prevention

You are responsible for educating your clients about preventing future problems, which is why thorough inspections are so critical. Inspections help you identify areas of potential concern. Examples of issues you likely will discuss include chimney caps, deck or shed screening, vent screening, crack and crevice filling, tree trimming, habitat modification, and bird feeder modification. Even if you do not perform the service, tell the client what should be done.

Unforeseen Events

Two kinds of unforeseen events typically affect NWCOs: mal-occurrences and mistakes. Mal-occurrences are negative events that happen unexpectedly. They may be regrettable and unfortunate, but they did not occur because of sloppy work practices. For example, a tree falling on your trap and killing an animal inside is a mal-occurrence. An animal that is killed because a trap fell off the roof because you did not secure it properly is a mistake. Accidents often are the result of carelessness.
Consider what might go wrong during the time you are working and when you return. For example, when trapping on a roof, check that traps are secured so they cannot fall off the roof. Make sure that you can access a trap if an animal is caught, even if the weather turns bad.
Mistakes include:

  • setting lethal traps in public view,
  • forgetting to check traps,
  • dropping traps,
  • failing to secure vent screens properly,
  • dropping a ladder through a picture window,
  • falling through an attic floor due to misplacement of feet, and
  • breaking the law.

When a mistake is made, several steps can be taken to rectify the situation.

  • Acknowledge the error. A cover-up often carries consequences worse than the original mistake. It may help to let the client know that you are aware of the error and that you have corrected it.
  • Apologize if appropriate. Correct the error and its consequences with due haste. Clients understand that “things happen.” They want to know what you will do to make it right. If you satisfy their problem with speed and quality, angry customers can quickly become your best clients and promoters.
  • Notify your manager if a mistake has resulted in property damage, personal injury, regulatory violations, or media attention.
  • Establish a system to ensure that the mistake does not happen again.

Weather

Weather will be one of the most difficult challenges of your job, as it can hinder the comfort and ease with which you work. You must plan for the weather. Always be aware of the weather forecast for the next day. A forecast of bad weather forces you to change your work but wildlife tend to be more mobile before a storm. Do not be surprised if several captures occur prior to the arrival of a storm.
Most jobs can be done in the rain, with the exception of outdoor ladder and roof work. Traps will continue to function in the rain because trap covers protect the bait and trapped animals. Snow and ice are more difficult, as they can bury or freeze trap triggers. Snow that slides off a roof can dislodge roof-set traps and send them to the ground.
One response to hazardous weather conditions is to remove traps or wire them open so they cannot catch anything. If the job is not finished, often it is best to wire traps open. This technique also applies to one-way doors unless you have them protected so the doors do not freeze shut. Ground-set traps can be protected with plywood.

High-risk Jobs

High-risk jobs are those in which the wildlife problem is occurring in an area of high visibility or access, such as a shopping mall, theme park, or city park. Sometimes, a high-risk situation is nothing more than a family that cannot or will not keep their children away from your traps. The risks involve the potential for injury to those who have contact with a caged animal, and negative publicity.

Evaluation

So you’ve finished the job. It’s time to tip your hat and ride off into the sunset, right? Well, maybe not. Have you really been successful? Or is the “problem” just waiting to re-emerge, like some bad horror movie that spawns thirteen sequels?
Should you care? Why spend time on follow-up, when you’re already so busy? After all, you are confident that you do good work, so you expect success. It’s not a bad idea to determine how successful you’ve been. How happy is your customer with your work?
Evaluations help you to improve your control techniques and your business planning. For example, after studying his records, one NWCO realized that it didn’t make financial sense to go out on a call unless he’d earn at least $50. Otherwise, he couldn’t justify the cost of the truck maintenance, gas, time, and all the rest.
Success can be evaluated in many ways. A low-key approach might simply be to give customers your card, and ask them to call if they have any problems. Keep in mind that many people don’t return to a business if they’re unhappy — they go to someone else and often tell others about the raw deal that they believed they received. In other words, no news is not necessarily good news.
You could plan a follow-up visit to evaluate your success personally. This, of course, takes time, but you could view this as marketing. Many customers will appreciate this extra effort and that could lead to great word-of-mouth advertising. Also, you see the situation yourself, instead of relying on someone else’s description. Be sure to leave a written inspection report with the client.
If you can’t invest the time to go back to all these sites, you could call or email your customers, or leave them a brief evaluation form to fill out and return. Use a stamped, self-addressed postcard. Then all your customer has to do is fill out the form and drop it in the mail.
If you are performing wildlife control work to make money, you’ll want to know how well you’re doing. Your income minus your costs of doing business is your profit margin.
Once you know your profit margin, think of questions that might affect how you run your business. For example, are you consistently making money on certain types of jobs while losing money on others? Consider focusing on the profitable work or increase the price for the less profitable jobs. On the other hand, some NWCOs consider low-cost, less profitable jobs as a way to build their client base.
Check and evaluate your work to become a better NWCO and so that you have happy customers. No matter how often you do it, you can still learn something new.Wise Practices

  1. Work and set traps out of public view. This may involve working beyond normal working hours.
  2. Camouflage traps when you cannot hide them.
  3. If you set traps, have the client call you as soon as an animal is caught, but do not depend on the client to call. Consider using a trap notification device, which will call your cell phone when the trap is triggered.
  4. Work even when the business shuts down for vacation, holidays, or weekends.

Acknowledgments

Original document reviewed by Reginald Murray, Oklahoma Wildlife Control LLC.

Be professional. Consider joining the National Wildlife Control Operators Association.