Digital Change at Terminix
Terminix has used technological innovation to make its technicians more effective and customers happier
Terminix is a $1bn revenue business unit of ServiceMaster, a global consumer services company. The business is the market leader in pest and rodent control services alongside Orkin. Terminix employs roughly 8,000 technicians who make over 15,000 visits to homes and businesses per year.
As Terminix has grown over the past few decades, there have been a number of technological innovations that have allowed the business to operate more effectively. Historically, when technicians began their day, they would have their schedules set for the day, and it would be very difficult to communicate if a technician was running behind schedule – something that actually occurs quite frequently in the pest and rodent control business, given the variability and lack of predictability across jobs. Technicians are now all given cell phones so that they can call customers if they are running behind schedule.
Simply giving technicians cell phones was certainly beneficial for customers by increasing communication and thus improving customer service. More recently, Terminix has developed an incredibly useful app for technicians that has given them greater transparency into their schedules and made their jobs much easier. A technician’s schedule is now uploaded to his phone each morning, which allows him to not have to come into the branch office each morning to pick up a printed copy – he or she can head straight to his first job of the day. The app also provides the driver with GPS directions to each job, helping make technicians even efficient in between scheduled jobs.
Terminix customers are also encouraged to download a customer app. The customer-facing app allows people to track the location of their driver to see exactly how close to the scheduled appointment time he or she will arrive. The app also allows customers to easily book appointments in the event of an emergency rodent or pest sighting. Finally, similar to the Uber rating system, customers are able to rate their technicians and provide feedback based on their visit.
There are still a number of things Terminix could be doing on the technical front to make their technicians more effective. Safety is one of the biggest concerns for Terminix management. Very unfortunately, there were two deaths associated with fumigation jobs performed by Terminix employees. There was also a situation in Puerto Rico in which a fumigation job was done improperly such that the family in the unit above the fumigated unit was poisoned. While none of the four family members perished, three were left paralyzed and brain damaged. The family had been vacationing with a U.S. Senator at the time, making the case very high profile in the media. In order to help prevent future issues, Terminix should consider creating mandatory safety checklists built into the technician app that the worker must complete before heading to the next job. Terminix should also consider building in some sort of visual confirmation requirement (i.e., technicians would be required to take and upload pictures) to prove that they have actually completed the proper safety steps.
Another feature that Terminix should consider building into the technician app to help improve safety is the inability to operate the app while technicians are driving towards a job. ServiceMaster paid over $20 million in insurance related costs in 2015, largely related to technicians’ poor driving records. One can only speculate as to the reasons for why Terminix drivers have had so many issues, but it would not be a stretch to suggest that by disabling their company phones (with the exception of GPS directions) while driving would improve safety records on the road.
Terminix has made great strides in utilizing technology to make their technicians more effective at their jobs. The consumer-facing app has also made it much more convenient for customers to book orders, track drivers and give feedback. However, Terminix should continue to invest in technology in order to improve its safety record.
Student comments on Digital Change at Terminix
Thanks Robby. Pests aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Aside from the safety recommendations you proposed, technology could also play a big role in the way that Terminix and other pest companies think about marketing and sales. Pest control services are often sold door-to-door by a fleet of sales people. Data collected from technicians could help the sales people understand what pest infestations have struck a certain area, allowing sales people to better target an area, boosting sales productivity. Geo-locating would also allow them to target areas that don’t have a sales fleet through zip code based mailers through the Postal Service.
Terminix could also outfit their fleet of vehicles with devices that track their driving, such as the Snapshot from Progressive.  Monitoring the fleet may incent better driving, thus reducing accidents and lowering insurance costs.
This post highlights that even the most manual physically-based industries (pest control and extermination) require full consideration of how to play in the digital space to retain a competitive advantage. As you say, even the simplest of acts, like providing technicians cell phones, can add such an increased level of productivity and customer service. If we consider the psychology of a typical customer, s/he is likely already quite frustrated and anxious about needing these services in the first place. That, coupled with the fact that these companies likely drive business via positive word-of-mouth reviews, gives Terminix all the incentive in the world to actively consider ways to make the process as seamless, transparent and communicative as possible.
Perhaps an additional consideration not mentioned is incorporating an educational aspect into Terminix’s mobile application. For example, Terminix could publish content on how to identify household pests, what to do about it and when, and how Terminix’s services could help accelerate removal of the pests. By adding an informational component to its digital presence, Terminix could widen the audience of its user base, ultimately generating greater brand awareness.
Great post Robby.
What I found particularly interesting is your suggestion of implementing a safety checklist for the technicians. This reminded me of Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto where he discusses implementing a mandatory, written/verbal checklist in the operating room in order to improve safety. He draws on references from the aviation industry explaining how they have managed to achieve an unparalleled level of safety by implementing a systemic safety checklist no matter the skill level of the team or pilot. This has had notable success in the OR and I believe can benefit Terminix as well.
Yes I wonder how much of the industry will be further disrupted by platforms to enable consumers to directly do things themselves that normally outside third party service providers do like pest control. It seems outdated to me the idea of having an exterminator come to one’s home for a service that is the application of materials to a home – however, maybe I am wrong. The industry of maids and cleaners is still alive and active…
Robby – nice work. In my opinion, the entire industry of pest detection and eradication seems outdated, with lots of friction points and plenty of room for additional technological innovation on top of the solid steps already taken by Terminix.
The process of finding an infestation, calling an exterminator, having him set traps or schedule fumigation, and then verify the results is fundamentally a reactive process and may not even get at the root causes of a bug problem (e.g. moisture buildup in structural voids). I wonder if Terminix could introduce some kind of inexpensive, digital leave-behind sensor to track the effectiveness of the eradication program and monitor for signs of re-infestation. Another option might be to integrate a pest detection system into “smart home” technology like GoogleHome or Apple’s HomeKit. Terminix stands to benefit from supporting this kind of product, as it could result in pro-active extermination contracts that don’t rely on residents physically locating a pest before scheduling an appointment. I wonder how many people out there have pest problems they don’t even know about? Probably more than we’d like to know, but Terminix would be an ideal consumer of this data.