‘Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face’ – Mike Tyson
This saying couldn’t be more real now than ever. For pest management professionals, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unexpected turn in the way they look at the business as a whole. The unprecedented change in 2020 has led to many new strategies and programs or dusting off the old ones and relooking at them in the ‘new normal’. CM today spoke to a few leading Pest Control service providers in the region to understand how they have redefined their strategies this year.
The pandemic truly tested the way the service providers serve their clients, however, the good news was that the business continuity was possible as this was still considered as ‘an essential service’. However, the employee, commercial, and consumer expectations were the driving factors for redefining the experience of pest control for everyone.
Sean Baker, Managing Director, Rentokil Initial Pest Control, UAE, says that when it came to employees, the global IT communication system was set in place. “All business information could be shared and updated which allowed our colleagues to work effectively from home during the lockdown. This made it easy for us to support our clients without any disruption to the delivery of the pest control service which was classed as an essential service at the time,” he adds.
However, when it comes to the commercial or client perspective, initially there were a lot of challenges that they faced however, Baker explains how they found their way around that as well. “Some clients just didn't wish our technicians to enter their home or business due to the panic at the time and many domestic clients still are restricting our access. For such clients, we are offering a complete disinfection service directly after our pest control inspection. These would be provided complimentary or at a reduced fee,” adds Baker.
The lockdown saw a tremendous rise in the cases of pests as well. Breaking it down for us, E.Mohamed Mahmood Al Marzouqi, Pest Control Projects Director, Tadweer, The Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center, says, “With businesses closing and foot traffic dwindling, pests are looking for new sources of food, and food and beverage plants are a natural target.” Al Marzouqi says that there was bound to be a spike in the pests during the lockdown due to many reasons, namely:
- Pest pressure spikes: It is clear that, in areas with closed businesses and significant drops in human activity, there was a spike in pest pressure. With the decrease in available resources like food waste and water sources
- Pests gain opportunities: The pandemic has disrupted the routines at most businesses, affecting everything from basic operating procedures, such as cleaning and maintenance, to working hours or even closures. All of this creates new opportunities for pests. Dumpsters that are not emptied support fly populations.
- Suspended service: Businesses that temporarily closed may be subject to increased infestation, particularly those that canceled pest control contracts or suspended internal pest control activities because the facility was operating with minimal staff. This could lead to increased infestation levels upon reopening.
Like every industry, the pest control sector too had their fair share of challenges. And in the process of overcoming those challenges, service providers learned many key lessons. Baker states that the initial phase of the pandemic was extremely dynamic and changes were being made every day and as one had to adapt. “Daily changes were being faced with regards to government requirements, business, and clients’ needs and therefore we found it was critical to continually update everyone with new challenges, the solutions, and new procedures to be followed. We found that these daily official COVID-19 updates were very helpful for our colleagues and clients. Along with this, we were continually providing educational updates,” says Baker, while adding, “It's amazing what can be achieved when everyone pulls 100% together, communicates and works at an urgent pace.”
Some of the other key lessons that were learned were all about the importance of protecting buildings, common areas, and premises during the lockdown for both essential businesses that need to keep operations running and for businesses that are closed. “Action now will keep buildings pest-free, safe, and ready to use when the lockdown is lifted and business operations are restarted. It will also reassure staff and customers that a building is safe to work in or visit,” says Al Marzouqi.
It all boils down to having the right strategies in place. But there is no one plan fits all out here. Experts reveal that pest control is one of the basic elements that affect public health and community welfare as well. Hence, all the elements must be gathered within the integrated work plan, to cope with the social expectation and variable factors that might be encountered through the implementation process.
Al Marzouqi says, “For pest control companies, unusual circumstances have certainly had an impact on the way that business is conducted. While most municipalities have deemed pest control to be an essential service, businesses still need to re-strategize their business practices to remain efficient, profitable, and productive in the wake of the pandemic and moving forward,” he adds.
The experts list a few strategies and programs that are being implemented post the onset of the pandemic.
- Ensuring Cash Flow
Like any business, a pest control company depends on a balance between money coming in and money going out to ensure continuity of business. Al Marzouqi says, “This can be challenging during a crisis, particularly when some customers may be considering canceling or postponing service appointments until things settle down.”
- Keeping Employees & Services Safe
Protecting one’s employees' health is essential to ensure we can reduce any risk to clients. At Rentokil, Baker says that they practice controlled distancing in the accommodations, offices, during transportation, and on the job. “Providing adequate PPE and sanitizing solutions is a key strategy for us as it ensures all our colleagues are properly protected. Extra colleague accommodation is also in place should any member of staff have to be placed under quarantine. We have even positioned colleagues' accommodation and restricted contact with other accommodation colleagues so that should there be a quarantine need our operation and the client service would receive a minimal impact,” adds Baker.
- Public Awareness
Al Marzouqi says that the department has launched a public awareness program, by designing pests checklists, awareness videos, and brochures, to raise public education regarding possible means and preventive measure to avoid pests spreading.