What’s the top-rated Yelp business in Phoenix, Arizona? A trendy restaurant? A unique boutique? Nope. In this arid land, it’s pest control.
Only four years in and ramping up for a busy summer, Ben and Jenny McAvoy’s small business, Insectek Pest Solutions, has garnered over 200 5-star reviews. Yes, you read that right. And each review is written by a customer who, maybe more than anything, is thrilled that such a dreaded problem could be transformed into a surprisingly pleasant experience.
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Dousing creepy-crawlies in noxious fumes is far from what the business is all about. (In fact, there are hardly noxious fumes at all; Insectek uses environmentally-friendly products.) Instead, the company is unexpectedly — though decidedly — one of the best places to work within the service industry.
For what many customers would typically describe as a service that’s “necessary, but annoying,” Insectek has been perfectly poised to reframe customers’ expectations and deliver a service that many Yelpers have gone on to describe as “awesome,” a “great experience!” and entirely “unobtrusive” (unlike their unwanted arthropodal guests).
You need empathy more than anything. That’s the only way you can help your employees find a proper work-life balance.
With corporate financial backgrounds at Charles Schwab and American Express, the husband-and-wife team endeavors to bring the pest control industry into the 21st century, and that doesn’t stop at operating everything through modern tech. While the company is nearly paperless, streamlining the business with online software and tablets for every technician, what’s more innovative is how human Insectek is with their team. They offer health care, fair pay, and time off, along with fostering team values of integrity, pride in their work, and trust.
The virtuous cycle
As Ben describes it, “You need empathy more than anything — you have to be the best for your employees and genuinely want the best for them. That’s the only way you can help them find a proper work-life balance.” In one example, the technicians even have the option to drive their vehicles home, rather than having to pick them up from the office every day; granting them an additional responsibility that Ben considers a direct translation to “We trust you.”
That alone is somewhat rare in the industry. Along with having company credit cards to take care of fueling up and oil changes, Ben says that saves his technicians at least an hour a day; not having to go into an office, pick up a vehicle, and drop it off at the end of the day. “And it’s simply to provide them with a little bit more family time, a little more downtime than they would’ve had,” he explains.
Those things really add up to improve the employees’ quality of life. Ben continues, “We try to focus on those little things, like team lunches, letting the team off early if their route is clear, being really accommodating if they have to go pick up kids, or you know, if something comes up, not charging PTO hours for those sorts of things.”
By offering his team a high level of trust and flexibility, Ben has found it easier to retain and recruit people away from other companies. He refers to their compensation structure and incentives as the base for a “virtuous cycle.” “If your employees are happy, they’re going to pass that on to the customers, and they pass that on in reviews. It all manifests itself in reviews,” Ben explains. To earn that stellar 5-star presence, there were no other gimmicks or marketing tactics required.
Be humble enough to point the customer to another company who’s best suited for the job they need done.
Being in it for the long haul
Bugs aren’t the only things Insectek crushes — they also have a philosophy that improves the lives of employees and at the same time, the success of the business.
“I don’t really fit the typical pest control profile,” he says, “But because of that, we’ve really been able to differentiate ourselves from others, and that comes down to our focus on the long term.” Ben’s referring to how he and the team initially got Insectek off the ground. His philosophy was, “Be okay with running your business at lower profit margins in order grow, in the beginning. Giving a lot of free stuff away — giving someone value — is one way to start that.”
And it takes patience to maintain that attitude over time: “Don’t get greedy or scared that you need to charge a huge amount. Be quick to refund money if you’ve made a mistake. Be humble enough to point the customer to another company who’s best suited for the job they need done.” Ben takes this so far as to pass on any referral bonus he’d have earned to his own lost customers. That way, he gives them a reason to trust him with their future business.
“People write positive reviews about our service even if they haven’t yet used our service,” Ben says with a laugh. “It’s because they haven’t been pressured to buy — they’ve just been so happy about our approach and it’s clear to them that we’re putting their interests before our own. I love to see that.”
Hiring for the long-term
When hiring, Ben and Jenny aim to find people who take pride in their work. “We’ve hired a team of people who are motivated to do their best work, who take it personally if they don’t. When we interview people, we drill down on their attention to detail — that goes hand-in-hand with personal integrity. In an industry where a crucial part of the service is to make customers feel safe and secure in allowing what’s otherwise a stranger into their homes, integrity and pride go a long way.”
We hire great people. And what great people do is get better, and then move on to bigger and better things.
Ben credits his corporate experience for the way he interacts with his team, setting regular check-ins with every employee, taking them out for lunch, or meeting them during breaks on their service route. “I do temperature checks. I try to find out where their head’s at, where they want to go, what they want to do. You know, if pest control isn’t their life goal — I try to get them to be where they need to be so they can attain their own goals. Not just mine.”
That reasoning comes down to a simple philosophy: “We hire great people. And what great people do is get better, and then move on to bigger and better things.” To be able to move on (or up) is ultimately what Ben wants for his team — to empower them to get to a better place in their careers than where they were when he first hired them. Gerrit Millet, originally a field technician who’s now Insectek’s Service Manager, has grown with the company over three years. He’s loved working with Ben and Jenny. “In this industry, there are high expectations for sales quotas with a constant fishing for referrals and new sales. Ben and Jenny have a whole different outlook. They build customer feedback directly into their business. It’s refreshing, more than anything,” Gerrit says.
“I had never been in an upper management position before joining Insectek, and seeing myself able to take on that responsibility has been amazing,” Gerrit tells us. “I’ve learned that my capacity for taking more on is higher than I ever thought.”
A foundation of feedback
Jenny and Ben share a strong belief in maintaining a sense of humility as business owners. Especially when a marriage also becomes a working relationship, it’s fundamental to swallow stubbornness or pride and make decisions without letting emotion get in the way. “The most important part of arguing constructively is learning not to take things personally. You have to stand outside of it and see it as a business entity; and always come back to that sense of empathy for the customer and for employees,” Ben says.
“Our leadership style has never been, ‘Whatever we say goes’ — that’s not effective,” Jenny says. When new team members join, Jenny tells them, “We’ve built this the way we think is best, but we are always open to feedback. Bring in what you did and didn’t like about the processes at your last company. If you wonder why we do something a certain way, don’t be afraid to question it!”
The couple’s goal is to implement the best practices from everyone’s experiences, and prune those practices into a company that’s always in the pursuit of getting more efficient, providing a better experience for their customers, and a better working environment for their employees.
“We strive to show the team that we’re evaluating all angles of a decision — because this business is not just about Ben and I; it’s about the office staff, the technicians on the field, and of course, all of our customers,” Jenny says. Ben adds, “It’s their business, too.”