Updated: May 25, 2022
It’s a call you get more frequently than you really want: Someone has discovered that they have bed bugs in their house and they want them gone NOW! The caller, new customer, or old client (it really doesn’t matter) is initially immune to all your reassurances. But you calm them down, and you promise that you’ll be there, wherever ‘there’ is, as soon as possible.
Getting Ahead of the Bed Bug Eradication Curve
Perhaps the most difficult task you have ahead of you is managing your customers’ expectations about what they can expect from you as a PMP (pest management professional). This might include such things as the cost and duration of your eradication efforts, what results the customer can expect in both the short-term and long-term, what products you use and why, and whether or not they will have to undergo follow-up treatments (the answer to which is almost certainly a ‘yes’).
But there are other things you can do to better prepare the customer for your visit(s). For example, you can provide them with information about:
Basic bed bug biology, behavior, and how to actually identify bed bugs. The problem may not be bed bugs at all, or there could be multiple problems. Customers need to be informed.
How widespread the bed bug infestation may really be, and why simple visual inspections cannot always accurately determine the true scope of a bed bug invasion.
The treatment procedures you employ, and why it’s best to provide a copy of the specific terms of your proposed service agreement.
How they should prepare for your arrival.
As a matter of course you should also be able to answer any questions the customer might ask about the efficacy of the treatment methods you propose to use, and why your particular treatment methods are different from other companies the customer might have spoken to already. (You should always proceed on the assumption that your customer, even if they’re established, has already spoken to other pest management companies and asked them the same questions you’re now being asked).
Identifying the Bed Bug Query
More often than not, customers will misidentify the bugs that have made their way into their homes (See ‘What If It’s Not Bed Bugs?’ section below). It’s not unusual. After all, they’re not entomologists or trained pest management professionals, so why should they know the difference between a carpenter ant and a termite? That’s where you come in!
You can always refer the customer to your own website for information, particularly if you have pages dedicated to insect identification, with lots of high-definition, color photographs of the bugs in question. Following that, you should either be able to direct them to websites that can help them, such as Insect Identification or the Encyclopedia Britannica’s insect section, or provide printed guides for them to read.
You can also always sketch out the basics of bed bug identification. Here’s what you need to tell your customers (or potential clients) about these invaders:
Bed bugs are small, oval, and brownish in color. Adults possess flat bodies that are about the size of an apple seed. After feeding, usually on human blood although they’re not really particular, their bodies will swell and take on a reddish hue.
Bed bug bites are often the first sign that these unpleasant creatures are present, although they “are not known to transmit any infectious diseases”. The bites are usually painless at first, but often turn into itchy welts. They are: - Red, often with a darker red spot in the middle. - Arranged in a rough line or cluster. - Found on the face, neck, arms and hands.
Blood stains on your sheets or pillowcases are also a sign that bed bugs are present. Look for dark or rusty spots (actually bed bug excrement) on sheets and mattresses, bed clothes, and walls. Egg shells or shed skins are also an indication that bed bugs are in residence. They also give off a musty odor from their scent glands.
Telling the Truth About Bed Bug Eradication
As you probably know, many pest management companies offer a 30- or 60-day treatment warranty/guarantee (sometimes even longer) on bed bug treatments. However, it’s extremely important that you tell your customers up front that this is no guarantee that all the bed bugs will be gone after the first treatment. In fact, it’s almost certain that some will remain!
The best way to handle this unfortunate fact of bug life is to explain to the customer why it’s so hard to get rid of bed bugs:
They are the ultimate survivors. Small, flat and armor-plated, they are able to squeeze themselves into amazingly small cracks and crevices. And they can hide anywhere: behind wallpaper, in baseboards, under floorboards, even inside computers and TVs.
They breed prolifically. Female bed bugs spend most of their short lives pregnant. So if one makes its way into your house then there is a very good chance that it’s carrying hundreds of baby bugs.
They are parasites that feed on blood, but they can go for remarkably long periods without sustenance: They have been known to survive up to 18 months unfed.
They really are mutants that contain genes from other organisms, making them very hard to kill. They have also developed a remarkable ability to quickly adapt to a wide range of environments and ecosystems.
You should tell your customer that they should be especially leery of any pest management company that guarantees a complete elimination of bed bugs (or other insects for that matter) after one treatment. No one can make such a promise.
What If It’s Not Bed Bugs?
Most people think that they know what bed bugs look like. Alas, they don’t. The truth is that the average person will often mistake one bug for another, and bed bugs are no exception. Insects that are commonly misidentified as bed bugs include: bat bugs, poultry bugs, swallow bugs, carpet beetles, book lice, dust mites and spider beetles.
This is the ideal time to explain to customers why your services are so important. What they rarely know, but you do through experience, is that the presence of one bug is usually a sign that other types of pests may also be present. The conditions that attract bed bugs in the first place also attract other potential interlopers. Point out to the customer that an experienced and well-trained PMP can usually identify additional problems that they may well have overlooked. A good PMP will spot them and suggest the right way of dealing with them.
What the Customer Should Avoid
It’s easy to understand why the discovery of bed bugs in a home or an office can be a source of alarm and disgust. In their understandable rush to rid themselves of these nasty bugs, people often go to unnecessary extremes. You’ll need all your patience and training to steer them away from any ill-advised moves. Before you even get to the customer’s house you should suggest the following:
Do not throw away any of your furniture. Couches, chairs, beds, etc can all be treated to rid them of bed bugs. Throwing away furniture can also spread the bugs.
Don’t start moving things- furniture, clothes, etc. from room to room. This practically guarantees that you’ll be spreading the bed bugs throughout the house.
Don’t try to kill bed bugs by using agricultural or garden pesticides. These pesticides are designed for outdoor use and can make your family and pets extremely sick.
Never use homemade or folk remedies. These products can be very dangerous and could make your bug problems worse.
Never, ever, apply a pesticide to your body. This can make you very sick.
Do not use rubbing alcohol, kerosene or gasoline to kill bugs. These substances are highly flammable.
Why Bed Bugs, and Why Now?
Unfortunately for us, the number of bed bug infestations has been growing rapidly in the continental US in past years, and there are few signs that this state of affairs is improving. The reasons for this invasion are complex, but you can find out more in these dedicated Sterifab blogs: Where Do Bed Bugs Live? Where You Least Expect Them, or Reasonable Expectations When Getting Rid of Bed Bugs, among others.