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It was one of my first pest management lessons and it had nothing to do with pest management. It had to do with people management, and that’s more important.

I was a rookie and my manager Bill and I were inspecting the exterior of a vacation cabin that had hundreds of bats in the attic. The infestation was so bad we could smell the pungent bat guano from outside the home. Suddenly, the next door neighbor appeared and asked what we were doing. “The attic’s chock full of bats,” Bill said sarcastically, “but, don’t worry, they only suck the blood of virgins.” The woman turned on her heel and stormed into her house. Bill just shrugged and continued the inspection.

At the office the next morning, I answered the phone and it was the homeowner with the bat problem. “My neighbor called me,” he bellowed, “and said if I don’t get those blood-sucking bats out of my attic she’s calling her lawyer.” My boss grabbed the phone, apologized profusely and offered him a discounted bat job. A week later I had gotten the bats out of the attic, and, more importantly, learned a valuable lesson in customer service. 

Nowadays, whenever I’m treating a home and a neighbor starts asking questions, I go on and on about how great the weather is. If they keep asking, I use my go-to response: “Oh, I’m just doing routine maintenance, nothing special.” I keep repeating that phrase until the neighbor gets bored with asking questions. Once bitten, twice shy.

Finally, sometimes I’m at the supermarket and some wise guy will quip: “My neighbor’s a pest—can you get rid of him?” Sorry, but that question calls for an expert in the genteel world of the social graces. Try asking Miss Manners. Back in my world, next week I’ll discuss the proper way to clean up mouse poop. That’s about as genteel as I get.

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