The founder of one of the best-known and largest vacuum cleaner companies in the professional cleaning industry started out as a building service contractor (BSC).
Years later, in an interview discussing his career, he indicated that starting and running a vacuum cleaner business was a lot easier than running a contract cleaning company.
Because, he said, “If you can survive the cleaning business, you can survive any business.”
The challenges of customer care
What makes the contract cleaning business so tough?
For this industry leader, it comes down to one challenge shared by virtually all BSCs: Demanding customers.
It is important that BSCs — especially those who are new to the cleaning industry or who have recently seen their businesses expand considerably — are aware that customer service is a challenge shared by many.
This is because some BSCs take customer complaints personally, as if the complaints are a personal reflection on them, their businesses, and their service.
This serves no useful purpose and can actually be detrimental to the business.
Instead, they should realize that this is part of the business and focus their energies on solutions to customer satisfaction issues.
And, there are ways to minimize customer complaints, keep clients happy, and significantly improve customer retention.
They require gaining a better understanding of the problems, looking at them professionally and not personally, and putting together a plan of action — proactive measures that can be taken to keep customers satisfied with your service.
What customers demand
The appearance of their facility ranks at the top of customers’ priorities.
However, cleaning is subjective.
When bidding on jobs, many BSCs have toured facilities that they believed were in terrible condition only to find the prospect was quite happy with the service they had been receiving.
And, some of us have been in facilities that we believed were beautifully maintained, only to find the customer unhappy with the cleaning service.
What does this tell us?
Again, cleaning is subjective, and this is another reason not to take complaints personally, but to always view them and deal with them in a solution-oriented, professional manner.
BSCs must also deal with customers who want to maintain a high level of service without paying for increased costs.
For instance, according to our company’s research, most BSCs are charging about the same now per square foot as they did in the 1970s.
This means that what our customers pay or are willing to pay for our services has not changed much in 35 years.
At the same time, all of the costs of doing business — from wages and insurance to cleaning products and gasoline — have increased dramatically.
Few other industries have been placed in such a difficult situation.
In addition, new demands are being placed on BSCs.
According to our research, facility managers are turning to BSCs to help maximize the life expectancies of their buildings.
Proper cleaning, they believe, will increase the life of hard floors and carpets, as examples.
And, more and more facilities are asking for green cleaning.
For BSCs, who are not familiar with green cleaning, this can mean testing and then selecting a variety of environmentally preferable products, tools, and equipment that meet the client’s need for healthier cleaning that is effective and inexpensive.
Dealing with the demands
Our research found that there is one major way BSCs can meet the pressing demands of customer satisfaction and still find a way to make a profit in the professional cleaning industry.
And that comes down to proper labor management, which is essential to business success.
Labor management can be broken down into three core elements: Proper hiring, effective training, and competent supervision.
Recently, on one of the message boards frequented by BSCs, one contractor noted that he has looked for employees through colleges, churches, current workers, employment agencies, and classified ads — all with minimal success.
Many BSCs experience this same frustration and, as a result, do not always hire the most qualified people or those that will stay with the job for any reasonable length of time.
However, proper hiring is vital.
Workers are the foundation of a BSC’s business, and this is evidenced in financial terms by the fact that 70 to 80 percent of BSC costs are for labor and supervision.
Similarly, effective training is essential.
One unexpected benefit many BSCs report when transferring to green cleaning and new products is that they must train their workers on proper use as well as procedure.
What evolves is an opportunity to re-educate workers on the most effective cleaning methods.
This is often why some customers say the appearance of their facilities improved after they transferred to green cleaning.
It was not necessarily the environmentally preferable cleaning products that made the difference.
Instead, it was the training and re-training of the cleaning workers that made it so.
Additionally, we found that successful BSCs make sure their workers are properly supervised.
Every business has strategies for supervising workers.
It can be a bit more difficult in the cleaning industry because cleaning workers may be in numerous locations every day.
However, it is imperative to make sure workers are performing their duties correctly and efficiently.
Proper supervision also tells workers we care.
We want them to do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and they are an important part of our business operation.
Role of the distributor
We found that a distributor can play a larger role in a BSC’s business success.
One of the most important ways is through product knowledge.
In their quest to satisfy customers and improve worker productivity, BSCs need the most effective cleaning tools and products available.
Although some will do their own testing and investigating, most BSCs turn to their JanSan distributor for advice when it comes to product selection.
We also found several other ways distributors can help BSCs with their customers:
- Some collect articles and news stories about cleaning methods and products and share them with BSCs. Additionally, they provide BSCs with information to be shared with their customers on such topics as green cleaning, floor care, and safety.
- Helpful distributors provide BSCs with useful tools for bidding on new accounts, such as software programs designed specifically for BSCs, new account start-up kits, and checklists. These assist BSCs in winning new customers and making a positive first impression once service begins.
- Distributors can recommend products be standardized across all of a BSC’s accounts. This can lower purchasing costs, improve inventory management, and — because workers become familiar using the same products — improve utilization and reduce waste.
- Joint customer visits by the distributor and the BSC are another successful technique. Customers are impressed when they know a “team” is working to keep their facility clean and healthy, and the relationship also builds trust and loyalty between the BSC and the distributor.
Being a BSC in the 21st century is more challenging than ever before.
With increasing customer demands and unusually tight profit margins, it’s a wonder anyone can succeed in the business.
However, we found it can be done and is being done.
And, the points made here provide some of the ways successful BSCs can not only survive, but thrive.
There is also something positive that BSCs should keep in mind when dealing with the challenges of their businesses.
Demand for their services is increasing and, in some areas of the country, will grow significantly in the next few years.
We found more and more facilities that in the past used in-house cleaners are now finding it more cost-effective and practical to contract out their cleaning needs.
Coupled with the construction of new offices, schools, health care facilities, and other locations, the need for BSCs is sure to grow.
Mike Nelson is vice president of marketing for Pro-Link, a JanSan-focused marketing and buying group based in Canton, MA. He was directly involved in preparing and writing Pro-Link’s BSC Resource Book, which is available to the group’s members.
He can be reached at 800-74-LINKS or firstname.lastname@example.org