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Management And Training

Dealing With Customers

September 19, 2010
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Editor''s note:

We''ve all heard the popular phrase, "The customer is always right."

Over the years, companies that deal directly with customers and strive to provide a high level of service have gone to great lengths to ensure customer satisfaction.

Especially today, when dollars are precious and word of mouth is everything, these companies must work even harder to keep every account as well as gain new business.

Building service contractors (BSCs), and even in-house cleaning personnel, must provide such quality service.

Competition is high in the BSC field.

Additionally, with customers'' use of technology and the Internet, good or bad reviews of your company and its customer service may only be a few clicks away.

One CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management® reader, Frank Daddario, actually looks to validate his service by leaving a notebook behind for customers to jot down comments, questions and observations.

The following discussion on the Bulletin Board questioned the old phrase, "Is the customer always right?"

Board members offer their advice, for better or worse …

Posted by:
Frank Daddario

I leave a notebook for customer contact persons at each account we do.

I had been doing a small machining outfit for about six months and one night this was written in the book, "How come every time you clean, the pictures are 1/100th of an inch off?"

I replied, "With such a great eye you should open your own cleaning business because this one doesn''t work for you anymore."

I started my own business so I wouldn''t have to work for jerks like that; [I''ve] been doing it for 21 years and still going strong.


Chaz Townsend

Frank, I''m confused. Is that really how you terminated this client?

If he was truly complaining about such a petty thing, I sure understand your point. Personally, I''ve had my fair share of very picky and flat unreasonable customers. Some, we can work through the issues. Some we can never and it ends up being necessary to move on.

I would like to make note on something, though. Everybody works for someone. It doesn''t matter if you are a janitor or Chairman of the Board for a Fortune 500 company ... everyone is accountable to someone.

Being in business enables you to control your personal situation more than working for an employer. But it doesn''t guarantee you won''t have your fair share of problems with your true boss — [the] customer.

We deal with more [complaints] being in business for ourselves than we ever did working for some other company. Bottom line, I understand your frustration. But it would be in your best interest to evaluate how you handle or terminate future customers.

Ron Segura

Was it your contact that entered the comment? Did you have any personal contact with them or was the communication by means of the book. Maybe they had a bad day, or if this was an ongoing problem, then a face-to-face meeting might have been in order.

You are right, you do not have to be treated in that manner, but going in and stating your feelings and then quitting might have been more professional.

Bob The Cleaner

My response? "Are you sure? Because after dusting, we re-adjust all hanging artifacts using a micrometer adjusted by our on-staff Cal-Tech Physics graduate. Perhaps you''re measuring equipment is in need of calibration?"

I typically deal with the absurd by being absurd. I certainly wouldn''t fire the client over this absurdity. More than likely, they noticed something "off" and probably had a real issue that they''ve obscured with this absurd one.

I started my business originally so that I didn''t have to work for jerks. This doesn''t rise to sufficient "jerkiness" in my opinion.

Joseph J. Russell

I believe that slogan (the customer is always right) was coined long ago by a salesman, who has nothing to do with carrying out the service he is selling. Don''t get me wrong, it has a place, but I don''t think it should be carved in stone at the "Cathedral of Cleaning Gods."

Sure, there is no reason for a customer to be like that. But assuming they are not, it just tells you something about them. And you should [be thankful] that you don''t have to spend the full day, everyday, with them.

But Bob, if some contractor gave me an answer like yours, I''m certain I would rise to the level of "sufficient jerkiness" and jerk them out of my building. Two wrongs don''t make a right.

Dwayne Reed

1/100th of an inch! I would have taken it as a joke.

Ken Galo

I would have gone in on the next scheduled cleaning and re-hung one picture — upside-down and never say a word to anyone. Sometimes you have to deliver a quiet message.

Frank Daddario

Guys, thanks for your input. It''s always good to see how other people would have handled the situation. Let me explain that we did have other interesting entries in the book the previous six months, but the use of "every time" sent me over the edge.

Ed Samson

It''s like the customer who calls and says, "I don''t think your people came in to clean last night." I ask if the wastebaskets are empty, [they respond,] "Yes." I ask if the bathrooms are clean … I didn''t look yet."

Turns out there is a piece of paper on the floor under the desk.

Lynn Krafft

Frank, I seriously question the wisdom of leaving a log book on premises for customer comments. I cannot believe that the customer will be more accurately aware of what your service is providing than you are. Furthermore, one of the reasons an outside service is hired is to remove the responsibility for the service from the ones doing the hiring. Then you leave a notebook and ask them for nightly feedback on what you are supposed to be managing? Wrong move.

Pull the notebooks and start doing your own on-site evaluations. By the way, a machinist works every day with measurements of 100ths and 1000ths of an inch. The comment in that notebook was an attempt at machinist humor of which you apparently missed the point. You blew off a contract for a wrong reason. The writer wasn''t being a jerk and probably felt hurt that you responded with so little humor and good sense.

I''d go back and apologize for having a bad humor day and get rid of the let-the-client-manage-my-cleaning books.

Dale Muckerman

I also would think this either had to be a joke or maybe somebody did notice some pictures were moved a little, perhaps from dusting, and were just wondering why.

The book is just a set up for miscommunication and misunderstanding. If you use it, just plan to get back personally to the customer. I find that customers tend to exaggerate when communicating in short phone messages and e-mail messages. I often have people complain of a restroom that hasn''t been cleaned in weeks or a floor that hasn''t been vacuumed for months. When I look into it, there is generally a kernel of truth behind such vast exaggerations.

The restroom not cleaned for weeks has a little built up soil around the toilet base. The carpet that is never vacuumed has one spot behind a door that is continually being missed. These are legitimate gripes, but were stated in exaggerated ways.

I wish customers knew how to voice their complaints in a better way, but I am not paying them so I put up with it.

Frank Daddario

Lynn, 20 years ago I had a customer who never would tear off the paper from his adding machine. It would just continue to pile up under his desk. Not knowing if the paper was important or not I never ripped it off the machine and let it pile up under the desk. The boss called me in one day and said I lost the account. One of the things he pointed out was the paper under that one employee''s desk.

Since that time I decided to keep a book at all my accounts to [keep] me informed of any problems at the account, maybe the account needs extra work because of visitors the next day or just to keep me informed of any special needs or concerns.

I''ve lost very few account over the years where I had this line of open communication. And I still have my three original customers I started with in 1987.

Chaz Townsend

Frank, what Lynn is suggesting is for you to be more proactive in dealing with customer service/quality control.

First of all, make sure the cleaning is good. You should know the status of your service without having to ask the customer. But, do stay in contact with them.

Instead of the log book, make sure they know they can contact you with any needs that arise and you will take care of them. If they don''t want to call you, maybe they could leave a note in the supply closet.

If for some reason you find something out of the ordinary, like you did 20 years ago, communicate — leave a note, call them the next morning, etc.

If you are doing the cleaning yourself, things like this are a lot easier for you than it would be for us who don''t have the luxury of being in all buildings every night.

To be honest, I was taken aback at how you handled the situation. I''m not judging anyone, though. The good thing about this board is we all have something to do with cleaning, and can help each other out. Therefore, when you post something like that, it''s going to be commented [on] and each person''s opinion will come out.

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