Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Buyers' view of cleaning contractors

September 19, 2010
Early in this series of fact-based management columns, I asked for your questions about our industry.

Well, recently, I got a request.

He asked: “Are we alone in being unhappy with our contractor?”

Recently, we conducted a limited survey of 30 buyers of cleaning services for properties of about 200,000 square feet to several million square feet.

The survey’s goal was to determine the level of satisfaction by buyers with their current contract cleaning companies.

I can understand why this is important to buyers as they grapple with the quality and capability of each contractor and how this directly impacts price, performance quality, complaints, occupant satisfaction, environmental health (think green), a safer work environment, and the buyer-contractor relationship.

Also, contractors can benefit from understanding how buyers view them.

So, how do you rate buyer satisfaction between service companies in an objective way?

Rating scale
Operating within the framework of the pre-qualification, RFP response and capability criteria, buyers were asked to comment on their satisfaction with their current contractors.

With deference to the movie, we chose a three-point rating scale as our criteria: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

The criteria
In our conversations, we found that buyers focused on three sets of information: Pre-qualification, RFP response, and capability.

Buying companies pay careful attention to contractor information, cooperation, and attitude in each stage of the buying process.

Local, regional, national and international contractors were named in the survey by participating buyers.

Pre-qualification: There is a great deal of contractor information that can be reviewed by buyers, even before extending an invitation to participate in a contracting process.

Some issues include the type and extent of use of technology, financial strength, industry-specific experience, training programs, safety record, etc.

The sum of these characteristics can help identify progressive, innovative companies who start with a “good” profile of capability and experience.

RFP response: Not long ago, contractors could win business by writing their price on the back of a business card.

Times are changing and buyers and “good” contractors take the buying process very seriously these days.

They ask questions, get clarification, look for greater scope and property detail, focus on customer expectations and key priorities, and bring a cross-functional team of experienced staff to prepare a custom-designed service delivery system.

How contractors conduct themselves during the bidding process is an important window into the kind of company the buyer may be doing business with. The “good” ones get it, the “(not so) bad” ones try it, and the “ugly” ones offer a low, low price.

Capability: This is the essence of the value proposed by each contractor.

It is a function of systems, resources, management experience and price.

Buyers want to understand what best practices are part of the contractor’s culture, how they measure their own performance, how the work and the worker are managed, how the buyer will be protected from service failure, and the assurances for process improvement in quality and occupant satisfaction.

All-in-all, buyers want to hire a “good” contractor who will deliver the greatest price-performance value.

Overall, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said that their current contractor was “(not so) bad” and that they were willing to expend the extra effort to make the program work.

Thirty-five percent said their current contractor was “ugly” and that they were looking forward to finding another contractor.

Finally, only 6 percent of those surveyed said that their current contractor was “good” and they would like to retain them as long as possible.

While the number of participants in this survey was limited and not adequate for drawing broad conclusions, it is at least an indicator of the opinion of buyers in the marketplace.

And, the overall direction of that opinion is that over one-third of the buyers are unhappy with the services delivered to their buildings.

So, the answer to the original query is no, you are not alone in being unhappy with your current contractor.

The good news is that there are “good” contractors out there who are anxious to meet you.

And, there are a lot of other contractors who are getting better every day.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and CEO of Elliott Affiliates, Ltd. of Hunt Valley (Baltimore), MD, He is widely recognized as the leading authority in the design and utilization of best practice performance-driven techniques for janitorial outsourcing and ongoing management.