Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Buying Building Services In A Chaotic Economy

May 4, 2012

I''d like to have a conversation about how to succeed in today''s uncertain and chaotic business environment when buying services for your building.

Doing business is somewhat less predictable when only short-term priorities seem to matter.

More and more, I am seeing clients with a buying goal often defined by how much they can save.

Many times, I see that what they get is savings; what they lose is value.

This reminds me of the story of a small catering company that was brought in to support our company-wide meeting.

It was certainly a down economy and all businesses were contracting.

Indeed, the savings and low-price model was the norm.

With food and material prices high, cutting corners on quality and service was the order of the day.

Yet, I was surprised and amazed by this small business: They were dressed as if they were serving a presidential affair, the food portions were remarkable and their attitude was upbeat and very customer-focused.

I thought that I was at someone else''s party.

I had to ask the owner about why he was spending so much in such a difficult economy.

I knew what we were paying him, and it didn''t make savings sense for him.

This small business owner taught me a humble and important business lesson that day.

He said: "Yes, things are a bit chaotic, and it''s a great temptation to cut corners on the quality of the food we serve and the service we deliver. Our competitors are doing just that and, to be sure, we''d save money. But, it wouldn''t save my business. This is when I will deliver better quality and better service to stand out from my cost-cutting competitors; I want my customers to see the value of what we deliver, especially in this economy. This is when I have the best chance of winning customers, even against my biggest competitors."

I didn''t know what to say to this business genius.

Frankly, I had to find a corner and sit down to think about what I just heard.

I thought about my business and then thought about our client''s businesses.

What could I — or all of us, for that matter — learn from this remarkable owner?

First, I went over his comments word for word, and every syllable was like a bolt of lightning.

I invite you to go back and re-read those same words.

What struck me was the ironclad connection between his buying decisions and his focus on his customer, despite the economic chaos.

He wasn''t going to save on anything that reduced value to his customer.

It wasn''t about savings; it was about saving his business — it was about delivering value, and he was in business to win customers.

So, what can we all take away from this story?

No company goes into business to create savings.

Clearly, the most successful business strategy would then be to close the doors and save 100 percent of the operating costs of the business.

Yet, some buying efforts could have a myopic view of the savings equals the lowest price mantra, to the exclusion of operational consequences.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of a best — read: Lowest — price, operational consequences are the unspoken elephant in the room.

So, within the chaos of an uncertain business environment, the ability of the business to deliver exceptional services and products is often compromised, with the unspoken belief that this would be a "temporary" situation that the business would survive and the customer would forget or forgive.

In the end, buying is not an independent silo decision to be judged as successful for the low price it can get in the purchase of a product or service.

How we buy building services will have consequences beyond how much we can save.

The operations side of the business is all about delivering value, winning customers and growing the business.

All the ideas come together when the customer experience is the first and last consideration of everyone''s effort to save money.

We can ignore this vital lesson, but only at our peril.

So, when certainty is uncertain, when sustainability is unsustainable, when predictability is unpredictable and when the business future is chaotic, remember that the purpose of the business is to deliver value and win customers.

If you live by this idea, you''ll win praise and succeed in a chaotic business environment.

Vincent F. Elliott is the founder, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Elliott Affiliates Ltd. of Hunt Valley, Maryland. For more information, visit 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. Elliott is also the founder of the Chemical Free Cleaning Network (CFCN). More information about that initiative can be found at