Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Purchasing Services

July 29, 2011

When there is a contract failure in facility support services, “poor performance” is often a reason for termination.

Instead of blaming poor service on the contractor, it may be more helpful to understand how you ended up with this unsuccessful partner.

You can never be too careful when choosing outsourcing partners, and you should look through all the characteristics and capabilities of your candidates.

Some of the aspects — business size, certifications awarded and local presence, for example — are easy to identify but are hardly a good predictor of performance success.

By contrast, attributes such as service best practices, manager skills and experiences are often ignored during the selection process.

One worthwhile approach to examining those more insightful aspects is to examine the capability of the service provider more closely and make it more objective and more measurable.

Service Sector Experience

There are many different facility service sectors — landscaping, cleaning, maintenance, security, etc.

A potential contractor who simply says they have worked a lot of years in a particular service sector is not, in itself, a good predictor of capability.

Your business may have different needs than the contractor’s past experience.

So, you need to look more closely into the contractor’s specific experiences.

Industry Experience

It is interesting that the same terminology can mean different things in different industries or in different settings.

Ask a mechanical engineer in the manufacturing industry and a merchandiser in the retail industry what “markup” is and you will probably get different answers.

The truth is that, beyond effective communication between you and your outsourcing partners, your contractor’s field expertise is strategically meaningful for your outsourcing success.

If they have earned their reputation cleaning 10,000-square-foot office facilities, cleaning an airport may be a challenge beyond their capability.

Hands-on experience in your specific industry is an important capability indicator.

Best Practices Experience

Different service sectors and different companies use different methodologies and best practices, and a contractor’s level of experience in each specific process is an important indicator of whether or not you should hire them.

You can gain more insight by asking potential partners to provide experience information in a narrower range, such as specific equipment used and why, problems they have identified in your facility and their proposed solution, what metrics they use to manage their performance and how they plan to transition their service system in your facility.

Whatever information you gather should have a direct bearing on your decision-making.

Performance Management Experience

Besides service delivery experience, it will be important to understand how the contractor manages their own success and what role, if any, you will play.

If their management strategy relies on complaints to identify problems, you are hiring a “response-driven” management team.

If their measurement system identifies trends and uses predictive algorithms, you might be hiring a “prevention-driven” management team.

In either event, what is their management system, how long have they been using it and has it really been successful?

Technology Experience

Within this experience category, you may want to know a candidate’s history in areas such as: Use of “green” and “chemical-free cleaning” technologies; workloading, quality control and scheduling software; web services and technologies such as browser client-side scripting, messaging, etc.; and tools and equipment, which are an important indicator of productivity, labor demand and cost.

As with service sector experience, the deeper you can investigate into a potential partner’s experience with technology, the better the matching result you can expect.

Client Reference Experience

The potential partner’s experience dealing with past and current clients should also be included in your decision criteria.

To measure the client experience, you may ask candidates to provide detailed reference information, including the number of current local clients and their contact information.

By examining a contractor’s experience from these six different points of view, you will have a better idea of your potential partner’s capabilities to deliver the services required.

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.