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Cleaning complaints — what can you do?

by Larry Galler

No matter how hard you work to do a great job, everyone gets an occasional complaint - it comes with the territory.

But getting a complaint from one of your customers or in-house facility occupants is not the end of the world... it's your opportunity to prove your commitment and to improve.

The way you present your company or services proves you desire to be known as the best.

Here’s how I know this:

Everywhere I look, I see ads from all types of local businesses including, of course, carpet cleaners and building service contract cleaners. You see these ads in the mail, newspapers, billboards, telephone directors and more. They even show up on my doorknob.

In those ads I see these cleaning companies bragging about the quality of their work, their commitment to the customer’s satisfaction, their excellent service, special prices, and maybe a testimonial that illustrates how happy and satisfied customers are.

These statements are really promises being made. These promises are also proudly put forth in brochures, business cards, mission, vision, and values statements.

They all demonstrate commitment to customers and are foundational to creating sales and creating success.

Manufacturers and distributors of cleaning products do the same thing — they work hard to build confidence in their products via promotional materials and advertising. The smart ones, when receiving complaints from users of their products, will work hard and fast to act on the complaint.

Even in-house facility cleaning professionals display the attitude mentioned above. Those that care (and there are many of you) illustrate these same characteristics although a little more passively… but the bragging about the quality of work is still there. You, no doubt, are a proud group of professionals and really care about the work you do.

But, let’s face it: Everyone makes an occasional misteak (misspelling intentional) and, even in the best of companies or cleaning crews, anger those expecting a perfect cleaning job.

In most cases, you never hear a complaint; in fact, for you carpet cleaners and building service contractors, you may never hear from the disgruntled customer again (unless that customer is under long-term contract). They just find someone else to do the work and you never know why.

If you are lucky, you have built up enough "satisfaction-equity" with those miffed customers that they will take the time and effort to complain.

For you in-house facility workers, you don’t lose a customer, but tension can increase and satisfying the disgruntled occupant becomes more difficult as time goes on. That person may start to see problems that aren’t really there, because he or she has developed a negative opinion of your skills.

When they go to the effort of complaining, though, please realize that they are really giving you the opportunity to correct the situation — in other words, to prove your commitment and make good on the promises you make — in order to retain them or keep them happy.

It makes no difference if the complaint is justified or not (customers or building occupants make mistakes also!), but if you consider that a complaint is a chance to continue the relationship and even strengthen it, it changes the way you respond.

By satisfying them now, you can save a customer whose value in future work and referrals is far greater than the cost of overcoming their complaint or the cost of attracting a new customer to replace them. In-house cleaners can rebuild occupant confidence.

A complaint is your opportunity to back up all those claims of commitment and satisfaction with an immediate, polite, and satisfactory response.

Let’s say that the one complaining is justified with the complaint. Since you realize that a complaint is an opportunity to make good on your promises, you will astonish them by first saying, "Thank you for pointing this out to me."

That statement alone will cause them to immediately soften their anger and be more receptive to your solution.

If the problem is something you can fix, apologize politely and rush to do whatever it takes to right the wrong, because the complaining person’s lifetime value (and their referral value) is far greater than the cost to fix the problem.

But please remember to offer an immediate solution because, if you attempt to get off the hook easy by telling the one complaining that you will give them a discount on their next service or fix the problem next time they need you, there might not be a "next time!"

Let’s assume for a moment that the one complaining is dead wrong.

This is a more sensitive situation. If the complaint is unjustified, you have two "judgment call" options:

Option 1: Point out that they are wrong and you did what they paid you to do. While this option might feel good, realize that, in all probability, the complainer will never use you (or want to use you) again. That might be OK with you as you might not want to work for them in the future (you believe they are abusive, liars, cheats, etc.) but, if you do want to keep that relationship in working condition, it is time to go to the next option.

Option 2: Find out what it will take to satisfy the complainer, and do it immediately. The rationale for using this option is that you want to build your business on a growing number of retained customers. If that is the case, then respond by thanking the customer for bringing the matter to your attention and then fix the problem immediately. You can explain the error of their thinking and fix the problem, or you can simply fix the problem and not confront the customer with the "I’m right and you’re wrong" argument. For in-house cleaners, this information is important to keep a good working relationship. Complainers can make your life miserable.

OK, that’s the easy part.

You’ve dealt with the problem and most stop right there. But, if you want to improve your business or cleaning crew, do not assume that you are finished. Now comes the hard part: Analyzing the problem and creating a permanent solution so it never comes up again.

Most cleaning satisfaction problems are:

· Expectation problems – The one you clean for is expecting something other than what you plan to do for them (this might be a communication problem).
· Training problems – You and/or your staff need additional training to overcome some technical deficiency.
· Perception problems – You and the one you clean for have different perceptions of what a good job looks like (this might also be a communication problem).
· Systemic problems – There is a problem in your system which allows a problem to occur.

So take a little time and review the situation.

Did you make promises (or did the customer/building occupant think you made promises) that you didn’t keep?

Did you omit doing something you were supposed to do?

Is there something in your sales presentation, your order form, contract or work schedule that should be changed?

Whatever the error, review it and seek to make changes so it doesn’t occur again.

Yes, everyone makes mistakes, but when someone takes the time and effort to complain, if you handle it correctly, you have a good chance of keeping that person satisfied by proving your commitment and also improving your service so you won’t have to deal with it ever again.

Larry Galler specializes in coaching owners of small businesses to grow their businesses through effective customer retention programs and systemizing their business practices.

Explore how he can help you during a free coaching session by calling 800-326-7087 or email . Sign up for his informative free newsletter at .