Saturday, January 14, 2012

Another Saturday of work and loving it

It is another Saturday and I am working at the office. My wife gets mad at me because I work on Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM but I really like to come into the office alone on the weekend. I can write on the white boards and draw out my ideas and crank up the music. I can brood over my problems and try to develop solutions. I do not have many hobbies except comic books and all things science fiction so I this is my hobby. I love business. For me it is a full contact sport. It is daily trials of your skill versus others. You practice daily, try to develop your skills and those of your team. You hope to win more than you lose but sometimes you get your head handed to you. This is one of those weeks. Below is basically my stream of consciousness of what I am working on when it is quiet on Saturday and I can really look at things.

So far 2012 has started really strange for us. We are down 5 customers right now which is a really bad start to the month. We are having some quality problems sneaking back in. I was not keeping a close enough eye on our trainer and she got burned out and the last 5 people that came out just were not up to par. We did not have a very good formal training program. We took one of our senior cleaners and had her work with trainees for 4 – 6 weeks to teach them how to do the job. It is not a very formal system put for years it has worked for us. But no longer. She drifted too far from what she was supposed to be teaching and generally lost interest in doing the job and I did not notice fast enough. To make it worse we have had very few good leads coming in. I am mad at myself for letting it go on for too long. In this business reputation is everything and training is key. The informal approach just worked too good for too long and I got complacent.

On the flip side I am so happy with where we are on fixing it. My two General Managers got together and over two weeks completely revamped our training system and that is what I am reviewing first. A lot of other great companies like Marvelous Maids and Castle Keepers had given us access to their materials. They developed a great illustrated technical cleaning guide. We also did a guide for the things that have nothing to do with cleaning. They created a daily training plan and check lists for both the trainer and trainee to sign off that things have been covered. Finally we created a 65 question test that covers policies and procedures that they must pass with an 80% of above. Then they created a plan to retrain all the employees we are having problems with and to make sure every employee gets at least a brief retraining. I am really proud of what they have done. This is the kind of stuff I expect from larger companies like P&G. It is great to see us growing up and even better to see us growing up when I had so little to do with it.

Looking at the customers losses. One customer cancelled because she said her kids are now cleaning her home as they got older. She is a very long time customer and it really surprised me. She is also one of the customers that goes back more than 4 years when I bought the company and she was still somewhat undercharged. I also noticed she opted out of our newsletter this week. I do not like this at all. Even if she was having her kids clean the house I would have expected her to keep following us as she used us for 8 years and may at least be curious what we are doing or what to get her carpet cleaned or something in the future. The cleaner I had assigned to her home has been the same for a very long time. That cleaner asked for this Friday afternoon off which is when this customer’s next appointment would have been so I sent one of my office staff to go check if she poached a client. (a tip for other cleaning service owners, client’s don’t normally change their schedule when they dump you. If you want to see if they hired another firm or your employee there is about a 90% chance they will be there on the next appointment time.) No one was there which was good. I hate that I have to watch for such things but I do. However I am still very unsettled by this customer. She swears nothing was wrong. I think I am going to try to visit her at her business. She is a small business owner and maybe I can appeal to her for the really really. At the end of the day I just do not think my cleaner who used to be a rock star has been cleaning up to par. When someone tells me they are going to have their kids clean their home it tells me something is just wrong and we are not blowing our customer away.

The next customer we lost is a messy divorce. Completely legit and once they get done fighting over who gets what I hope to get one or both of them back on. I have to create a system to make sure we stay in touch with clients like this other than the newsletter. Too much going on right now but I will add it to the project list.

The next customer is almost funny. They cancelled for financial reasons. Today my commercial cleaning company got a request in the mail to sub contract for Vanguard Cleaning Systems which just opened a franchise in our area on November 30th. The owner, my former client. So I guess he is low on cash since he is taking a big risk. Not sure what to do with this. I will never sub contract for a commercial cleaning franchise but that is a whole other topic as to why. However I am not sure if I should call him and congratulate him and meet with him? I think yes. I am not sure much will come of it since I DESPISE the franchised commercial cleaning model but he is in my business and I should at least say hello (once again this does not apply to the maid service franchises which are a completely legitimate way to get into my industry. Commercial cleaning franchises are a huge scam in my opinion to make low income minority people pay for the right to get a minimum wage job, a fact backed up by a lawsuit Coverall just lost in the Massachusetts Courts.)

The next client cancelled because we could not arrive by 8:00 AM to clean her home. This frustrates me because we are always very clear on arrival time but this client two cleanings in demanded we started coming at 8:00 AM and we said we could not do it . She refused to give us a key or any other form of access and said all her other cleaning services had no problems meeting her time demands. It just does not work for us. Everything we do including when our office opens is around an 8:30 – 9:00 AM arrival time. I am frustrated as to why this was not understood up front. I will need to make sure this is something that is being covered when we book a new client. That being said, clients will not always understand everything you say but I always hate to lose people for what seems like stupid reasons to me.

The next client cancelled because we did not lock her front door. My cleaner swears she locked it and even double checked it. This is a great very reliable cleaner but she has HUGE problems with locks. She calls all the time and cannot get the key to work but when a supervisor goes out it opens right up. This is another one of those very frustrating things. I lost a customer for a seemingly easy fix but at the same time I just do not know how to correct this issue. How can I teach someone how to use a key and locks? This is a really good cleaner and employee but she just cannot to manage locks. I will have to ask my GM Rachel to ponder this one.

The next lost client is for financial reasons. She has written us good reviews on Angie’s List including when she left so I know the quality of service was OK. Mad people do not write a good review when they cancel. However this one also still bothers me. I have 3 cleaners that literally lose 1 or 2 customers all year due to death and moving. They never lose a customer for financial reasons. I mean NEVER. I refuse to believe it is just dumb luck that makes this happen. They are doing something that makes the idea of not using My Maid Service inconceivable. I need to figure out what it is and replicate it. To be clear this was a satisfied customer but having satisfied customers will put me out of business. The economy is making people make choices. I need to make it so we make our client’s lives so much better that they will never consider getting rid of us. I need to really work on this over the next two months. This is the stuff that makes a company great. In a good economy being a good company is enough but to keep growing we need to be fantastic and I need to figure out how to bottle that magic and make is a system, all with lower income employees and a highly physical and in a not very well regarded industry. The challenge of my business.

Another cancellation because we were helping clean his mom’s house and she is in the hospital. Not much we can do there to have kept him but we missed an opportunity. We know so much personal information on our clients and he just told us his mom is in very poor health. I have an entire card display in the office with the idea we can send cards to clients when things come up but to be honest not a lot gets done with it. I need to fix this. Once again this is the magic part but magic has to have a system behind it. How do I build amazing customer service into my company when during the day we are so focused on the basics of getting people where they need to be and dealing with the daily emergencies of broken equipment, customers that locked us out, and traffic?

Total count, 3 clients I could have done nothing about (divorce, new business, mom in hospital). 1 client I should not have lost at all (key issue). 3 clients I should have been able to keep if we had been better than just good. That means if I can figure this out we would have only been down 3 customers instead of 7. (FYI I said we were down 5 because we sold 2 new ones so far so if we had only lost 3 we would only be down 1 client right now, a much more manageable number). Two that I lost should have left as raving fans and I missed the opportunity. There is something here I am missing. Time to stand in front of the white boards for a while and something to bring up in my weekly meetings with my General Managers. This is what I do on Saturday.


Fitra2009 said...

You has a great article. I'm very interesting to stopping here and leaves you a comment. Good work.

Lets keep writing and share to us and other.

Nb: Dont forget to leave your comment back for us.

Gary Goranson said...

Derek it is east tgi== see why tiy are running a successful venture. I am not referring to the specific incidents you shaared but to the fact that you have taken the time and trouble to analyze each situation so throughly. This takes discipline,introspection and the ability too look at things honestly and objectively. The only thing I would counsel is that you don't want to beat yourself up over the outcome.

I am impressed.

getting better said...

Hey Derek,

That you so much for posting a link to this blog on Facebook. It really is an excellent blog and I appreciate knowing that I'm not alone. We both go through the same things! This gives me the drive to keep going, keep improving things, and generally, keep pressing on.

Thank you for taking the time to write such a high quality piece.


Maria Dorian (Welcome Home Cleaning)
Georgetown, Texas

Derek Christian said...


Thank you. I like to always be very upfront warts and all becuase many people in visible roles in our business like to act like they have it all figured out. The battle and the learning is never over. If you are looking for a way to not have to think and constantly change you will never suceed or at least not for long. What worked for me just 2 years ago is not working anymore and I need to find a way to adjust or lose clients.

Marcie said...

Derek,I enjoyed your post very much. Saw the link on linkedin. Mine is very similar (it's a record of my adventures) except I am in the Caribbean. Take a look:
Hope you enjoy it!

Malu's Cleaning said...

Hi Derek.
Thank you so much for such true reality check.....been there not done yet, still in the game....good to know not only me, sorry to know happen to you or anybody out there. Wish was kind black and white things to deal....but is not.

Lynsey Haynes said...

Great article. Hang in there! Good to have support from other business owners who are trying to be positive and honest. said...

Derek, Great blog. Pretty much word for word everything you are going through I am as well right now. Like you I go over each situation to learn how I can better handle it the next time if I can. Keep up the great work!

Aileen said...

Hang in, Derek. Things can only get better!
We're dealing with such a tough economy, but things are looking up.

Derek Christian said...

We will turn it around. January has always been a bad month for us. People are not looking to add a big expense right after Christmas. I actually enjoy the process of thinking through it and fixing it. I just wish the numbers were better. They will be.

Susan Buckley said...

You know Derek, it's excellent you write about this stuff because we all go through it. January has been unbelievable for me in a good way and I don't know why. I think it's luck of the draw sometimes. I'm small enough that I have my hand in practically everything. Not that that's necessarily good but at least I communicate quality, customer service, and do the training. It almost frightens me to grow bigger where I can't do this anymore. I don't believe no one will ever care as much as me and honestly, I don't expect them to. To me it's my future and the growth of a company I started. To them, it's a job. And I get that. I just don't know what to do about it.

I would like to meet you in the future since you're in my neighborhood. I think we can swap some really good information.