Monday, February 27, 2012

What not to put on your application for a cleaning service

OK today's blog is mostly for humor and was inspired by some of the more interesting applications we got this week.  I have been amazed by what people will put on their application.  These people probably tell all their friends how they cannot find a job and no one is hiring.   Lets make this one interactive, post your best examples in the comments below.  Lets just go for what people write on the application for now.  We will save the dumb interview answers for later.

1.  Reason you left job:  I asked for a vacation.  They declined the day so I quit.

2.  References:  Mrs. Smith - Relationship – Parole Officer

3.  Previous Employment – Vet Office – Reason you left the job – I could not tolerate the dust and dog hair.  (Remember applying for a cleaning job here)

And the winner from today that inspired this column:
4.  Previous Place of Employment – Hotel House Keeper – Reason for Leaving – Baby Fell off Balcony.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

20 seconds of Courage: Facing Down Your On Board Terrorists

Sometimes as cleaning business owners, we manage to convince ourselves that our problems are special and unique.  We do not think anyone can understand what we face every day and no one has ever had the same kinds of issues.  This week I have been in Texas all week for the Home Cleaning Technician class ( and then I met with some cleaning business owners and college friends.  I was meeting with a friend from college who owns a company.   Her company is nearly identical in size to mine with the same number of employees.  But she does not own a residential cleaning company, she has a physical therapy practice.  She bills over $100 an hour and her employees must have a Master’s Degree.  Her employees as seen as true professionals.  She has to be bringing in 3 to 4 times the revenue that I am with the same number of employees.  What on earth does she have in common with my business were I have to fight like mad to bill over $30 an hour and many employees did not graduate high school? 

She is being driven crazy by her employees.  Some have bad attitudes.  Some call off way too often.  Her call off rates are 2 to 3 days per MONTH.  She has no idea who is going to show up to work from day to day.  She told me one of her “favorite” and “best” employees calls off the most.  She is terrified to be too tough her therapists, especially the “good” ones, because they may go independent and do home health care without all the same over head that she has with office rent, liability insurance, and so on.  She is starting to hate her business because she feels trapped by her employees who could go out on their own and steal her clients at any time.  It is a conversation I have had hundreds of times with cleaning service owners.  We often fool ourselves into thinking we have the problems we do because of the “type” of people we employee.  I have news for you, all service businesses have the same issue whether you pay your people $9.00 an hour or $50.00.  It is a problem of leadership, not a problem of the “type” of employees we have.

I have also been reading a new book “Selling Sunshine” by Tony Hartl.  Tony made his fortune by building the largest and most successful chain of tanning salons in the world.  My brother, who owns My Maid Service Dallas, is also owns a barter brokerage and Tony is one of his clients.  Shawn said Tony is a great guy and gave me a copy of his book to read on Wednesday.  I am only on chapter three but I love what I have read so far.   Tony’s business sounds so much like ours.  I am going to quote him here. 

“Starting early in my career, I refused to be held hostage by employees, even if it meant taking extreme measures.  I always believed that I could work myself out of any situation.  I wasn’t going to let the inconvenience of working longer or harder get in the way of pulling the trigger on a problem employee.  You just do what’s got to be done.

I was having some staffing issues, and rather than put up with it, I fired five people in one fell swoop.  Obviously, that created a huge gap in the work schedule, forcing me to open and close the club for several weeks.  I had to work around the clock and sleep at the club to pick up the slack.  Believe it or not, this schedule was much better than dealing with problem employees.”

Tony eventually created a culture that attracted some of the best employees but if you think he never made a mistake, you are wrong.  Bad employees will sneak in and you need to get rid of them as soon as possible, regardless of the cost.  Keeping them is far worse than losing them, no matter what you may think.  At an ARCSI meeting, one of our speakers had a great name for these employees. He called them On Board Terrorists.  They will do everything in their power to take you down from the inside.  They recruit others to their cause and they take customers as hostages.  They will terrorize you and your good employees until they destroy your company and your peace of mind.  You need to get rid of you on board terrorists as soon as you identify them.

Finally circling back to our industry, at the House Cleaning Technical class in Dallas I met a franchisee with 4 offices in two states most of us only visit on vacation.  This man is living the dream.  His business runs largely without him and he summers in one state and spends his winters in a much warmer client.  We asked him to tell us about a turning point in his business.  He told us that several years ago he realized one of his offices was having a huge morale problem.  He tried several times to fix it but nothing seemed to work.  He finally fired everyone in that office including the manager.  He literally was left with an empty office with a list of clients and no employees to do the work or even train new employees.  He called all the customers and explained what was going on and if they would stay with him for 3 or 4 weeks he would have a better staff in place to service them and he would give them a free cleaning.  He replaced the whole group including training in three weeks and lost only 3 customers a result.  He was losing more than three customers a week due to the poor service and attitude from the previous employees.  He said it was both one of the most difficult and best decisions he ever made in his business.  He learned he never had to be heard hostage by his employees again.

This is all a lesson it took me far too long to learn.  I kept poor performers on for too long because I was worried about how to service my clients.  I have learned it is far better to call a client and politely tell them you are short on staff than to send a bad employee into their home.  Of course I want to do everything in my power to hire the best possible people.  But when a bad person sneaks by or when a good employee goes bad, you have to make the hard decisions.   You are in charge.  If you don’t do it no one will.  To quote Tony again, “You just do what’s got to be done. “

Let me give you one more thought of encouragement.  I went to a movie with my daughter this weekend, “We bought a Zoo.”  In that movie one of the main characters explains to his son that your life is often shaped by just 20 seconds of insane courage.  Your business is not so different.  When we are truly honest with ourselves, we do not fire people due to fear.  We know it needs to be done but we hate firing people and we are afraid of what will happen when we do.  There was a discussion I saw on Linkedin this week when someone asked “When is it time to fire an employee?”.  My answer which I still believe is as soon as you start to ask that question about someone, it is time to let them go.  In all my years in this business I have never had a problem employee that turned around nor have I met a cleaning company owner that did.  You need to be fair and follow your procedures but when the time comes, you need to muster up your 20 seconds of insane courage and just do it.  Do not drag it out with some long lecture.  Be professional but be polite.  “I am sorry but you have broken company policies too many times and I need to let you go.  We will need your company supplies back tomorrow by 9 AM.  We will send you your final check on Friday”  Done.  20 seconds of extreme bravery.  If you cannot do that, I honestly recommend you sell your clients and go work for someone else.  If not you will never have employees who work for you, you will be working for them and it is far better to work for 1 boss than working for multiple employees.  It pays better too.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Non Cash Incentives for Cleaning Techs

If you have been following many of us that own cleaning services on Facebook you may have noticed that a lot of us have started using a system of non cash incentives.  Some people call them maid bucks, bonus bucks, etc. but many of the ARCSI members have started doing it.  At My Maid Service have started using a system called bonus bucks.  We give the employees bucks on their anniversary with the company, birthday, for perfect attendance, for helping other teams at the end of the day and more.  The techs can save their money from month to month and then at the end of the month we have an auction for various prizes that change each month. 

Using incentives to motivate your staff is a great way to bring excitement to your team but it is also tricky.  When you ask your staff what incentive they want they will almost always tell you cash.  But cash is not the best way to go.  Hundreds of studies have been done on ways to motivate employees and they all agree cash is not the way to go  When I worked for Procter & Gamble we used a company called Business Incentives and their whole reason for being was to incent employees and they were very good at it. Business Incentives taught me that using cash is not usually the best way to incent employees.  They shared one study asked employees 6 months after they got a cash incentive, what did you do with it. The top three responses: 29% paid bills.  18% do not remember.  15% not only did not remember what they did with cash, they swore they never even got a cash incentive in the first place.  Considering the amount of money we spend on incentives we would like to think our employees will remember that we gave them the money.

So what incentives work best?  Unfortunately there is no blanket answer, it varies by person.  However all effective incentives have 2 things in common.  One, it has to be something your employee wants.  Two, an incentive has to be something the employee could never justify buying themselves.  The classic example is the salesman who is offered a cash incentive of $1,000 or a $500 golf driver.  In study after study the sales person will work harder and sell more for the $500 driver than the $1,000 cash.  Why?  When you look at this it seems to make no sense.  Win the $1,000, buy the golf club, and still have $500.  In the real world this is not how it works.  If the salesman wins $1,000 and spends half the money on golf clubs he feels very guilty and if he is married, well he is in HUGE trouble for wasting the money.  But he cannot feel guilty for winning the golf club.  When he comes home and shows his wife what he won, she is proud of him, not angry for wasting the cash.  He can get something he would really want but could never justify buying on his own.  And yes the same thing works with women, I used the sales man example because most people are very familiar with it.  While we are not normally dealing with men, the rules are the same.  If our employees win $250 they will spend it on bills or clothes for the kids.  They will be responsible.  However if they win something for themselves it is much more special and memorable.  Responsible is not memorable.

Giving non cash incentives has one other huge advantage, the bragging factor.  It is not socially acceptable to tell people about all the money you have.  But if you go on a great trip, or have a great experience, or got a great thing, you are expected to tell everyone about it.  Your employee will be selling your next incentive for you.  

We need to think of what our employees want, and it is not always what we want.  One of my first incentives was a dinner for 2 at a great 5 star steakhouse.  No one even tried.  I thought they would be motivated to eat somewhere they would never go on their own.  I was wrong.  They did not want to go to a place they did not feel they belonged.  It was not special.  It was intimidating.  What incentives have worked best for me?  Sporting event packages.  Jewelry.  An extra day of vacation that cannot be turned in for pay. 

What do they want but that their guilt would never let them buy for themselves?  Also remember that different employees want different things so it may make sense to make your incentive a choice so employees can pick what makes them excited.  For example the person that generates the most leads from flyering neighbors gets 4 great tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals and $50 food gift card or a emerald necklace.  Finally change the incentives.  Different people will respond to different things.  If you have someone that is always left out, make an option for just them once in a while.  For example, I only have 1 real hobby outside work, comic books.  Yes I am a huge geek..  I never worked so hard as the one time by boss offered a fancy golf outing, spa day, or a near mint copy of Avengers #3.  My wife would kill me if I spent $400 on a comic book so I worked very hard to win that comic, and I did.  Get creative and you can get better results for less money than cash.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dissecting a Customer Service Failure

Whenever we have a service failure we discuss it in our weekly meetings.   I am sure everyone who reads these have the same experience where one customer seems to be cursed.  We can clean 40 homes and day and everything goes wrong with the same customer.   We also write it up and save it because we do not want to forget the lessons we learned.   An example of one of these write ups is below from 3/11/2011.

Mrs. Baldwin was scheduled for service on Friday morning with Brenda who was scheduled off so we moved her appointment to Sarah.  The person doing reminder calls did not tell Mrs. Baldwin that her team was changed.  Mrs. Baldwin did tell us she had a showing and wanted us there first thing.   Friday morning.  Sarah’s partner calls off sick.  I assign Amber to work with Sarah.  7:30 AM.  I get a call from Sarah that she will be a little late.  She left her mop at a client’s home the previous day so she went to Home Depot to buy a replacement mop and forgot her purse at home so she has to go home.  Sarah comes in at 8:30 and gets Amber.  Mrs. Baldwin calls at 9:00 wanting to know where her team is.  She is upset because no one told her we changed the teams and she has a showing at 11:00 AM and it needs to be done by then.   I assure the team left 30 minutes ago and should be there any minute.  She has to leave and is leaving the front door open.  I call Sarah to tell her what is going on, and she is at Home Depot again.  I thought she did that one the way in or we would have given her one when she came in.  Home Depot is out of stock on mops.  We tell her to go to Baldwin now and forget the darn mop.  I leave the office and run to Baldwin to drop off a mop, which we had in the office so I am unsure why she went to Home Depot after the office, and to help them finish on time.

Noon.  Mrs. Baldwin calls and is mad that her bills have been thrown out.  She keeps her bills in a trash can beside the shredder and we threw it out.  She demands we come back and dig the bills out of the trash for her.  The office manager calls me and says she does not think we should do it.  My office manager does not think it is not our fault the lady keeps her bills in an unlabeled trash can.  She thinks if you put something in a trash can when the maids are coming you better expect we will throw it out.  I tell her we should go back.  It is stupid but it will only take a minute and we had legitimately screwed up several different ways already with this customer.   My office manager  tells me she thinks I am wrong and we cannot let customers push us around but I over rule her.  The cleaner then throws attitude when we tell her she has to go back.  She is a mother and a grand mother and she is not digging through someone else’s trash.  I was not in the office at the time but I am pretty sure the office manager did not help my case when she called her.  My office manager  probably led off the call by telling the cleaner how stupid it was and she could not believe I was asking her to do it.  So I had to call the cleaner when I was out of the office to talk her down and say yes it is stupid but it is not that big of a deal.  We did not mix the trash bags and she said the bag should be right on top so all she would have to do is pull it out and open the bag.  The cleaner goes back and takes care of it.

Derek’s total time lost:  2 hours running around and cleaning due to the mop
                                                30 minutes of phone calls with the customer, the office, and the cleaner
2 Techs did not get to their first job until 9:30 AM instead of 8:30 as they are supposed to
And one unhappy customer

1)      Review the policy on lost equipment.  Was something so harsh about it that my cleaner would rather buy a new mop with her own money on her own time rather than tell us.
2)      Re-enforce the policy on lost equipment and use this is an example to explain why it is there.
3)      Find out why we forgot to tell the client about the team change and find a way to fix the system so it does not have to count on some one noticing and remembering
4)      Why was the note about the bills in the trash can not on the job sheet.  It seems this would be important information.   Another issue we need to retrain on is making sure your job sheet is updated with important information for when another team has to cover for you.
5)      Address training for the entire company on customer service.  They need to understand the principle that you can be right or you can be successful but you often cannot be both.  To be successful in a service business you need to let go of “being right” and concentrate on serving the client.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Proper Use of Bases in Cleaning

In a previous post I discussed acids which have a pH of under 7 on the pH scale.  Less well known among cleaners are bases which are chemicals with a pH higher than 7 when dissolved in water.  The reason it is important to understand bases is because they are very common in certain cleaners and they can be extremely dangerous to you and your employees.   This is not to say all dollar store cleaners are bad, in fact about 1/3 of the chemicals I use come from dollar stores.  However in some cases, the savings are not worth the risk to life.  Like acids, the pH scale works on a logarithmic scale meaning each point on the scale is based on a multiplier of 10.  A slightly higher number is a much stronger base. 

Bases are often used in de-greasers and oven cleaners.  Bases work great in these products for two reasons.  First, strong bases break down organic matter such as foods and greases.  Second, when a strong base is mixed with a fat it turns the fat into soap - literally turning the thing we are trying to get rid of into an agent that helps clean.  Old fashioned soap is made by combining lye which is a strong base with a pH of 13 with fats such as lard and vegetable oils.

So this sounds great.  A base will turn fat into soap.  We should use them all the time, right?  Well the problem with bases is they are very dangerous.  Most people understand acids are dangerous because if you spill them on your skin, they hurt.  Many common bases used in cleaning do not cause pain immediately when they come into contact with skin.  However they can cause serious chemical burns without physical pain until it is too late.  Remember bases break down organic matter which includes skin, bone, and muscle.  A base can be absorbed through the skin and it turns body fat into soap.  While this is not deadly it is EXTREMELY painful because the only treatment is to let the body break down and absorb the soap in the body over time.  If you ever got soap in a cut imaging have a bar of it under your skin... for a week.  

Because bases are cheap and effective you will often find them in in-expensive oven cleaners.  There are other safer ways to clean an oven than using a strong base but they are more expensive.  There are many cases when low cost cleaners make sense but oven cleaners is not one of them.  To prove my point, I am going to tell you to share information off the MSDS sheets to show the difference.  Below are  excerpts from Easy Off and a cheaper generic oven cleaner's MSDS sheets.

Easy Off Oven Cleaner pH 12.25
Rated level 2 by OSHA meaning - Temporary or minor injury may occur.

Generic Oven and Grill Cleaner pH 13.8  (remember 14 is as high as it goes)
Rated level 3 by OSHA meaning – Major or permanent injury likely unless prompt action is taken and medical treatment is given.  The MSDS sheet says also says to use a respirator, goggles without air vents, gloves rated for level 3 chemicals, and skin cream on any exposed skin. 

The Generic Oven and Grill Cleaner does a great job cleaning ovens.  It tears through even the worst ovens and if you ever used it you probably wondered why anyone would pay five to six times more for Easy Off.  Well this is the answer.  A base this strong can cause terrible damage to you and those that work for you.  It is not worth the $4.00 saved to take the risk.  This can cause life changing injuries to who ever uses it and unacceptable liabilities to you as the employer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Reason 2 Groupon will Kill Your Business

Imagine a sales person comes into your office.  He has this great idea for you to get new clients with no upfront expense.  He has developed a network of hundreds of people that will hand out coupons for a $100 of cleaning all over the city.  All he wants in return is the right to sell this coupon for $50 and to keep half the money himself.  You will lose at least $35 on each coupon client you work for but imagine all the people that will try your service and buy more at full price.  It is an interesting idea.  So you ask some questions.

Service Owner:   Where are these coupons going to be handed out? 
Sales Person:  We have thousands of people that wait for us on the street corners every day.
Service Owner:  But where, exactly?  Do you do Highland Park?
Sales Person:  We have too many users to track, they are all over town but we always sell at least 200 of these.  
Service Owner:  Will you sell them in Over the Tracks?  I do not service that area.
Sales Person:   We will sell all over town but you can clearly state on the coupon that it can only be redeemed on this side of the tracks.

Now would you sign up for this?  You have no idea who is going to get these things.   This guy could be standing in the welfare line.  He could be going to the local college.  He could be going to the worst most dangerous neighborhoods in town.  You have no idea where he is going to hand these things out.   Let’s be 100% clear, this is EXACLTY what Groupon does.  They do not care who buys the certificate.  They will sell to anyone.   I think this is part of the reason a FEW cleaning companies have had some success with Groupon, they got lucky.  In their area Groupon happened to go a slightly better demographic.  I did a small Groupon like offer and it seems they all sold to college kids in my area because that is who subscribed to Groupon. 

Even worse, Groupon is least appealing to the people we most want to attract.  What we are selling is really free time not cleaning.  We are selling the time and relaxation they are going to get from not cleaning their own home.  These are people that value their time more than money.  These kinds of people are the kinds of people that do not have time to read a bunch of emails and offers every day to try to save a few bucks.  They do not want to print out coupons or keep track of codes.  The customers we really want are seeking to make their lives simpler and Groupon does not make their life simpler.  Simply put you have no control over who is going to get your message and even worse, the people you really want are not going to use a service like Groupon.  And this is reason 2 of 5 why Groupon will kill your business.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tech Tuesday: Acid Cleaners and How to Use Them

We all know which cleaners work and which cleaners don't work but we don't always know we why. We often learn through trial and error. Understanding the science will help us understand if a new cleaner will deliver on its promises without risking damage to a customer's home. Also the ability to explain why a product works separates us from our competition by showing that we are true professionals with training and knowledge. In fact the topic of today's article, acids and how to use them, was the reason I won a large contract as the sole cleaning contractor for an apartment complex with over 450 units.

Most people understand what an acid is even if they don't understand the technical definition. However understanding the pH scale is important because it tells you how strong an acid is. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14. Any chemical that has a pH less than 7 (when dissolved in water) is an acid. The lower the pH number, the stronger the acid. The pH scale is logarithmic which is a fancy way of saying each point on the pH scale means the acid is 10 times stronger than the next number on the scale. So a cleaner with a pH of 1 is not slightly more strong than a cleaner with a pH of 2, it is 10 times stronger.

Acids are very useful in cleaning, especially in bathrooms. Soap scum has many things in it but in most cases it is calcium or limestone which is dissolved in tap water. As the water dries on the bath walls it leaves behind a small amount of limestone and calcium which builds up over time. Soap scum is not soap at all, in most cases it is a layer of stone made up of these two ingredients on the bathroom surfaces. This is why it is so hard to remove with normal cleaners. It is like trying to clean a rock and wondering why it is still a looks like a rock after you scrub it. The only really effective way to remove soap scum is to use an acid. Acid will dissolve the soap scum into liquid or a gas. Think of your elementary school volcanoes. Vinegar is an acid (pH 3) and when mixed with baking soda the baking soda is dissolved and/or turned to a gas. Acids do the same thing to soap scum. This is also why you need to leave soap scum remover on the surface for a while before you remove it. You need to give the acid time to work. This is also why most toilet bowl cleaner are acids. Acids remove those hard water rings and rust, although rust is whole other discussion.

While acids do a great job removing soap scum they also can do damage to some natural stone and metals like chrome. Most bathroom fixtures are chrome plated because chrome is a very durable and water resistant product. However chrome has one very serious weakness, acid. Acid will eat the chrome plating. The stronger the acid and the cheaper (thinner) the chrome plated fixture, the faster this damage will occur. It is very important that you understand the pH level of your cleaner because they all say they remove soap scum but the lower the pH the better the job it will do removing the soap scum but also the more likely the product will damage chrome. All bathroom cleaners make claims like “powers through soap scum” but these claims don't really tell you anything. The pH of the product does not lie. The best way to learn the pH of any product is to go online and get the MSDS sheet which will tell you the pH of the product. Below are a few examples of common cleaners used by residential cleaners and their pH:

Comet Bathroom Cleaner – pH 3.0 (active ingredient citric acid)
Lime Away - pH 2.0 (active ingredient phosphoric acid)
Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner – pH less than 1.0 (active ingredient hydrochloric acid)

Remember the pH scale works on factor of 10 so Lime Away is 10 times stronger than Comet Bathroom Cleaner and Works Toilet Bowl Cleaner is 100 times stronger than Comet Bathroom Cleaner. If you have ever cleaned a really nasty bathroom with years of soap scum you have probably used a toilet bowl cleaner on it and seen how it eats the scum right off in seconds. If you got the cleaner on the chrome you also probably bought your client some new fixtures.

So back to my story from the beginning. I was called to bid on cleaning apartments and common areas for a complex with over 450 units. The previous company had been doing a great job cleaning the units but they kept damaging the chrome in the kitchen and bathroom. The owner of the service kept trying different cleaners but she kept having the same problem. When they told me this I explained the reason why this was happening was because the complex was using very cheap fixtures with super thin chrome plating. As a result even very low acid cleaners (like Lime Away and CLR) that were safe in 99.9% of residences would damage their chrome. The solution was to either buy a better fixture (no chance) or to make sure we only used cleaners with a pH higher than 3 on chrome. When I explained this to them I won the contract right then and there. They had been spending thousands of dollars on new chrome fixtures and sinks. I was able to explain to them not only how I could fix the problem but I also helped them make a list of cleaners which they could give to the residents to use. This separated us from all the other bidders (that had no idea what went wrong) and the owner of the previous company that by all accounts did a great job and tried every cleaner in the grocery store but could not make the client happy.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Choosing Software for your Maid Service

Update 2/20/2012 - I would love to beef this article up becuase it is one of my post popular.  If you have any opinions on the software, especially the newer ones I am not as familiar with, PLEASE add some some comments.  I also did not want to give names of who uses what becuase I am not sure my friends want to be contacted for references on software but if you are comfortable feel free to admit ahow you are in the comments.
One of the questions I see over and over is what software do people recommend.  I was fortunate to serve as the vendor relations chair for ARCSI so I was introduced to many of the software vendors in our industry.  As recently as 10 years ago there would have been very few choices.  Just 5 years ago you would have had 3 or 4 choices of software providers.  Now there are many more options. 

All of the software providers below have plenty of functionality to meet your needs.  I am not going to try to describe each application in great detail because this article could go for 10 pages and not cover all the details.  Instead I am going to give an overview and point you to their websites for more information.  I can name at least one company that uses each of the applications below so you can be confident that all of these applications “work” and it is just a matter of picking the application that is best for you.   If I am missing any providers please leave me a comment and I will add them. 

Client Server versus a Cloud Service 
Client Server is the traditional model where software is sold to you as a product.  Usually you buy a license for each copy of the software and you have continuous rights to use the software.  You may be asked to buy upgrades or purchase a service agreement that gives you support and on-going upgrades.  The data is stored on your computers in your place of work.   You get to keep all your client data under your control and you will never lose access to the software although changes to the underlying operating system may force you to make an upgrade.  Using the software anywhere off your network is normally difficult or requires additional software.   Backing up the data is very important because if your server crashes you will lose all your client and historic information.

Cloud computing is based on making software a service instead of a product.  The software and all of the data is stored on servers owned by the service provider and you access them via the internet.  You normally have to pay a monthly or annual fee to use the software and as soon as you stop paying you will lose access to it.    This software is normally has less up front expense, but it can cost more over time depending on the monthly service fees.  The service provider normally backs up the data to give you additional protection.  However if the service provider has any system disruptions, it is possible you will not be able to access you data.  In addition, if you lose internet access, you will not be able to access your client data.  On the positive side, these applications can be accessed anywhere via the internet and to use application via mobile devices. 

Software Providers

Service CEO – This is a Client Server based application.  The software was originally developed for Maid Pro although Maid Pro no longer has any ownership in the company.  This is the application I use although when I made the decision 5 years ago there were far fewer choices.  I found Maid Easy and Service CEO to have many similar features and coming out of corporate America, I found Service CEO the most comfortable for me to use.

Service CEO Web – Service CEO has introduced a web based solution of their software.  This is a newer application and does not yet have all the functions of the client server application but most users find it easier to implement.

Maid Easy Software – This application was created by independent maid service owners to manage their own business.  Maid Easy is a client server application.  It has many of the same features as Service CEO and many people know use this application and rave about the support.  I did not like the interface as much as Service CEO but I was coming from corporate America and was used to applications like Lotus Notes and Siebel and Service CEO felt like those applications to me.  For many years 80% of the owners I met used with Service CEO Client Server or Maid Easy.  This has begun to change with the introduction of all the web based solutions, but you will still find these are the largest companies and the users of each are very loyal to their chosen application.

Thoughtful Systems – Thoughtful systems has been in business for 22 years and they use client server based model.  I actually know the least about this company because I had already made my decision on software before I knew they were in business but one of my best friends in the business swears by them.

Service Tycoon – One of the many new cloud  based providers.

Service Sidekick – Another Cloud based provider.

Schedule View – This is a client service application that was originally designed for medical centers but one service owner I know has adapted it to residential cleaning with quite a bit of success.

Service Proz - I really know very littel about this company.  This company and the one below I do not know anyone personally that uses the software.   It does not mean they are bad companies, it just means I have very little data on them.

Clean Sweep – This company seems to do most of their business in Canada.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The end of the month scoreboard

This business can be a heck of a roller coaster ride.  Some weeks you feel like your going out of business because everything is going wrong, and the next week you feel on top of the world.  I have been writing a lot more generic advise posts than I expected when I started this blog.  I have my best material when things are going wrong and things have been going pretty well this week.  A few days ago I posted about my point system.  I have attached a picture of my actual board below.  It may be a little small or you to read all the details but remember I write lost customers in red and new customers in green.  You will note there is a lot of red and losses at the start of the month.  Right in the middle of this is when I started my blog about what I do on Saturdays.  Shortly after that, things suddenly turned for the better and we booked a lot of gains in green.

Now here is where it gets really entertaining for me.  I drew a red line of the board.  That is when I left town for two weeks to go to Charleston and Orlando.  When I left we were at a negative ten meaning we had 10 fewer appointments per month scheduled than we started at the beginning of the month.  At this loss rate of customers we go out of business in 26 months.  It was looking bleak.  Then I left for two weeks and they turned things around.  We ended the month at plus 2 points meaning we actually have 2 more on going appointments scheduled per month than we started.  Not a record growth rate but a lot better than the loss rate we were facing when I left.

My office staff has been telling for months I just get in the way.  I guess they may be right.   However I find myself without as many interesting things to write about.  It is amazing how fast the tide turns in our business.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creating a Sense of Urgency - the science of why it matters

I had a couple of people email me to ask about my feelings on offers and what kinds of offers we use.  I do believe in doing an offer and part of the reason why is to create a sense of urgency.  I have attached the back side of a post card we use here at My Maid Service as an example. 

In a previous article I explained that effective marketing materials have three things, including a call to action.  For a really effective call to action, you have to tell your customers what to do and to make it urgent.  There is a famous experiment at Yale by a scientist named Howard Leventhal that provides proof.  Leventhal was trying to increase the number of students getting a free tetanus shot from the on-campus clinic.  So he created two brochures which were given to seniors.  The first was very descriptive with facts and data.  The second was designed to test the theory that marketing with fear would be more effective so he included lots of graphic pictures of people with tetanus and the terribly painful way they died.  Both brochures included the statement that shots were available for free at the student clinic and the phone number for the clinic.  In a survey after reading the brochure the students that read the more graphic pamphlet were three times more likely to say they were going to be inoculated.  However when he checked later in both groups only 3% of the seniors actually got the shot.

Dr. Leventhal then added to both pamphlets a map with the clinic circled and times when the shots were going to be given. This is the only thing that was changed on the brochures.  After this change both the high-fear and regular brochures led to 28% of the students actually getting the inoculation.  This one small change more than anything caused a nearly 10 times increase in the students actually getting the shots.  Remember these are seniors, they almost certainly knew were the clinic was.  The combination of the map and the times took getting a shot from a subjective idea to clear instructions to the students on how to fit this into their lives.  In the original brochure the students were convinced a tetanus shot was something they should get, eventually.  The second brochure made a tetanus shot something a student needed to have at a specific time and a place. 

This is a lot like our customers.  The scary brochure convinced the students that the shot was something they should do, when they got around to it.  They said on the survey they were 3 times more likely to get the shot but when it came down to it, only 3% actually did it, the same as the boring flyer.  Adding the date and time gave them a sense or urgency, they knew where and when they had to go to get the shots.  We need to do the same thing.  If our offers are good but they have no clear call to action, clients will throw it into their coupon box intending to get to it some day.  Some day never comes.  The idea that they may lose out on the offer encourages them to pick up the phone right now and take action.

What this tells us is that the single most important thing on any marketing material is the call to action.  You need to clearly tell the customer what to do and when.  For example we use “Call 513-934-3254 by Friday for $100 off the first time with bi weekly or weekly service”.  Not everyone will agree with this aggressive of a discount but we did it for a reason which I will explain in a future topic but you have to admit, it creates a real sense of urgency.  Call now is not enough.  You need to say to call what and when.  More than the expensive artwork and graphic designers you need to make sure you have a clear and urgent call to action.