Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why Derek is more conservative now - trying to hire for a cleaning service

OK fair warning.  This is going to be a bit of a rant.  My spelling and grammar gets worse when I rant so I apologize in advance.  Also I am going to touch a little on politics and hopefully I won’t upset too many of my readers but I am having one of those days.  There is a quote that is normally attributed to Winston Churchill “If  you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain”.   I have come to like this quote because it feels a little like it sums up my life.  I was very liberal when I was younger.  I wanted to save the world and help everyone and fix everything for everyone.  Then I bought a residential cleaning service.  Now I realize many of these attempts to help people just back fire and create a system of perverse incentives.

We have been desperate for people for over 2 months.  We are running advertisements on Craig’s list, Snag a Job,, we ran ads in the paper, we offered incentives to current employees.  We even ran a job fair at the local unemployment office which they promoted to all the unemployed people in Warren county.  6 people came.  5 were immigrants.  We have to call 20 applicants to schedule 5 interviews.  On average only 2 out of 5 people show up for their interview.  Of those, one 1 of 3 will not show up for their first day of work.  Now do not get me wrong.  I love my staff.  I have 40 rock stars that work for me.  However the amount of BS we have to deal with to find the few people that really want a job and really want to improve themselves is incredible.

Now I know cleaning people’s homes is not a lot of fun but I like to think we offer a pretty good job.  We are growing so I guarantee my people full time work.  We are growing quickly so we have places to move up.  In the last year I have promoted 3 cleaners to General Managers running a branch office of their own.  We offer medical insurance, 5 days vacation, 9-5 work with no weekends, monthly bonuses, no micro-managing bosses, a no drama policy, and we try to have some fun.  We had our Christmas party at an indoor water park this year and bought tickets for everyone and their families, and we are having a fancy all you can eat Candy and Cake Pop bar the Friday before Easter.  We also don’t pay so bad.  Most of my cleaners make $450 - $500 a week but I have several cleaners that make over $600 a week.  Before tips.  Lets be clear that is a $25,000 - $30,000 a year entry level job with no degree required.  This week one cleaner make over $800.00.  Ok I am ranting but I think you get my point, not that terrible of a place to work.  I have many one 11 year employee and many employees with us over 2 years.

I swear 95% of the people that “Apply” have no interest in being hired.  For those of you that do not know the system, to keep your unemployment benefits you have to be actively looking for a job.  They ask for proof of where you applied.   Now imagine this, you are applying for a job with me.  These are actual answers from the questions “Why did you leave you place of previous employment?”

1.  Baby fell off balcony.  (Worked as a housekeeper at a hotel.  This has to be my all time favorite)
2.  I asked for 1 week off.  They said they no, they were too busy that week to spare me so I quit to show them.
3.  My boyfriend kept stalking me and terrorizing everyone at my office.  But we worked things out.  We are ok now.
4.  The work was too hard.

I had one woman no show for her interview.  Then she called me the next week.  “I am just calling to check on my application.”  Derek “You did not show up for your interview.”  Her “Yeah something came up, can I schedule another one.”  Derek “No, please don’t call again.”   I had another woman no show for her interview but she had the guts to call and ask if she could fax me her unemployment form to fill out confirming she had an interview scheduled.  Heck no, the point is you are supposed to go to the interview, not waste my time by scheduling it and then not showing up.

So I find myself yelling at my radio a lot.  I am an avid listener to NPR.  I think they do great in depth news stories.  But every time they run one of the pieces how terrible the economy is and no one is hiring I start yelling back.  I really get worked up when I hear the pieces about how we need to stop immigrants from coming over because plenty of Americans would do those jobs.  No they won’t.  Now lets be clear, I have exactly one non American citizen on my payroll and she is from Canada so I am not saying this out of pure self interest.  My people work in air conditioning all day and I have a terrible time finding people. I cannot imagine the poor employers trying to find people to work outside all day.

Now lets move to the other side of the unemployment system.  What most people do not seem to understand until they own a business, including me, is unemployment insurance is not like social security with a set rate.  It is basically directly billed back to your previous boss.  So if I lay a bunch of people off they rate I have to pay for unemployment goes way up.  So when someone files a claim, it comes right out of my pocket.  The other thing most people do not seem to realize is it is not really unemployment insurance, it is lay off insurance,  If you are fired for cause or you quit, you are not entitled to it.  You also have to earn a certain amount and work for a certain time to qualify.  There are people that game this system.  They know the rules and the appeals inside and out.  These people target smaller businesses because they know they are less likely to know the rules, have an HR department, have the time to do the paperwork and appeals, and may not realize it will even cost them when they get a claim.  It is like vultures who circle unsuspecting small business owners.

When I first bought the business I had one woman who did not like the changes I was making, like uniforms and mandatory arrival times.  She stood in my office screaming at the top of her lungs in front of 4 witnesses how stupid we all were and throwing things ending with “Fire me I dare you!”  So we did.  She filed unemployment and said we did not fire her for cause.  I filled out the paperwork and said she quit.  I lost as they said I fired her, she did not quit.  Foolish me, I thought when you scream to fire me and throw things at us, your quitting colorfully.  I appealed and said fine I fired her and I described what happened.  I lost that appeal because I could not answer the question as to what policy she broke.  I appealed again and had to some clause in my employee manual about “treating co-workers with respect” that she broke.  Finally I won.  I mean how stupid is this.  She stood screaming in my office throwing things but the only reason I finally won is because I was lucky enough that the employee manual I used had a generic phrase about treating others with respect.  Is there no common sense anymore.

About half the people I hire do great for the 8 weeks it takes to qualify for unemployment.  Then they start calling off work, like every day.  Or they do a terrible job.  Basically what ever it takes to get fired quickly.  When employees are fired I have them sign a form that acknowledges that they were fired, lists the reasons why, and when they will get their final check.  They all file and they all check the box that says “No reason was given why I was fired.”   We then have to fill out a 4 page form on why they were terminated, we need to include copies of every incident report, the termination letter, and send it all in within 14 days (lets hope the owner is not trying to take a vacation).  If you fail to respond, they win.  Once I respond, I then get another 4 page form to fill out that basically says “We got your claim that your employee was fired for cause.  Please provide more details to this new department. “  We then have to submit the exact same book of information AGAIN because it goes to a different department and goodness knows they cannot forward it.  Once we win that the employee can appeal up to 4 times.  Once again if we fail to respond, they win. 

This all takes an INCREDIBLE amount of my time and the government’s time with all of these appeals.  This wastes my money and the money of every single tax payer.  Remember I have a signed form from this employee acknowledging why they were let go.  Why is there no penalty for filing a false claim?  You cannot just file a fake police report because it wastes valuable resources.  But these people can play unemployment lottery and file a claim they have no right to in the hope their previous employer makes a mistake.  And now that we have extended unemployment benefits out for over a year the prize is even bigger to encourage people to do play the lottery even more.

Ok now I know some people are reading this and thinking “Derek, there is no way anyone can survive just off unemployment.  Your just being harsh.   It is what 40% of their previous pay?  They cannot live off that.”  Well you are partially right, they do need more income but there are ways to play that game as well.  About one out of 3 people I screen over the phone ask me to pay them under the table because they are getting disability or unemployment benefits they do not want to lose.  Seriously.  1 out of 3.  If you don’t believe me, come spend a day in my office.  If that does not work, remember we just trained them to be pretty good cleaners and they did a decent job as long as they cared to.  They may or may not have bothered to returned all the equipment and supplies we bought.  Now all they have to do is hang up some flyers and get some clients and not record any of the income.  So now they get 40% of their pay from their last job AND they get all the other low income government benefits, AND they have a cleaning job that they are being paid 100% under the table.   Welcome to how to play the system 101.  And I get more conservative by the day.  This is also why you need to treat the good employees like gold.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Cleaning Rush - just 4 weeks to soon

OMG! Spring is here way too early.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the warmer weather and I love to be outside and I normally LOVE the increase in phone calls but it was not supposed to be Spring yet.  I still have 4 people in training and 2 more scheduled to start in the next two weeks (they gave notice to their current employers, something I will never discourage.  How they treat their current boss is a sign of how they will treat me so I like people that say they have to give two weeks notice.)  I thought I had a minimum of 2 more weeks and more likely 4 weeks before it hit 80 degrees in Cincinnati.  Our phone is ringing non stop with new customers, occasional customers wanting a Spring Cleaning, and our regular customers wanting to upgrade to a Spring cleaning.  We are booked solid for the next two weeks which is not at all common for us.  We normally can get a customer in on 2 days notice.  It is killing me to be turning this much business away. 

We are trying to come up with ideas to deal with it.  First we are offering extra hours to anyone that wants to work Saturday.  I normally hate to have teams working Saturday because I do not have back ups in place if things go bad.  It also forces me to work Saturday myself which I do about 80% of the time anyway but I have to say I don’t like the feeling of having to go in versus choosing to.  Second, we are moving a couple offering extra hours to a couple of my commercial cleaners that have been cross trained to do residential work and we are sending them with the regular residential customers to do Spring Cleans and other jobs where there will be a partner to work with. 

What we are trying to avoid is moving people out of training faster than we should.  In the past I would have dealt with this rush by pushing people out of training faster.  Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that under trained employees will do a bad job and ruin our reputation.  As much as it hurts, I have found it is better to tell a customer we are booked than to send a team that does a poor job.  So now back to the battle and figuring out how to deal with the sudden surge in demand.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Don't Knock the Competition

I worked in sales for corporate America for 12 years and they always taught us not to say bad things about competition because it just makes us look bad.  I guess I understood that you want to spend your valuable time with a potential customer talking about you, not the other guys.  To be honest, I never really understood this until this week.  I had a call from a consumer looking for weekly service and at the end she asked me to for two non franchised companies that were similar in size to us so I gave her two names.  She called me back laughing and said we blew away the competition.  When I asked why she told me to call my competitor and ask them what made them the best.  So I did.

Derek – So what makes you better than your competition?
Other Business Owner – Drugs
Derek – Excuse me?
Other Business Owner  - Drugs
Derek – Um, Could you elaborate?
Other Business Owner – I test my people all the time, so I know they don’t use drugs.  Other people don't do this so they have employees that use drugs.

I basically tossed this woman a slow softball over the plate and asked her to tell me how great her company was and the only things she could come up with was to imply all the other companies hire drug users.  I was really blown away.  All I could think was this lady must have had some serious problems with drug using employees if she thinks that is what makes her better.  She not only made herself look bad but the entire industry.  Basically she said all cleaning services employ drug users including mine but I test them every few months so I fire my people once they start using.  What a terrible way to build trust with our consumer.

Needless to say, I got the sale and she did not.  So don’t say bad things about the competition because it reflects back on you.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cleaning with Enzymes, Let Nature do the Hard Work for You!

Today I was in a Clean Trust class for odor control and it reminded me of one of my favorite cleaning technologies.   Enzymes are very powerful and under used cleaning agents.  Enzymes are proteins that are created by living things to break down biological material. We have millions of enzymes in our bodies that cause a chemical catalyst to break down the food we eat.  Plants have enzymes that turn soil into the nutrients needed to grow.  Said a different way, enzymes are naturally occurring chemicals catalysts that accelerate the natural biodegradable or breaking down of organic material.  Because these are natural chemicals they are safe, non toxic, and biodegradable making them very popular in green cleaning.  There is nothing greener than an enzyme based cleaner.

Where enzymes really shine is on removing organic stains and smells such as blood, urine, grass stains, and oil.  The trick in using enzyme based cleaners is to find the right one.  There are literally millions of enzymes and they all work on different organic material.  An enzyme that breaks down oil may not do anything to blood.  As a result most enzyme based cleaners are designed for one specific use only.  There is no such thing as a all purpose enzyme cleaner.  This is why you will often see specialty products for blood, wine, grass stain removal and so on.  A well known example of an enzyme based cleaner is Nature's Miracle which is used on animal urine.

Remember that enzyme based cleaners are causing a biological reaction to take place.  You are biodegrading the organic material.  Biological reactions take time.  You cannot spray an enzyme on and expect instant results.  Read the label carefully because some enzyme based products say to leave it on for minutes, others say hours.  Also remember that you can kill a biological reaction so do not mix chemicals.  If you mix a disinfectant or a sanitizer with a enzyme, you will kill all the biological activity you are trying to create.  I see this all the time when people use Nature's Miracle but then they mix it with bleach and then wonder why it did not work.  The bleach killed all the enzymes and the bacteria created by enzymatic cleaners. 

I recommend most companies invest the time to meet with a professional janitorial distributor and buy some of these products.  You will not normally find these products at retail.  You can buy these one at a time or often these products are sold in a kit with 4 – 8 specialty “stain removers”.  This is not something you need to carry all the time but when you can get the blood stain off the carpet or the urine scent out of the basement that no one else can fix, you will prove yourself to be a true expert.   The great thing is because the way enzymes work, you do not even need to scrub.  Apply the right product.  Leave it alone and let nature take it's course.  Then amaze the customer with your knowledge.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Pet Peeve - clients that "talked to Derek"

One of my biggest pet peeves is customers who lie to us.  I am amazed by the lack of honesty and ownership that people take for their own actions any more.  One of the major advantages of me being out of the office so much over the last two months is my office staff has realized I am not the complete mess my customers often made me seem to be.  The typical scenario goes something like this.

Office Manager “Mrs. Smith, are calling because our cleaner is there and we could not find the key.  Is there another way in?”
Mrs. Smith “Well I talked to Derek last Tuesday and told him to skip this cleaning.”
Office Manager "I am so sorry for the mistake, would you like to reschedule?"

Normally this ends with my office staff rolling there eyes and deciding I have the world’s worst memory and I ALWAYS mess up the schedule.  As a result, the general consensus with my office staff is Derek cannot answer the phones because I just mess things up.  What has been interesting is in the month of February, I was in my office all of 4 days and on those 4 days I was in meetings with key staff for nearly every minute.  I did not answer the inbound phone line hardly at all and usually only on the employee line, not the customer line.  Well this last month the office staff started to keep track.  There were 9 customers that swore they talked to me.  One woman was very specific on the day and time, because she remembered she called from the shuttle bus at the airport and spoke to me.  (FYI I am the only male in the office so it is pretty clear when you get me or not).  I was in Dallas in the Home Cleaning Technician Class at the time.

I just wish they would admit, I am so sorry I forgot to call.  Instead they love to blame me.  I guess they figure 1.  The owner cannot get into trouble.  2.  They cannot argue if the owner said it was OK. 

Here is the really funny thing, we do not charge a lock out fee.  There is no reason for these people not to admit they did not call in or made a mistake.   For some reason it just seems to be the nature of some people to not want to admit they made a mistake.  I am not sure there is too much I can do about it but it is an interesting trend and something I figured I should warn other owners about.  Once you start having office staff everything mysteriously will become your fault.  We of course are very polite with customer and note what actually happened in our files.  If it happens too many times we may have to confront them on it.   But for the most part we have to be polite and take ownership of the “error” for the sake of good customer service.  But I have to admit, it really drives me nuts.