Case Study on “Perception”. What you see and what the customer see are not always the same.

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by Tom Watson on July 28, 2013

The cleaning business can be a rather relaxed way to earn a living as many times your “boss” is never really present when you are cleaning.

This is probably more true on the commercial side than the residential side, but generally speaking the cleaning crew are the only people around.

This means either you or your crew get to go clean a home or office all by yourselves. This is a wonderful way to clean as you are not under the microscope as much. You just go and do your thing then move on to the next account.

This isn’t always the case however, as some jobs always seem to have someone lingering around. In a few cases this may be the person who hired you. When this happens it changes the equation a bit when you are cleaning, and you need to factor that into how you attack the job.

Before I tackle why it’s different let me address how I view cleaning jobs. I work hard at figuring out WHAT the customer is having a problem with. Once I figure that out I address that in my proposal, which in turn helps me land the job in many cases.

After I get the job I want to bring the account back up to an “acceptable level” of clean QUICKLY. This means I dig in a bit on the first few cleanings so that it looks noticeably cleaner. This not only makes the customer happy, it makes my job easier going forward.

Now here comes the secret sauce in my opinion. After all this is done I focus on coming up with a system that is as efficient as possible to clean the home or office. Whatever can be done to make the job move faster is considered and worked into the cleaning routine.

Each person has a specific role to play and each cleaning task is put in an order that maximizes our effort. This results in our company being able to clean jobs about as fast as can be humanly done. This is great for my bottom line as the faster we get done the more profitable the job is.

This very fast and efficient cleaning system also has a very big drawback however. It’s called customer “perception”. This just means that the customer doesn’t always see our efficient way of doing things as a good thing. Some customers just see us as “in and out in a flash”.

What this translates to is this… you could be cleaning everything perfectly and not cutting one single corner, but to the customer you are going too fast to do a good job so they complain. Generally they can’t offer anything concrete, just a generalized complaint that it doesn’t look as clean as it should.

I have seen this happen many times in my own company and it will happen to you if you use the same approach. When this does occur you don’t want to just dismiss the customer concern, as you need to give your cleaning a closer look to see if the complaint has merit.

If a cleaning problem does exist you want to fix it ASAP, no doubt about it. But if the issue is only perception you have several options. The first is see if you can go clean at a time when this person isn’t there. This can be the best option because generally there is nothing wrong with your cleaning just the perception of being too fast.

The next option is slow down the cleaning so that you stay on the premises longer. This can be a harder pill to swallow, especially when you are hard-wired to get done in the most efficient way possible. On smaller jobs this is probably pretty easy to do, but tough on the large ones.

The last option involves “reasoning” with the customer. This is the approach I just used on a customer over the weekend. This “perception issue” came up because we have a customer who is always there when we clean. So to make a long story short I was training a new employee who was FASTER than the last one we had at that office for many years.

I asked the boss how we are doing. He indicated we are not spending as long cleaning the bathroom as we once did. He actually asked if we are “skipping anything”. I asked if he had a specific complaint and he said no. Just the fact we were so fast alarmed him into thinking we’re skipping certain things.

Basically he could not find any fault, just we were cleaning too fast! A classic “perception issue”. So I went into his office and explained that we work hard at coming up with a system that is efficient. We clean everything like we used to, just faster! Luckily for me the customer fully understood what I was getting at.

This customer has a staff full of accountants and explained to me that they have the same issue. They spend thirty minutes with a client then charge $500 for the tax return. Some clients complain that it seems out of balance. Not enough time for so much money (a perception issue just like ours!).

In the sprit of wrapping this up please keep in mind that not all customers will grasp your reasoning. The smart ones will “get it” but many will just want more effort out of you, so be careful how often you try to “explain” your way out if it. I’ve failed as many times as I succeeded.

I’ll wrap this up by asking you to be mindful of how you are “perceived” by the customer. What you see and what the customer see are not always the same thing and you need to tailor how you approach the cleaning to get the best results.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joe Mellon July 28, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Hi Tom,
On the ball as always. Funny, I had this happen to me last year. A customer of mine had a garage that was turned into an office for their home business, so twice a month we would clean he office and she would be at the house which was about 50 ft (if that) down a stone walk way. By the way, very nice home and office with a really nice yard, anyway, my daughter and I got this place clean and down to a science in about the third visit. Well starting about the fifth visit she starts to call up and say we were not spending enough time there (we were down to about 45 min a visit) and she started to pick that we weren’t doing things. She could never tell me what she was unhappy with just that she was unhappy. I really never did figure out what she was unhappy about as I cut her lose but I think she felt she was not getting enough time for her money, being next door to the office she cold watch us come and go. Also I had to play her game to get paid every month, it was come back tomorrow, I will call you when I have it, I need to go to the store and shop first to get change. Finally I said enough.

2 Tom Watson July 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Thanks for sharing that Joe! That describes the issue of perception just perfectly. It can be hard to overcome depending on the circumstances. Combine it with not getting paid and you have a real headache. You did the right thing to move on as not every customer is worth having.

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