Dealing with customers that bust your chops…

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by Tom Watson on November 9, 2014

Being in business for a long time means that I’ve been hired by lots of folks over the years.

The list includes homeowners, business owners, office managers, real estate agents, property management firms, hotels, townships and municipalities.

I’m sure there is more, but you get the idea. The vast majority of those people were a joy to work for. If I had to take a guess I would say that maybe 70% were individuals that were easy to work for. They were happy as long as you did your job as you said you would.

Then you have maybe 20% that push you a little harder. They tend to want to get the most they can out of you, but that’s OK, that’s still within the realm of fair. After that you have about 8% that are not that much fun. They tend to push you a little harder than you would like, but it’s still manageable.

However a small percentage, that last 2%, were not all that much fun. These tend to be the people you remember 20 years later as you tell stories about some of the zany people you worked for to your family and friends. It’s fun to talk about them after the fact, but when you are still working for them it’s a chore!

The office manager who complained about EVERYTHING

One time I was interviewing for a pair of two different doctors offices. They were managed by one office manager who ran back and forth between the two practices. I had an idea this person was going to be a real tough one to deal with if I got hired. With that said, I always tend to think I can “manage” the situation, so I don’t worry too much.

Well I did get hired and as we normally do we jumped into both places and did a top to bottom clean. We spent a ton of time getting both places in shape. One wasn’t all that bad, but the other was an old dusty building that was horrible. I didn’t even charge extra for this, as it’s more to my benefit than theirs because it makes my job easier going forward PLUS it makes me look GOOD to the customer. It’s win-win!

Well, this customer DIDN’T NOTICE any of that effort. In fact I was called two weeks after getting hired and was asked point-blank “When are you going to dig in and start cleaning?”. I was stunned! How could they possibly NOT NOTICE the HUGE IMPROVEMENT that was made? This person actually called me in and walked me around the office and started pointing to “imaginary dust” that only they could see (crazy but true).

Then I was taken over to the sink that had “dirt” around the edges of the sink. This person was LIVID about this! Turns out it was GLUE from the installation of the sink! Nothing to do with my cleaning crew! It was poor workmanship from the construction of the building, and the building was like 10 years old! That glue had NOTHING to do with a cleaning routine!

I could on and on with that office manager, as those stories were just the tip of the iceberg. I hung around for about a year before I was let go. To this day it was the only place that I almost quit on my own. Though I didn’t, I came AWFULLY CLOSE. By the end it was just a grudge match, and I wasn’t going to quit and give that person the pleasure of breaking me.

The apartment complex with unfit management

I had another customer that used to love to call me into the office and complain about our work. For some background, this was an apartment complex that was a DISASTER. One of the crummiest places we ever cleaned. In fact the rental office itself looked like a storage room with junk laying all over the place. And this is where they brought potential tenants in to sell them on living there!

Anyway… we could only do the best we could as the rental office was just horrible. It looked like hoarders lived there, so it was never going to look good no matter what we did. Well this one time I get called and told I better report to the office so I can see the issues “FIRST HAND”. The first issue was some dust on the managers desk.

To be honest, there was dust present, but that was only because the desk was piled about two feet high with papers! The only way to clean that desk was to remove all papers and do a total wipe down of the desk, then put everything back. That wasn’t going to happen due to the low price they were paying plus that is just outside of what we do. In a case like that, if you want the desk clean HELP US MAKE THAT POSSIBLE by clearing the desk.

The best part about the meeting was when they drug me into the bathroom. To make you feel like you were there, just imagine hardly being able to walk due to fear of falling debris, as they had stuff stacked in there from floor to ceiling. Then they had me look at the top of the toilet where the lid to the tank is. They twisted their head and told me… “See that dust? Why it’s there?”.

I saw no dust. The reason why I didn’t see any dust was because THERE WAS NO DUST! I said “I don’t see what you see” and the office manager responded with “Are you calling me a liar?” At that point I thought I entered the Twilight Zone. I actually changed my tune at that point and said “Oh yea, I see it. We should have gotten that dust”. I said that to just end the pain of standing in a room with these people!

The customer who said we did NOTHING

I’ll finish with one more story. We once had this contract with a company that had offices scattered about our service area. All the facilities were beaten down and old. There wasn’t much you could do for them to make them look good, but that didn’t stop management from wanting the cleaning crew to make a 50-year-old beaten down building look like it was just built yesterday.

So I get a call to clean a small office at their one of their satellite offices. It was literally maybe five small offices all connected together. They were horribly dusty, and needed a top to bottom clean. Well, that’s what we did as we had four people cleaning in this tiny set of offices for several hours. Place looked as good as it could possibly look once we were done.

We even crawled under the desks and removed 50 years of cobwebs that had lived between the wires of all the computers that were plugged in. Not one surface didn’t get a compete wipe down with a wet towel. We even had ladders to get on top of the bookcases and we wiped every single kick-knack in each office. I couldn’t wait to hear how happy they were!

Well I decide to call them and ask “what do you think about the cleaning?” They replied “We are very unhappy and it didn’t look like you did anything”. Huh? I have NEVER in all my life been more floored by what a customer said! Took my breath away to be honest with you. I didn’t relay this to the crew because it would have taken the air out of their balloon, but it did tick me off for a while.

The moral of these stories is that I survived! You will have similar ones too, and believe it or not, it’s all good! They teach you lessons in staying grounded, keeping your cool, learning how to deal with difficult people to just name a few benefits. It’s funny, but the greatest gift of all may be that they give you some wonderful stories to share many years later!

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 my2pence November 9, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Best one yet Ive had is when a client told me I was cutting the cleaning short by 7 mins despite giving one hour free the previous week which turned into 2 free hours to ensure her expectations are met! Me personally I perserve with these clients as your patience will make them your most loyal customers. My pet hate is late payers who pay only when they’ve received a reminder!

2 Tom Watson November 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm

I feel your pain (been there!). I had a customer yell at me because my staff wasn’t washing their floor by hand (about 700 square feet). Anyway… yea, late pays are tough to deal with. You can’t drop the ball when you are cleaning, but they can pay when they like.

3 Saia November 10, 2014 at 6:58 am

I thought we have people like those just in domestic cleaning… I was thinking that in commercial job everything is more better…
Thank you, Tom

4 Jim November 10, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I don’t have the stomach for customers like that. I do my best, but if the headache become not worth it, I tell them to find someone else and I give them notice. Sometimes they change their tune, kinda of like standing up to a bully.

5 Tom Watson November 10, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Hi Jim! I know… some are not worth it. They just complain at everything.

6 Tom Watson November 10, 2014 at 4:12 pm

Hi Saia! They are EVERYWHERE. Luckily, they are a small percentage of the larger whole.

7 Maid Service January 19, 2016 at 8:36 pm

Got to love all customers. It’s hard to hear the negative about your cleanings but push forward and make them happy.

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