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Firing a client shouldn’t be done in a moment of frustration. Long-term decisions should not be made under short-term stress.
In my experience, consideration of firing a client is rarely due to a bad client or an underperforming building service contractor (BSC). Commonly, the idea arises when a service provider and customer are no longer a good fit. Let’s examine a few scenarios that may help to illustrate this.
Early in my career, I worked for a husband-and-wife janitorial company. Things went smoothly because they were industrious workers themselves and great bosses. A high-profile hair salon was one of the company’s first clients.
I worked alongside my bosses who both trained and trusted me, but the customer was a different story. No matter how well I cleaned that location, my bosses received complaints every day. I was cleaning to the same levels as the owners, but this was a classic case of “I want the owner to do it.”
In this type of scenario, try to resolve the issue first. If the customer cannot be satisfied with another good cleaner, it may be time to let the client go. The business owner of a contract cleaning company cannot grow the business if he/she is personally cleaning every account site.
Customers may request changes to the BSC’s schedule. Making a few small adjustments here or there to maintain good relations with a good customer is reasonable, but there may be instances when a customer refuses to understand that your business has limitations.
If a senior member of the staff has been cleaning for a particular account for a long time, the client may feel a relationship has been established with that person. That’s great, as far as it helps to solidify business and develop mutual respect. However, let’s take a look at the following example:
Company X primarily uses part-time staff as cleaners. For many companies, this is a strategy to regulate both cost and staff. That also means most of the employees have a full-time job or another part-time job elsewhere. Company X pairs particular employees with clients based on their schedules.
However, Client Y now wants to push back the cleaning schedule by several hours into the evening, which may create a loss for the account and the loss of a productive staff member.
How should you handle this? If your customer wants to move cleaning from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. as a new routine, try to work it out. However, if that change cannot be made and the client refuses to understand, it may be time to fire this client.
Some accounts go out for bid every year. In this instance, it’s no surprise that cost is the determining factor.
We know everyone has a budget. I encourage you to recognize that everyone includes you, the BSC. I know an owner who maintained a long-term customer even though it went out for bid every year. With each successive season, the customer told this BSC they wanted him to stay, but to do so, he had to match the lowest bid. In fear of losing the work, he did exactly that for more than a decade until his accountant asked him, “Why are you paying this customer?”
The owner replied, “I don't know what you mean. I invoice this amount monthly and pay this amount in wages.”
“Correct,” answered the accountant. “But you're not factoring in gas, insurance, and workers’ compensation. This customer is costing you hundreds of dollars every month.”
If the only way to keep an account year-over-year is to match the lowest bid, then it may be time to fire this client.
When a cleaning company sales rep interfaces with clients, one of the key needs is setting realistic expectations. Some customers can do this by nature; others are more aggressive and outspoken with their desires. However, their desires may not always be practical.
For example: We’ve seen customers who insist on once-a-week service. When the team arrives, trash cans are overflowing, the kitchen is a wreck, and the restrooms are in horrible shape. Be sure to properly budget for this type of job, as it can take longer to clean a facility that doesn’t receive regular attention.
In situations like these, a good scope-of-service document signed by the customer can save you. Perform a thorough service. Take pictures if needed to show you’ve done your job. If the customer is calling to complain in the middle of the week, suggest increasing service frequency. However, as an experienced BSC, you know this will require a higher invoice to the customer. If the customer refuses, but still complains about the situation, it may be time to fire this client.
Thoroughly train your cleaning staff and remember that quality of work is important. There are no excuses for work that’s been poorly done, and frankly, if your work is superior to your competitors’ work, you have better opportunity for higher rates.
I suggest having a manager walk through and inspect client facilities on a regular basis to ensure quality control. That is a realistic client expectation. Remember: The growth of your business can stop dead in its tracks if half of your day is wasted on call backs.
In the event you have a good client, but there’s no longer a fit between your businesses, consider an interim step. Look to your fellow BSCs in the area. Hopefully you know which ones are performing good quality work. If you can make a recommendation for one or two that are a better fit for your former customer, it will go a long way toward smoothing relations. It also shows your customer that you are still looking out for your clients’ best interests.