Many janitorial companies make claims of quality service and environmental friendliness — but how do customers know that those claims are legitimate, or even what they mean? For that matter, how do building service contractors know their own claims are valid?

A growing number of third-party certifications and training systems based on environmental and procedural standards are available for building service contractors to pursue. Despite financial, organizational and time challenges, BSCs are quite satisfied with the improvements in business yielded by these programs. From internal improvements in management, efficiencies and employee satisfaction to external benefits such as a sales and marketing edge, to general gains that include green cleaning expertise, contractors are excited about how certification is helping their business.

Most BSCs have at least heard of most major certifying bodies and their programs, including Green Seal’s GS-42, Managemen’s (OS1), ISSA’s Cleaning Industry Management Standard, or CIMS, and those offered by the Building Service Contractor Association International (BSCAI). Other programs, such as the new PenguinCare, offer training to complement some certifications.

Creating experts and professionals

Last fall, CleanPower of Milwaukee completed the first-ever round of certifications for the GS-42 environmental standard for green cleaning services. The company jumped at the chance to obtain the certification as another way to stand out from the rest of the market, says Barb Whitstone, vice president of business development.

“We really look at it as a differentiator, a third-party designation that, yes, you’re actually doing all those things you say you’re doing,” Whitstone says. “I think that so many cleaning companies come in and we all say the same thing and we all have the same specs and that’s when you get into people buying it as a commodity.”

The added expertise and knowledge level allow CleanPower to present a significant added value to customers, she says — and not only is the company an expert to customers, but it’s unexpectedly considered an expert to peers and those outside the cleaning industry as well.

For Rockville, Md.-based PMM Companies, which completed PenguinCare training and GS-42 certification, the effort that has gone into obtaining certification and ongoing, documented training is creating a company full of experts, says Owner Mitch Lustig.

“It just professionalizes, I think, companies like ours. We’ve had a rap, our whole industry, of low-education, low-pay, commoditized service,” says Lustig.

Paul Condie, director of operations for KBM Building Services in San Diego and president of the (OS1) Users Group, also has a company full of experts. Employees who are new to certified accounts are put through a two-day, intensive “boot camp” that introduces them to the philosophies and processes of cleaning. By the time workers complete the training, they’re empowered with the new knowledge and expertise, he says.

“I think more important than improving business, it changes the lives of our cleaning workers,” Condie says. “The impact it has on them is phenomenal and I can’t imagine doing it any other way.”

Lafayette, Ind.-based Team MJV is in the midst of being GS-42 certified, and one big effect of the process is how it has brought the company’s whole organization together with a team spirit, says James Heck, president.

“Rather than just talking the talk, we’re physically just walking the walk and really to get the team buy-in has been remarkable for us,” Heck says. Committing to certification is, in a way, committing to the employees that they’re all in this to succeed, together.

With company certification, employees now have a sense of ownership and pride in the service they provide, says Jim Sutton, CEO of Better Business Cleaning, Erie, Colo., one of the first CIMS-certified BSCs.

Increased professionalism is a side-effect of that additional training and resulting sense of pride employees have in their work. Not only does certification show a commitment to a BSC’s employees, it also shows a commitment to the health of customers and their employees, he says.

“I think it raises the level of professionalism in the industry and I think the industry is really ready for that and the very vital part of day-to-day business, and the service will really impact the customers’ bottom line,” Sutton says. “It impacts morale, it impacts productivity of their workforce.”

Newly CIMS-certified DMS Facility Services, Monrovia, Calif., has learned what it can improve upon, particularly in the areas of documentation and communication.

“Internally, it’s helped us identify areas for improvement because when we were preparing for the certification, we had to basically clean house,” says Manuel Quezada, vice president of safety and personnel development. “And once the process took place and we realized those areas for success and now when we look at other areas, we know what it takes to be successful.”

Effort paying off

Those who have seen external benefits to certification say that it has taken some effort to get the word out through various marketing and educational opportunities, but that effort definitely pays off.

“We really have gotten more out of the marketing end of it than anything else,” Whitstone says.

Education of the end customer is a big part of that, and is important because there isn’t a great understanding in the marketplace of what green cleaning means, she says — but on top of that, BSCs don’t always have a grasp on the issue.

Educating current and potential customers may not result in sales right away, but it does establish a certified BSC as an expert source in its market.

“We’re available to come out for free and just kind of talk about those kind of things and we’re finding that it’s a real good soft sell for us because we don’t sell our services — we give our knowledge, and usually there isn’t any opportunity right then, but as things change in their world, they’ll think of us in the future as the experts,” Lustig says.

BSCs still need to bid within a customer’s budget, and need to offer a competitive price, but cleaning industry leaders praise certifications for adding much-needed value to the services BSCs perform. As consumers become educated, they will demand higher quality services, and as contractors become educated, they will be able to offer a more valuable service.

“The industry’s moving in this direction and if you’re going to be a top quality service provider, this is how to bring it to your organization from a professional side,” Sutton says.