For service providers in particular, it seems the business world has been designed to not only field customer complaints but to ask for them and to expect them.

“For a company to say, ‘We don’t get complaints’ — that’s never going to happen,” says Craig Kersemeier, president of K-Tech Kleening Systems in Schofield, Wis. “We’ve created a society in which the expectation is for you to do it right. People don’t call and say, ‘Hey, by the way, you guys cleaned our building correctly last night.’ I don’t get that call.”

However, as complaints can cost a building service contractor an account, it is wise to work with customers to anticipate and prevent problems. The crux of that, Kersemeier says, is good old-fashioned communication.

“It’s all about communicating expectations,” he says.

When commercial office facility managers were polled about the most common restroom complaints, not surprisingly, empty soap and towel dispensers topped the list. For BSCs, a majority of these are basic maintenance issues that might be common, but are easily solved by managing customer expectations and prioritizing customer service.

Empty Dispensers

The top complaint, according to facility managers surveyed, is empty soap and towel dispensers. At a time when customer budgets have been cut and cleaning frequencies in some buildings have been reduced, it’s crucial to address issues of restroom traffic and make sure that dispensers are of appropriate volume for usage demands.

BSCs that provide a day porter have more leeway when it comes to dealing with restroom problems that need immediate attention.

“If the budget and situation allows, it’s great to have a day porter keeping on top of minor issues,” says Robert Stewart, president of Major Commercial Cleaning Co., Nashville.

Porters are there not only to physically clean the space, but they have a psychological effect on occupants as well that makes them more conscientious and aware of keeping areas neat.

“If I’m in a customer building that has a day porter, somebody will stop me and say, ‘We really like so-and-so who is our day porter,’ so they also develop respect and relationships with that person and that can be a contributing factor to an overall clean restroom,” Stewart says.

To prevent a towel roll from running out in the middle of the day, some customers ask that tag rolls of paper towel be thrown away nightly and replaced with fresh ones — though this wasteful practice has diminished in the current economic environment. Many customers now try to get the maximum use out of the paper product.

“We want to make use of the tag rolls if we can,” says Ken Sargent, president and CEO of Porter Industries in Loveland, Colo.

One way to eliminate waste and inconvenience is to recommend to customers a two-roll dispenser, made by some manufacturers, that automatically feeds a new roll once the other is empty.

A customer of Brokate Janitorial, Springfield, Mo., allows janitors to use tag rolls of paper towel for their cleaning tasks, says Cheyne Brokate, vice president of operations.

Sargent recalled a situation in which soap complaints shot up at one account, and after some investigation, it was discovered that the recent installation of touchless soap dispensers had added an additional maintenance issue — checking and changing batteries — that had not been factored into tracking software.

“It wasn’t just that soap might go empty, but that the batteries might run out, and it made a significant difference” in complaints, he says.

So Porter not only addressed it to keep it top-of-mind on the front lines, by posting “Got Soap?” stickers on janitorial carts, but also on the customer side, by deciding with the facility manager to go back to manual soap dispensers. They also implemented foam soap, which allowed for almost double the pumps per bag than liquid soap.

“We live by the Pareto rule — 80 percent of your problems come from 20 percent of your issues. If you just focus on those things, you can reduce the issues dramatically,” Sargent says.

Dirty Or Clogged Plumbing Fixtures

Dirty sinks, urinals and toilets that need to be cleaned more often than the specs dictate should result in a discussion between custodial staff and the facility manager.

If frequencies need to be adjusted in certain restrooms or if occupants are vandalizing fixtures deliberately, BSCs should engage in honest dialogues with those customers.

“Our people aren’t clogging the sinks, urinals and commodes — and is that a part of the cleaning contract? For most of ours, it’s not. There’s a procedure for letting maintenance know to fix their clogged sink,” Kersemeier says.

Most BSCs will defer to a facility’s maintenance department for tasks such as clogs in drains or toilets.

In a few of Major Commercial Cleaning’s big accounts at large, historic music venues in Nashville, the company helped solve some of those vandalism issues by encouraging the venues to install hand dryers.

“They were better served by not having paper towels and just having air blowers, because they tend to throw the paper towels in the toilet and it stops them up, but now they’ve kind of filtered that out,” Stewart says.

Overflowing Trash Receptacles

When a receptacle is overflowing, not only does it call to question how well the traffic was gauged but also whether too much paper toweling is being used.

“It basically comes down to, you’ve got to do the math,” Kersemeier says. “How many people are going to be using [the restroom] and how many times people wash their hands.”

Controlling the amount of paper toweling occupants use is easy with touchless fixtures that allow adjustments of those settings. With manual towel dispensers, it is more difficult to prevent overuse of product. If it has been determined that occupants are using appropriate amounts of paper toweling, and the receptacle is still overflowing, BSCs need to look at new remedies.

One simple solution is to buy a larger trash receptacle, one that will accommodate the amount of waste being produced. Another option is to install a hand dryer.

Read more about common restroom complaints here.

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Urine Odors, Dirty Floors: Handling Restroom Complaints