Whether from a job applicant or a potential client, building service contractors need assurances that these new business associates are a good fit for their company. To do that, BSCs must ask the right questions, in order to get the answers they need.

In their book, Asking “Just Right” Business Questions, (Crown Publishers) Curtis W. Page, Ph.D. and Charles J. Selden state that good questions should set off “mental explosions. They are not the stuff of everyday conversations,” they write. “They are carefully crafted to move both those who ask and those who answer to new levels of understanding before taking action.”

Questions should be open-ended, and not designed to elicit ready-made answers, they warn.

Questioning cleaners
All but the tiniest contracting companies eventually end up hiring people to do the cleaning work. Janitors represent their companies to their customers and the public, so BSCs will want to ask the right questions at job interviews and ensure they’re hiring the right people.

A common question most BSCs ask is why a cleaner wants to work for their company. Tom Raymond, president of Commercial Property Maintenance Inc., Everett, Wash., asks that question in order to get an idea of the commitment they have, and if they might fit into a supervisory role later.

He also asks potential janitors what quality service means to them.

“If they’ve been in the service business in the past and don’t have an answer, it means they haven’t been focused on providing it, and they probably won’t focus on it with us as well,” he says.

A related question is what they’ve done in the past that has made a customer say, “wow.”

“The only way a customer would respond this way is if the service professional went beyond the customers’ expectation,” Raymond says. “We want those types of people.”

However, during the hiring phase, there are certain questions contractors should not ask. These include anything about family or marital status (including children, pregnancy or the intent to have children), national origin and racial background; in some states, sexual orientation and use of lawful products during non-work hours (for instance, tobacco) also are off-limits. This is to prevent hiring discrimination.

While she doesn’t ask about, or hire based on, someone’s family or marital status, Faye Goebel does like to find out more about her prospective employees’ outside hobbies, activities and interests, in order to warm them up and find out if they are mature and stable. She’ll talk about her own family, she says, which often prompts applicants to talk about their own.

“Hobbies and outside interests tell a lot about a person,” explains Goebel, president and CEO of Hasgoe Cleaning Systems Inc., Evansville, Ind. “I don’t care about their marital status, just a stable lifestyle.”

Meeting managers
All of the above questions are appropriate for potential management and executive hires, but contractors need to step up the questioning when they’re the latter. In addition to the questions he asks of general cleaners, Raymond asks potential managers, “How would hiring you positively impact our company beyond where we are currently?

“If they have done their homework, they will be able to first understand, to some extent, where we are currently, and then be able to provide relevant feedback to the question,” he explains.

Goebel asks prospective managers what they consider to be their most important role as a manager for her company. Her preferred answer?

“The most important role a manager plays is to be a motivator for those around and under them,” she says.

“I [also] like to ask a prospective manager to give me his [or] her definition of a good customer and a bad customer and how they would deal with each if they were given a particular situation,” Goebel explains. “This puts me in tune with the manager’s ability to act well in bad circumstances.”

Brad Klein, president of Building Professionals of Texas in Houston, asks simply, “Why should I hire you?”

“I ask this to see what they are looking for,” Klein explains. “I don’t want people that are looking for a job, because they might do the same to me. I usually ask how they heard about us. If it is an answer such as while I was surfing the Web, then again, they will probably leave me for the next person willing to pay them a quarter more.”

Better bidding
Compared to job interviews, during the bidding and sales process, BSCs are on the opposite side of the discussion table, and usually are the recipient of many questions — how long they’ve been in business, size of the company, competitive strengths, insurance coverage, price. But contractors, too, need to ask their prospects proper questions.

“When I’m on a bid or an interview with a prospective client, I ask questions about the company and the product or service they offer,” Goebel says. “This puts them in their own comfort zone and shows them that I’m interested in what they do. I try to find out what issues bothered them the most about the previous cleaning service, and try to offer suggestions or solutions for those issues. This shows a proactive approach to the problem. It also assists me in getting off to a good start if we land the account.”

Klein makes sure to ask about his customers’ hidden needs.

“In a large building, it is impossible to go to every suite [during the walk-through],” he says. “Even if we had the time to do it, the property manager doesn’t normally let you do it, so it is important to find out if any suites have special needs such as extra kitchens, rest rooms, special floors, etc.”

Klein recalls a building where every suite had a wet bar.If he hadn’t asked about special items, not only would cleaning crews would have been surprised, but the extra labor would have significantly eaten into the account’s profit margins.

“We also ask if any tenants get any extra services and if we get to charge for them,” Klein says. “Microwave and refrigerator cleaning are great sources of extra income.”

But the right questions are not only to help the BSC prepare the best possible bid, but also to determine whether the client is the right fit.

Raymond asks his prospects if low price is the primary criterion for selecting a contractor. If so, he follows up with, “How do you think this will impact the level of service, compared to forming a partnership with a service provider and working together on a budget that makes sense for both?”

It’s a leading question, but it does weed out price-conscious customers who still expect high levels of service.

Tried-and-true techniques
But, asking the right questions is just one step in obtaining good answers — how the questions are asked also is vital. Regardless of who he’s asking, Raymond uses a questioning technique he learned more than 20 years ago when making a presentation.

“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you just told them,” he explains. “It applies to asking questions as well. Just plug in the word ‘question’ so it becomes: ‘tell them what you’re going to ask them, ask them, and review what you’ve asked them.’”

Equally important, says Klein, is truly listening to the answers to the questions you give.

“You will hear a lot more than you realize,” he says. “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you talk and you will end up with a higher bottom line.”

Sales & Marketing

10 Tips For Successful Public Speaking
by Toastmasters International

1. Know the room. Arrive early and be familiar with the set up of the room, making sure visual aids or other presentation tools are in working order.

2. Know the audience. Greet the audience as they arrive. It’s easier to speak in front of a group of friends than a group of strangers.

3. Know your material. If you are not familiar with your material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness will increase. Practice your speech and revise it if necessary.

4. Relax. Before starting your speech, take deep breaths. It will help you with the jitters.

5. Visualize yourself giving your speech. Imagine yourself speaking, your voice loud, clear and assured. When you visualize yourself as successful, you will be successful.

6. Realize that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, informative and entertaining. They don’t want you to fail.

7. Don’t apologize. If you mention your nervousness or apologize for any problems you think you have with your speech, you may be calling the audience’s attention to something they hadn’t noticed.

8. Concentrate on the message – not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties and outwardly toward your message.

9. Turn nervousness in positive energy. Harness your nervous energy and transform it into vitality and enthusiasm.

10. Gain experience. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.

Tips provided by Toastmaster Dannette Young Heeth of Heeth & Associates, Inc. For more information on public speaking, please see her article, “Presenting A Lasting Impression”.

Book review

More Than Half Full: Optimism For Business Success
By Dan Weltin, Assistant Editor

How Full is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life by Tom Rath and Donald Clifton, Ph.D (Gallup Press, 2004, $19.95 Hardcover, available in CD).

With the word “bucket” already in the title, building service contractors should be somewhat curious about the subject of Tom Rath and Donald Clifton’s, Ph.D., book, How Full is Your Bucket?

But even though it’s not aimed at contract cleaning, the book’s main theme, positivity, does hit close to home for the cleaning industry. In an industry plagued by stereotypes, BSCs would probably welcome ideas on how to shine a light on the typically negative connotations associated with cleaning.

Clifton’s theory is simple: We all have an invisible bucket and dipper. Every time we do something positive for others, we fill our own bucket as well as others. Anytime we do something negative, we do the opposite — dip from our bucket and others’. Obviously, it’s better to have a full bucket than an empty one.

So, how do you fill a bucket? The easiest answer is by recognition and praise. According to Clifton, studies show that workers who receive positive recognition at work increase productivity, are more likely to stay with the company, have better safety records and fewer accidents on the job and have a higher customer satisfaction rate -- all bullet points a BSC desires in an employee. Learning how to fill employee buckets to the brim should appeal to an industry faced with high turnover.

The book is less than 130 pages and comes quickly to its point — so BSCs in a hurry should have no trouble getting the message from Roth and Clifton. Also, anyone familiar with Dr. Clifton’s work will see some crossover, especially from his co-authored book Now, Discover Your Strengths.