Lessons from Down Under
While U.S. building service contractors might battle similar problems and have to fulfill similar customer demands as their Australian peers, it seems Americans take less advantage of labor-saving opportunities.
American BSCs might be fighting high turnover rates and difficulty staffing accounts, but in Australia, wage rates are much too high to warrant as many FTEs as used in the U.S. Instead, contractors here turn to cleaning equipment and products to help make up the difference while maintaining high quality. For instance, most Australian cleaners have used back-pack vacuums for more than three decades, while that technology still is taking root in the U.S.
Specifically at the University of South Wales, in Sydney, which has about 3.5 million square feet of cleanable floor space spread across more than three campuses, we always are looking for a new way to save on cleaning costs and increase productivity. So when our staff and contractors look for equipment and chemicals we focus on efficiency even more than innovation.
For instance, we use harder polymer finishes with high-speed, straight-line vacuum burnishers for easier floor care coverage. We also found a 9-inch polisher that is ideal for scrubbing, stripping and polishing stair treads and risers. It also is good for scrubbing the edges of floors when stripping, without having to bend down, and it doesnt splash up on the walls.
For carpet extraction, we needed to look for machines that would be portable enough to handle high-rise buildings, where truck mounts arent helpful. We found an 18-inch, brush-type water extractor that can remove dirt from the bottom of the carpet pile due to the brushs agitation. The wand attachment comes in handy for confined spaces. These machines also are easy to use, so workers are more inclined to use them to freshen up areas or even use them in their spare time, something most contractors and their customers are happy to see.
We also have found a 28-inch water extractor with a brush attachment that works well for large areas. This unit is a walk-behind, rather than something you drag while walking backwards, making it more comfortable for employees to handle.
As for non-mechanical technology, microfiber cloth has been very popular. We use it wherever possible for glass cleaning and spotting, because it is twice as fast as a squeegee and leaves a better finish as well.
In addition to labor savings, cutting response time is important. UNSW requires a response within two hours of any calls for cleaning services, and that is expected 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While that might seem tight, it is quite normal in the Australian market for contractors to offer such response times. In fact, sometimes our contractor is on site before I get there, after we both are notified of a problem.
Another contractor I use has a company-wide policy that any complaint must be addressed within that day and under no circumstances can workers or supervisors put it off until later. That is very satisfying from a customer standpoint. I know the company is taking care of problems so I wont have to worry.
One thing the Australian and U.S. markets have in common is low-bidding. From the customer perspective, people who come in estimating too high a production rate will start to cut corners soon enough and produce unsatisfactory results.
Our advice is to make sure you follow the specifications carefully and if you want to save money. This and offering the most useful and efficient cleaning tools and equipment will help create a good relationship with customers.
Ted Greenhill is the cleaning coordinator for the University of South Wales, Sydney, Australia, where portions of his operations are outsourced. He has been in the cleaning industry for 35 years as a cleaning contractor, health care and airline cleaning consultant and teaches cleaning and contractor training at UNSW.