Clear expectations and partnering on product selection are two key elements of a successful building service contractor relationship for Mike Shelhamer, director of environmental services for the Red Hutch Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash.

Customer priorities
“Basically, the most important thing is getting it clean, but right up there is customer service. That means taking care of the things I need done and doing them immediately,” says Shelhamer.

The contract cleaners for Red Hutch handle all of the janitorial, biohazard and floor cleaning for the 13 buildings, totaling 1.5 million square feet, that make up the research campus.

“I have had my contractor for twelve years, and the staff do a good job. We know what to expect, and so do they, so there is no mystery in the relationship,” says Shelhamer.

In any customer-BSC relationship, the contractor must be in tune with what the customer wants, and the customer must be clear as well with its expectations.

“I have a book of specs for every area and day. It is about two inches thick, but it is really a handy thing for both of us: They know what I expect, and I have documentation of my expectations,” says Shelhamer.

The book also ensures the customer has corroboration in case of a work problem.

“I never have to worry about the contractor coming back and saying ‘you never told us that’ or ‘we never heard that,’ because it is all written down, and both parties know where they stand,” he says.

Although it is not a legal document in most cases, a list of expectations allows a third party to more easily mediate a disagreement between contractor and customer.

Staying ahead of the product curve
A large part of providing quality service is products. In many cases, the contractor will dictate what products to use, or the bid specifications will dictate the customers preferences. But it doesn’t have to be an us-or-them situation.

“We sit down and choose products together,” says Shelhamer. “They will bring me a product and say I should be using this or this is new, or I will bring a product that I want used and tell them why, and we discuss the products and job needs.”

Product quality is a good issue to deal with on a one-on-one basis with the contractor. Some customers want the cheapest product, and others want the best product for the job. The type of facility and the budget often will determine these factors.

In other cases, the decision is best left entirely up to the customer. For instance, Shelhamer handles paper products entirely in-house because of the varieties and special uses needed in a research facility.

“By handling my own paper supplies, I can ensure that each department gets exactly what it wants, and it eliminates problems with my contractor,” he says.

But, while Shelhamer wants to keep more control over paper purchasing, there are other areas where he is thankful his contractor has strong expertise. One such area is training.

“My contractor does a very nice job of training cleaning employees for work conditions specific to being in medical buildings and in dealing with hazardous material,” he says. “That is a very important aspect to our relationship.”

D.M. Maas is a business writer based in Milwaukee.