Software Customization Gives BSCs Competitive Edge
There are many who believe the cleaning and building maintenance markets are recession-proof. But that just isn’t so.
Savvy building service contractors saw the writing on the wall and realized they needed to differentiate themselves to retain existing customers and attract new ones in an increasingly competitive market.
End-user software that beefs up communication, customer service and quality is one way these BSCs maintained their competitive edge.
Two years ago, Eagle Building Maintenance & Janitorial, Pennington, N.J., added this software as a tool to differentiate them from the competition, says Chris Walker, vice president.
“There are not a lot of companies out there with this software; we’ve yet to go up against a company that has it,” he says. “Having this software has opened a lot of doors for us because it has differentiated us from our competition.”
Linda Pendergrass, director of performance management for Cavalier Services Inc. of Fairfax, Va., says a number of new customers have begun partnerships because of Cavalier’s use of software and the tools it provides.
Use it or lose it
While the software can be used to track inspections, handle work orders coming from the client or the BSC itself, conduct client surveys and more, putting the software in place, however, is nothing without corporate support, says Kelly Simerly, oversight director at Executive Management Services Inc. (EMS) in Indianapolis. A fact, she says, her company found out the hard way.
“We implemented it, and it sat stagnant for six months, because we didn’t really have anyone overseeing its implementation,” she says.
When Simerly played around with the software, she decided the company should try to make a go of it. The company began using it in a nationwide customer’s 25 facilities. After that, its use exploded.
Pendergrass says she’s spoken with numerous companies who are armed with the software but don’t use it.
“You really need someone who is promoting it with clients and internally. You can’t just put it out there and say go use it. It doesn’t work that way,” she says.
Pendergrass says she spent time educating employees first on how it could help them.
“There has to be something in it for them,” she says, noting this training focused on how they stood to benefit by using it.
The company trains new managers as they come in and has annual training for existing users of the software. It’s also assigned a resident expert as the go-to person for software issues.
When a work order comes in, it goes through the BSC’s e-mail system. Supervisors can see it on their mobile phones when they access their e-mail.
“They don’t have to log in to the [end-user] software,” Pendergrass says.
When a company has its own internal work order system, the software can be customized to communicate with it. Any work orders issued by the client feed directly into the end-user software.
“We customize it so that we only receive the maintenance side or the contract cleaning side of the work tickets,” Simerly says. “The advantage is they can still see the work tickets as they always have. They are not logging in to a separate system.”
Walker says Eagle equips its quality control supervisors with iPads so they can communicate with customers from wherever they are and all supervisors have smartphones for the same reason. Having this data at their fingertips has greatly enhanced customer service, he says.
“It has dramatically reduced the phone calls or e-mails coming in after clients found a problem,” he says. “We go in, see those deficiencies during our inspections and correct them before the client takes notice.”
Cavalier customers receive a welcome package at the beginning of their relationship that includes a username and password giving them access to the end-user system two weeks prior to the onset of work.
“Customers get to play around with the system and then I call them and ask them if they have an questions,” Pendergrass says.
Pendergrass notes that while Cavalier works off the standard templates in the software initially, it customizes them as time goes by.
“When we start in a new building, we might have 10 or so cleaning issues the first week. We use that information as a baseline and work from there,” she says.
Cleaning issues are tracked over time to ensure they are corrected. Regular reports provide an at-a-glance view of how things are going. If an inspection shows a trash receptacle was missed, for example, they can check to see if it was missed once or every day for a week.
“It causes us to do more research to figure out what’s really happening,” Pendergrass says. “It helps us a lot with problem solving.”
Cavalier provides clients with reports that track the last 60 to 90 days, and its supervisors meet with clients to go over these reports.
“In our performance review meetings, we say these are the number of complaints and how they were resolved; these are the number of requests for service that we had, etc.,” she says. “I have also customized these reports to make them easier to read and understand.”
The performance review meeting, Pendergrass says, has been a great tool for customer retention.
“In our performance review meetings we talk about performance and how we can improve, and those are factors that help retain customers,” she says.
The reporting feature is a nice addition, agrees Simerly.
“We can keep track of anything that goes on with the customer,” she says. “We can run reports showing the communication and demonstrating that we’re doing what we are saying we’re going to do, that we’re following up on requests, inspection reports and that sort of thing.”
The software also enables users to set up custom surveys, says Simerly, who points out that EMS allows customers to utilize the software’s customizable survey feature to set up surveys of their own.
Think outside the template
Though the software includes a standard cleaning/maintenance template, Walker emphasizes it’s not meant to be a one-size-fits-all tool. Eagle customizes the standard template for each customer. The original template contains everything and anything a BSC might be responsible for cleaning, says Walker. Eagle adds or removes things from this list to meet each client’s unique needs.
Eagle has also added the ability to rate tasks according to priority. The rating system assigns tasks a number from one to five, with most receiving a one, three or five rating. Typical jobs — general cleaning tasks such as vacuuming, dusting or mopping — receive a rating of one. Eagle reserves the five rating for those jobs the client mentions as important.
“They might tell us their pet peeve with their previous cleaning company was that garbage can lids were never wiped down and the toilet paper was never restocked. We’ll weigh those tasks as a five so that when the quality control supervisors do the inspections, they check to see they are being done,” Walker says.
Eagle continuously adjusts rating scores as it receives feedback from its customers.
“If things change, we might move something that was a one to a five, so that anytime a supervisor goes in they automatically see that particular line item as critically important,” Walker says. “If it’s not done, they note that, and it takes more off the final score because it’s weighed higher.”
To ensure this rating scale makes sense to customers, Eagle first sets up a work plan based on the client’s service contract. It then provides clients with a working template that they can approve as-is or tweak, changing ratings and tasks. Work commences once this document is approved.
EMS takes the inspection document a step further and once all parties have approved it, the company allows users, if they choose, to perform random inspections themselves in addition to BSC inspections.
EMS also customizes the standard inspection template according to each client’s service contract.
The customization, Simerly says, becomes even more critical when servicing LEED accounts. All items specific to LEED, CIMS or GS-42 certifications must exist in the template so that quality assurance managers can check them off as they perform inspections.
Because EMS is GS-42 certified, the BSC has added line items that pertain to the requirements it must meet. For instance, the inspection also checks that there is enough matting at doorways, chemicals are stored correctly, equipment is properly maintained and equipped with HEPA filters, and all cleaning chemicals are green.
Once the software’s in place and customized to each client’s unique needs, some true benefits emerge, say users.
“It helps us keep a continuous pulse on what’s happening in our buildings,” says Pendergrass. “It helps our supervisors, who are running a mile a minute, to have this information at their fingertips because they can access it from their mobile device.”
Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.