Customer base concept

The contract with one of its best accounts is up for renewal, and the building service contractor (BSC) owner has not heard from the client, but he is not worried. He has had the contract for many years and has a great relationship the facility manager, Mike. The two of them just went to lunch, well, not that long ago. 

When the end of the week rolls around, the owner still has not heard from Mike but figures he is busy or on vacation. Another week passes; the owner calls Mike, leaving voicemails that go unreturned. Eventually, Tim discovers through the proverbial grapevine that Mike was not on vacation; he left the company six months ago—and his replacement signed a three-year contract with the competitor. 

The supervisor knew Mike had left, so why didn’t she tell the owner? Mike’s replacement seemed nice, and since the owner had not mentioned Mike in months, the supervisor had not even thought to mention the transition. Even if she had, she would have hesitated since the owner was so busy “keeping the ship afloat,” as he put it, that he had made it clear he had little interest in the day-to-day operations of existing clients.

BSC workers frequently interact with customers, often storing what they perceive as unimportant information. Meanwhile, customers talk and listen to workers and observe the cleaning operations daily. As a result, staff and clients often know more about the BSC’s operations than the owner. 

A complaint I frequently hear from clients is that before they sign a contract, they hear from the BSC owner all the time, but once the contract is signed, they don’t see the owner until the contract is up for renewal. These are the same BSC owners who have lost touch with their customers and are surprised when they lose the contract. BSC owners who lose connection with their customers are not only losing clients and throwing away the opportunity to delve deeper into these accounts to gain more business. They also incur the expenses associated with seeking new accounts to fill the void instead of expanding the business. 

5 Steps for Staying in Touch

The steps below are musts for BSCs wanting to stay in touch with — and retain — their customers. 

Do good work and do what is promised. If a BSC does not do exceptional work and do what is promised, the contract will be lost. New contracts will have clients waiting to see what makes the “new guy” different. Longer-term contracts have customers wondering if service will fall off over time. BSCs that do not consistently provide exceptional work will eventually be replaced.

Communicate. It cannot be said enough. Communication is the best way to stay in touch and in tune with customers. Many BSCs say, “My customers are busy and don’t want me to keep bugging them.” Yet clients are bombarded by communications from the competition daily, so you need to stay in touch, not every day but regularly. Communication need not be intrusive: Email an article that would interest them. Leave a voice mail saying, “No need to call back. Just checking in to be sure all is going OK.” Drop off your business card with a note, “Stopped by to ensure the work is all being done to spec but didn’t want to bother you as I know how busy you are.” 

Be visible. One of the best ways for BSC owners to be visible to their customers is to walk the building so they can see and be seen. During these walkthroughs, owners can also identify changes in the surroundings that could alter the crew’s work as well as areas of potential additional business. Is the flooring the same, or has the vinyl been replaced with carpet? Has office space been converted for another use? Are there lights out in the storage area? Again, these things can all be reported in a nonintrusive way, such as a phone call saying, “Hey Bill, I was by your facility today and noticed the lights are out in the back room. Let me know if you want us to take care of this” Or, “I noticed that one office is now a production area. It looks great. Is there anything you want us to do differently?” This lets the client know the owner is tracking the work. If there is more than one entrance, rotate so as many people as possible put a face to the cleaning company. Often BSCs say they are too short on time to do this. However, it is worth developing a routine to stop at an account or two on the way to and from work. A few minutes per stop can create loyal customers, while meeting new contacts within the business can open the door to additional business. 

Develop relationships. Owners who lose touch with their customers have no connection with them. There is no loyalty, so when competitors come along with better pricing or an attitude that shows they care, they get the contract. BSCs should start building a relationship from day one. When they first approach a prospect, they should try to learn as much as possible about the facility and the people. Ask the facility manager about family and vacation plans. Suggest coffee or lunch. Be sincere and genuinely listen. Then remember to check in with the client to find out how she liked the Alaska cruise or congratulate him on his daughter’s graduation. This builds relationships, so when “Mikes” decides to leave, they call the owner directly. 

Stop rumors quickly. Few things can harm a BSC’s customer relationships more than hearing derogatory comments from its staff. Yet a potential pitfall of employees having direct contact with customers can be worker grumbling or complaints. Training should make it clear that all complaints or suggestions should be brought directly to the supervisor’s attention, who, in turn, will notify the owner within three to five business days to ensure the issue is addressed. However, mistakes in this area, where a conversation is overheard or frontline workers complain directly to a customer they have come to know, are not uncommon. When this happens, owners need to speak directly: First with the supervisor, then with the frontline worker with the supervisor present to not undermine his/her authority. Once the issue has been addressed and resolved, the owner should contact the client and be equally straightforward. “I know Todd mentioned there was a shortage in his paycheck. We did not realize he had stayed to help a team member after punching out, but we added the difference into this week’s pay.” Clients have businesses, too, so they understand the occasional employment issue and will respect the owner for taking responsibility and letting them know it has been handled appropriately. 

For contractors looking to maintain long-lasting contracts, the best way to stay connected is to stay in touch.

Ron Segura, founder and president of Segura & Associates brings over 55 years of experience in all segments of the cleaning industry. Ten of those years were spent overseeing the cleaning of over 4.5 million square feet of outsourced services for The Walt Disney Company. With 20 years of consulting both domestic and internationally, Ron has been assisting organizations to perform at maximum efficiencies, while raising the quality of service.