As a facility cleaning manager, it isn’t all that unusual to receive a complaint here and there. In fact, complaints are part of the job and likely come more often than managers would like.

Sometimes the criticism comes from a building occupant testing the cleaning. This is normally in the form of a strategically placed item left on the floor and monitored until it is removed.

Or, there are always the critiques from upper management about maintaining cleaning standards. Unfortunately, these comments often precede talks of increased expectations or, in some cases, budget cuts.

Regardless of the criticism, a managers’ response can make or break opinions of the cleaning department and shape processes moving forward.

“I believe if there’s a complaint and management responds in a timely manner, we have a better chance in salvaging the person’s experience,” says Babette Beene, environmental services manager at Houston-based University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “In our organization, if [a patient] has had a negative experience, we try to visit with them daily until they leave.”

Ada Baldwin, director of university housekeeping at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, agrees and adds that it is essential that managers really listen to complaints that come in.

“Listening is crucial,” she says. “You have to allow a customer to vent. Then apologize with sincerity and provide a solution striving for a win-win.”

But this is only possible if managers give complaints their undivided attention.

“When receiving a complaint, I ensure the individual that the issue will be resolved. I inform them on how, and give them a time frame on when they can expect a solution,” adds Michael Gutierrez, manager of building operations at Milwaukee Public Schools in Wisconsin. “Then I always follow up with them afterwards to see if they are satisfied with the resolution.”

Follow-through seems to be the consensus among managers.

Doreen Bessert, worksite placement coordinator, custodial supervisor and central purchasing agent at Manitowoc County DPW, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, stresses, “Whether you are taking care of the problem yourself, or assigning it to the appropriate staff, take care of it. Follow through and follow up on every complaint.”

Sometimes, the solution to a complaint is as simple as admitting fault. It’s never easy to admit that you or someone on your staff is to blame for a problem, but sincerity can go a long way in coming to a resolution.

“As leaders, we must be honest, transparent, and humble enough to apologize and admit personal mistakes,” says Gene Woodard, director of building services at University of Washington in Seattle. “Be solution-focused and seek to understand the situation while searching for outcomes.”

Steve Spencer, facilities specialist with State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Illinois, agrees and stresses managers to always, “be polite, be attentive, be responsive and, if needed, educate gently. And above all, own it.”

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Advice For Dealing With Troubled Staff