Davis photo“Good morning! This is Louie.”

“Hi Louie, this is Gina Williams.”

“How are you, Gina?”

“Fine…well, not really.”

“What’s the problem?”

“We just stripped the tile floor in the gym and put down a coat of wax and it’s a real mess — looks like somebody smeared grease on it. I had this problem last year in the lunchroom too. We have to wax all the floors in the next two weeks, and I just don’t know what to do.”

This is an excerpt from a conversation with the head custodian at a local elementary school. Our company does business with her school and we had recently trained the custodians to clean and deodorize restrooms. She desperately hoped that we could help with the problem in the gym, too.

Have you ever received a call like this? I’ll bet you have. You’ve probably received quite a few if you have been in this business a while.

What do you do in a situation like this? How do you help?

It is important to understand that the problem is intrinsically not a cleaning problem. Certainly the customer framed it that way, but think about it: Is it a cleaning problem or is it a training and procedural problem?

Experience has shown that the breakdown usually stems from a lack of training rather than difficulty in removing some rare soil or a cleaning chemical that fails to perform. Most custodians receive little professional job training from their employers. Workers are not educated in the proper procedures to strip a floor, extract a carpet or disinfect a restroom.

A good distributor understands this and capitalizes on the situation by helping with the problem and securing more business in the process. Most custodial workers want to do a good job. Workers are frustrated when they encounter an obstacle and do not have the resources to work through the difficulty. Distributors that are prepared to help can build profitable long-term relationships.

Now that we have more clearly defined the problem, the next step is to consider how to respond to the customer’s request for help. Two things must happen: first, solve the immediate problem and second, provide the necessary training that will prevent future recurrences. What is the best way to accomplish these tasks?

Many respond by sending literature, specification sheets, an informative bulletin, or perhaps a procedures manual. Printed materials provide some value but they alone are a weak, half-hearted response that tells the customer that you are not overly concerned.

Another option is to call the lab or technical help desk at the company that makes your chemicals and discuss the issue with a chemist or technician. Learn all you can, then request that they call the customer on your behalf. Chemists are usually knowledgeable and willing to help; however, many have trouble relating information in an understandable manner.

One could contact the sales manager, owner, chemical specialist, or factory representative, describe the situation, and ask for their opinion. Perhaps you can convince one of them to go on-site and take a look. An experienced associate can be tremendously helpful and is a viable option for problem solving and training.

These are all possible answers to your customer’s problem, but I admit that none of them are the best response. The preferred solution is for you to go on-site and help solve the problem yourself.

You need to be the person that shows the custodial staff the proper procedures and products that solve their problems and give them the results they desire. One can and should consult with others and use supporting material, but those approaches are no substitute for your immediate attention.

Louie Davis Jr. is a 22-year veteran of the jan/san business, having worked on the manufacturing and distribution sides. He is currently director of sales for Central Paper Co., in Birmingham, Ala.