Carpet Cleaning Business Management

How to Avoid Negative Moments of Truth

November 1, 2012

“Every day there are 50,000 moments of truth in our business.”  
— Jan Carlzon, SAS Airlines
All truly successful cleaners recognize that their “desired end product” has little to do with cleaning! In fact, getting the carpet (or whatever else you’re cleaning) clean is just a means to an end. So what should your desired end product goal be? Creating a customer cheerleader! (NOTE:  A “customer cheerleader” is a client who sings your praises to everyone they meet or, even better, goes viral by posting enthusiastic reviews of your company online!)
So how can you consistently make a cheerleader? By programming positive “moments of truth” (MOT’s) into your daily routine. A moment of truth is any point where the customer observes you or your employees and forms an opinion which will add up (or subtract) in their subconscious mind. Create enough positive MOT’s and voila - you have created another cheerleader who will promote your services to everyone!
However, remember that MOT’s can be either positive or (cue the theme music from Jaws here!) negative! And on average, just one negative MOT wipes out at least 12 positive moments of truth that you have already painstakingly banked away in your customer’s subconscious. (If your MOT balance goes into the red, you wind up with a negative cheerleader with enormous power to damage your business thanks to the Internet!)
So avoiding negative moments of truth is a no-brainer. Here’s some of the negative MOT’s we identified in my company and how we avoided them:
Negative MOT No. 1: Normal, routine equipment missing from the truck
I received calls like this one far too often: “Steve, somebody took my cleaning wand off my van and didn’t put it back. So I’m here at the job 25 miles from the shop with no way to start cleaning and the home owner is really ticked off!”
Solution: Any time a regular tool or normal inventory chemical is removed from a van the steering wheel must be tagged with a large, bright red “hang tag” and the missing tool noted. (This employee procedure alone cut 40 points off my high blood pressure!)
Negative MOT No. 2: Special equipment, tools or chemicals needed for the job were not loaded 
“Uh, Steve, nobody told me we needed an eight-foot step ladder on this job.”
And of course, the home was located 35 minutes away from the shop with a fuming customer wondering why our people didn’t get started!
Solution: A “Production Day Sheet” was prepared for every crew that included a “load list” where each non-inventory item was noted for a specific job. Then the techs would check off each box as they loaded the item. This step-by-step sheet meant no more ugly surprises! (For a free copy, just e-mail me at and put “Production Day Sheet” in the subject line.) 
Negative MOT No. 3: Unforeseen breakdowns on the job
It’s no fun trying to find/install a new drive belt at 11 p.m. (And even worse when you have to leave the job half-done!) We solved the breakdown issue several different ways:
• Solution A: Routine, scheduled maintenance. Instead of waiting for the belt to break or the seals to leak (and always at the worst possible time!), I asked my truckmount service center to give me the expected life (in hours) of each replaceable service item. We then subtracted 20% off the expected life and replaced each item before it went bad. Now we could do mechanical work on our schedule (instead of at 2 a.m. in the snow!) and in the comfort of our warehouse. True, our parts cost went up slightly due to more frequent replacements. But the savings in production (and customer/employee stress) more than made up for it.
• Solution B: Identify the parts that most frequently break down. Then we kept a backup emergency replacement part on the truck. So now if a belt did break unexpectedly, the crew could quickly replace it and keep working. (HINT: Rotate your emergency parts by using them for the scheduled replacement and then add a new one. The high heat/humidity environment inside a cleaning van is not an easy life for belts and other parts.)
• Solution C: A back-up truckmount. Even after we implemented solutions A and B we still hit unexpected break downs. So we found having an extra backup van available was worth its weight in gold! When a serious problem struck it was a huge relief to just swap out trucks and keep rolling. (NOTE: This backup truckmount cost me virtually nothing.  Every time we swapped out our fleet of four truckmounts - usually around the 5,000 hour mark - I would select the best of the bunch and keep it as our backup machine. It gave me a warm feeling inside just knowing it was parked outside my office waiting to be called on! Plus, a backup machine let us easily take care of those urgent but oh-so-very-profitable “it has to be done today” jobs!)
Negative MOT No. 4: Dirty, unkempt vehicles and equipment
Nothing screams an unprofessional, low quality company more than dirty vans and machinery. So sad because this negative MOT is so avoidable:
• Solution A: Equipment is cleaned and chemicals restocked before knocking off for the day. This was simple as long as I was the motivated owner/operator. However, I quickly found employees wanted nothing to do with cleaning up after a long day on the truck.  I flogged my techs for years and then inspiration struck…
• Solution B: Hire a part-time maintenance tech. I had to pay my people for this despised cleaning/restocking time anyway. So why not hire a lower paid part-time employee to come in and take care of this hated after-hours grunt work? Now my techs could roll in at 5 p.m., finish their paperwork (including writing down any needed repairs on their Production Day Sheet) and go home happy! (Or more likely hit the local bar!)
I hired a reliable high school student (at less than half the hourly wage I was paying my cleaning technicians!) to come in every night for a few hours to restock and painstakingly clean all our business vehicles, plus clean the office and plant. I developed a restocking checklist for this maintenance technician. Plus, he or she would perform minor equipment repairs the crews had listed on their day sheets. Now everybody was happy since my part-time maintenance technician viewed this work as a privilege instead of detested drudgery! (Plus the restocking time my techs would rack up invariably would push them into overtime so in essence, I was paying them time and a half for washing their trucks!)
Negative MOT No. 5: Dirty, unkempt employees
Yet another negative MOT that should never happen. We fought (and yes, it was a constant struggle) this problem both with clearly defined expectations and by making it easy for our employees to be presentable:
• Solution A: Develop a grooming/personal hygiene checklist/contract. Then before hiring, the new employee would read and sign it. And yes, we enforced this “grooming contract” by sending employees home when necessary. (One section specified no smoking on or within sight of the customer’s premises - including their yard.)
• Solution B: “Make it easier to do it right than do it wrong!” Your appearance requirements should be easy to comply with. For example, we contracted with a uniform service that supplied our techs with clean company shirts and pants for every work day. In addition, each employee had their own locker for personal toiletries and we even installed a shower at the office. Also, each truck was stocked with Listerine breath tabs, a spray can of deodorant and a spare uniform shirt in a small garment bag. There simply was no excuse not to look sharp in my company!
Negative MOT No. 6: Discourteous or reckless driving of company vehicles
Even if your trucks are spotlessly clean, it is a huge negative MOT when your employee cuts a potential client off in traffic. I cringe when I see how most cleaning service vans are driven and by whom! (See Negative MOT No. 5 above!)
• Solution A: Raise employee consciousness through orientation. We trained our employees to look at themselves (and their driving habits) through the customer’s eyeglasses. Many cleaning workers simply haven’t thought about the damage they do to their company through sloppy, ill-mannered driving.
• Solution B: Add accountability. We lettered the back doors of our vans with:“How am I driving? Call my boss, Steve Toburen, on his cell phone at xxx-xxx-xxxx to let him know.” Adding my personal name and number encouraged more people to either praise or rat out our drivers! (Today I would also add real-time GPS monitoring of each van - including me receiving a text message every time a van goes over the speed limit! Now that is accountability! Cost? Around $30 per vehicle per month.)
• Solution C: Give your techs enough time for each job. Many times your employees drive like an insane person because you have “shoehorned” one too many jobs into their day. Instead, schedule a bit more time on each job, teach your employees to gently up-sell and watch your profits soar while their driving improves! (This strategy worked wonders for me!)
Implementing these “No more negative MOT’s” procedures in my business consistently created customer cheerleaders that supercharged the growth of my company! But even more importantly, these tips built a smooth-running operation that was fun to work for and even more exciting to own. And trust me - owning a profitable, drama free, enjoyable and exciting business is a wonderful privilege indeed.

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