Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Competing for Your Internal Customer

January 7, 2008
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“We hire great attitudes and teach them any functionality they need.”
-Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

Competition is brutal in this business. I just can’t believe just how desperate my competitors are! What a bunch of bait-and-switch hacks!” I hear this lament daily from carpet cleaners all over the world. And yet – pay attention here – your most dangerous competitors are not other carpet cleaners.

Assuming you don’t want to grow old chained to a scrub wand, you must attract quality employees that will make business both fun and rewarding for all concerned. Yes, these great individuals are out there. But they are few and far between! Your competition for these “human building blocks” essential to your future thriving company is every other business that is hiring. So your competition for employees at any given moment may include Southwest Airlines, Federal Express, Disney and a host of other Fortune 500 companies, plus any number of smaller companies in hundreds of different industries.

Remember that someone searching for a job wants just that- a job. Your next great hire did not grow up with a burning desire for a career as a carpet-cleaning technician. He or she very likely right now just wants to make the most money in the least amount of time with at least a reasonable certainty that this money flow will continue in the future (actually, when you think about it this is exactly what your goals as an employee used to be.).

So how can you compete with the thousands of other employment opportunities out there? Simple. You need to differentiate yourself when you market your company to your “internal customer,” a prospective employee. This “competitive differentiation” is what you do right now with your “external customers,” the homeowners in your market base. You must answer these burning questions in your applicant’s mind: “How is this company different from other places?” “Will I enjoy working here?” and of course the vital, “Can I trust my economic future to this particular business?” If you can’t answer these questions, how can you expect a prospective applicant to get excited about your company?

So how can you set your business apart from the crowd so that it will appear as a shining beacon of hope amidst a dark and turbulent employment situation? Here are a few suggestions:

Check out your competition. Go online or make some phone calls and see what is being offered by other companies hiring ‘blue collar” employees. On the other hand don’t obsess over this as you… Don’t go head to head with the big boys. You will probably never match the benefit packages of a Fortune 500 company. (Even though you just might since throughout corporate America benefits are being scaled back dramatically on new hires!) Instead, your goal is to give your new employee the chance to…

Create their own job security. In all big companies even the best, hardest working employee is nothing more than a faceless number dominated by one overriding fact- seniority! (Obviously not good news for a new employee!) However, in a rapidly growing small company each and every employee has the opportunity to make him or herself indispensable by becoming a “star player”. For example, in your company, even if sales slow down, you would be crazy to let such a great employee go- and you won’t. Sell this big plus to your prospective new employees. Wholesale layoffs just don’t happen in a small company, which means you can offer a perceived job security that is greater than IBM or General Motors! You also can offer your new hire a priceless opportunity…

The chance to get in on the ground floor. This take on things is a classic maneuver called “spinning a negative into a positive.” Some might call being part of new, smaller company risky. But you can transform this negative view into “this is your big chance.” Same job, different spin! Note: In your enthusiasm to sell your prospective employee on the virtues of working for you, don’t give away the farm. Never give away equity and never give up control. However, you can and should…

Set up a compensation system that rewards initiative. After all, that is what capitalism does – it rewards hard work and initiative. This “eventual reward” is likely why you went into business in the first place. While not every person has the “entrepreneur gene” (thank goodness for that!) all of us want to be rewarded for extra effort. A classic example of this is giving a generous bonus when your technician up-sells Scotchgard protector in the home. A more unusual idea would be compensating an employee for every referral his client gives the company. Small business can be much more creative (and generous) when it comes to rewarding employees. Of course, it isn’t just about money either. A smart small-business owner will also…

Incorporate “recognition among their peers.” The old saying is still so true. “Reprove in private, praise in public.” Sure, you may commend an employee…if you remember. But do you have a regular mechanism to praise your employees and to do so in front of their fellow workers? The best approach? In every company staff meeting verbally review all the positive comments received by each employee and invite your worker to analyze what he or she did to make this person into a Cheerleader. Encourage a fun and friendly competition among your staff by choosing the most heartfelt and emotional “Comment Card of the Week” and recognizing the employee responsible. And speaking of fun…

Sell fun. Today’s young people entering the work force crave fun. After all, they have been raised on video games and YouTube! So sell the idea of your company being a fun place to work, then follow through. You as the owner or manager will be the one to set the example in this. Sure, you work under great pressure (that is why you make the big money!). But don’t transmit your negative feelings to your staff. Surprise your employees with gag gifts. Keep running jokes going or subtly tease employees with gentle humor. Teach your people through your example to find joy in each day. One way to do this is by promoting…

A family atmosphere. Big business fails miserably at this. You, on the other hand, want to encourage a family spirit among your employees. Many people are very lonely out there. They may not have (nor have ever had) a close family relationship. So your workers will look for their supportive social alliances among their fellow workers and this is easiest in the relaxed atmosphere of a small company. Once again, today’s work force wants more from a job than just a paycheck. They also want to feel good about their career and where they work. So you must…

Offer pride and prestige. OK, I recognize this is going to be a tough sell. As an industry we have a terrible image, both in the general public’s perception of carpet cleaner and in our own low self-esteem (trust me, your employee’s kids do not brag at school about their father’s being carpet cleaners). But you don’t need to change an industry, just your own company and your attitude. So focus on the appearance of your company and the attitude your employees project. This topic of building pride among your employees deserves its own article. But I will remind you of an old saying, “The fish rots from the head down.” Pride and prestige in your profession must begin with you as the owner! So just how do you feel about your life and your company? Hmm? Of course, all the positive emotions mentioned in the preceding paragraphs will only carry you so far. At the end of the day you still must…

Pay more. I, like many other carpet cleaners, was guilty of not operating from an “abundance mentality.” I played my financial cards close to my chest and doled out salaries grudgingly. Now it is true, you must watch your overhead percentages. But where is it written that carpet-cleaning technicians are born to be lower-middleclass at best? Why shouldn’t a hard working professional who chooses to build a career with you attain a degree of financial security? My Strategies for Success co-instructor, Chuck Violand, shares a “salary yardstick” with our SFS members by asking them, “Are you paying your employees enough that if they choose they can afford to buy a house in your market area?”

“Show me the money” is what every prospective employee is telling you, and who can blame them? So set a goal of being able to pay at least 20 percent more than your prospective employee can earn doing other comparable work in your market area. Can’t afford to do this? Of course you can’t, because you very likely are falling prey to this industry’s No. 1 sin – you don’t charge enough! Remember, the best reason to charge more has nothing to do with putting more money in your pocket (even though making more money for your family is a great idea!). Instead, when you charge more you can pay more and therefore attract high quality individuals to share your vision of creating a truly world class business. I call this “Building a Dynasty” and that is exactly what we will focus on next month!

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