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It's Easier to Seek Forgiveness Than Permission - Or Is It?

September 15, 2008
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Have you ever been caught in a situation where your lack of a proper pre-inspection caused you to seek forgiveness and make excuses? Maybe a situation like this?

I’m cleaning and out of nowhere a yellowish-greenish stain appears, accompanied by the smell of ammonia. I call Mrs. Brown into the room and intimate that I have run into a urine stain that apparently has come from the dog. (Note: it is generally not a good idea to blame the stain on Mr. Brown). Mrs. Brown emphatically states, “I have never seen that stain before. My Fifi (the dog, not the husband) would never go pee pee on the carpet! It must have been something you have done.”

I spent the next 15 minutes trying to convince her there is nothing I could have done to cause the stain, and that dogs are smart enough to do their duty when the owner isn’t looking. Not only that, I suggested it was going to take a specialized treatment to get the odor and stain out, which would cost extra money. Now Mrs. Brown thinks I am a bait-and-switch con artist.

Proper pre-inspection with a pre-inspection kit is a must on every job. It may be during your estimate that you do the pre-inspection, or perhaps right before you start cleaning, but the pre-inspection functions to protect you from problems that appear and have not been covered with the customer. In addition, it offers you a great opportunity to show professionalism, sell other services, and prove you are worth the money you are being paid.

Everyone’s kit will differ, but here are a few of the basic items you may consider carrying:
  • A bag or briefcase to carry the supplies
  • Your paperwork to include a work order or estimating form, brochures, sales book and safety information.
  • Measuring instrument – Ultrasonic measuring device, rolling tape measure, metal tape measure.
  • Neutral spotter
  • Clean white towel
  • Bone spatula or similar
  • Hand groomer, e.g. the Handi Brush
  • Cigarette lighter
  • Tweezers
  • Ashtray
  • Duckbill napping shears
  • Fiber identification burn chart
  • High-intensity inspection light
  • Ultraviolet inspection light
  • Lighted mini microscope
  • Electronic pH meter
  • Small bottle of water
  • Shoe covers
  • Anything you can think of that I may have forgotten.

Have a professional-looking case to carry the paperwork, brochures, sales books and other forms specific to your company and procedures. Just remember to communicate both verbally and in writing any information your customers need to know.

For measuring my jobs, I am a fan of the ultrasonic measuring device, followed by the rolling tape measure. The ultrasonic will give you the most accurate measurement, it is fast and you can usually do multiple areas before stopping to write anything down. The rolling tape measure will be a little less accurate, but we have found that several measurements in the house will usually average out to be very close to the actual. Your customers will be interested in what you are doing and using, so take a few seconds to include them in this exciting new (at least to them) technology.

The neutral spotter and clean white towel can do an amazing job of selling. Your customer has spots, spills and traffic lanes. They have soiled upholstery. They often do not realize the amount of soiling they have, and what soil they do recognize makes them worry about your ability to get it out. A quick spotting demonstration, removing soil from the carpet or upholstery and showing the dark soil on the clean white towel, will go a long way in convincing them they need cleaning and you’re are capable of doing it. The bone spatula and Handi brush may be used for agitation during your spotting demonstration. A Handi Brush is excellent for showing the removal of animal hair from upholstery. It will thrill your customer to know that you can remove that obnoxious hair.

The cigarette lighter, tweezers, ashtray and duckbill napping sheers are all used to perform the burn test for fiber identification. Certainly this is as much for “show” as it is for knowledge about the fiber you are about to clean. By identifying the carpet fiber, you will know if you are dealing with nylon, polyester, olefin, or wool. Assuming you are properly trained, you will process the cleaning job based on the fiber you are cleaning. At the same time, your customer sees you perform the test and is very impressed to understand that fiber identification is an intricate ingredient for understanding how to properly clean. While a white wool Berber and an olefin Berber may look alike, the procedures and chemicals for cleaning them can vary widely. If you do not already have it, a chart used with the fiber burn test is available from your supplier or industry instructor. Simply cut a small piece of fiber from an inconspicuous area (as in a closet), hold it with the tweezers, burn it with the lighter and observe the flame, odor, and ash.

Homes are often poorly lit, and it may be hard to get a good look at the carpet or furnishings. The high-intensity inspection light will show soil and potential problems that may not be visible with regular ambient light or daylight. These lights should be available from your local distributor.

UV lights are a must for inspecting for urine stains. Your customers may be fully aware their dog or cat has done its duty on the carpet, but they may not be aware of the extent to which the duty has been done. I found customers that say, “Oh, I caught my naughty little girl (their pet is their child, of course) going over in the corner once. I gave her a spank and she hasn’t done it again.” Hello; of course she hasn’t done it again in front of you! The “naughty little girl” only goes on the carpet while you’re at work.

When choosing your UV light, go with the better models designed with the proper wavelength for identification of urine and powerful enough that you do not need to work at night. A wavelength of 385nm is probably the best. Used with the proper power behind it, it will show the urine stain rather than overpowering the viewing area with blue light.

The mini microscope is a great tool to get up close and personal with the fibers. I found it especially useful when pre-inspecting upholstery. You can see the soil level as well as possible fiber damage. The customer again will appreciate the professionalism.

When our customers start getting unsightly spots on their carpet, this is usually the impetus that gets them to call you. They want to feel confident that you can get the spots out. As mentioned previously, using the neutral spotter and towel can go a long way toward proving your ability, but some stains are more difficult than others, and it helps to understand the makeup of the stain. This is when you pull out your electronic flat surface pH meter. Put a few drops of water on the stain, lightly agitate and then measure the pH. This will give you information to help you remove the stain and, again, the customer will find it very impressive.

As a touch of class and concern, always wear shoe covers into your customer’s home. Whether you are on the inspection or during the cleaning, this practice will set you apart as someone who cares about your customer and her possessions.

I must say that, having reviewed all these items and their uses, I would much rather get permission up front to do the job thoroughly and completely rather than hope for forgiveness later. Our customers want professionalism, not excuses. Once they know you are a true professional, they won’t dare use anyone else.

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