ICS Magazine

What's the Best Crew? One Man or Two?

May 18, 2006


There's a great study where researchers stood in front of a supermarket asking customers going into the store what they planned to buy. The customers answered and went inside to shop, thinking that was the end of the survey. They were quite surprised when, on the way out, the researchers stopped them and asked if they could see what was in their grocery bags! And as you probably guessed, what people said they were going to buy and what they did buy were two different things.

What people say and what they do are usually different. Part of this is because we say things because of how we want to be perceived. After all, who wants to admit that they are about to pig out on Twinkies? But the most important lesson is that people don't necessarily know what they are going to do.

Many years ago I was fortunate enough to participate in some focus group research conducted by a major department store while I was running their carpet cleaning division. The results provided some very important information that, after extensive experimentation over the years, changed the way that I operated my carpet cleaning business, with fantastic results.

Whenever carpet cleaners get together, the one topic that always generates strong opinions is whether it is better to run one- or two-man crews. Now, there are no two carpet cleaning businesses that are exactly alike, so there's no one right answer. But this is an important question because the answer has an impact on your profitability, but not in the way you might expect!

In all the debates surrounding using one- or two-man crews, the one thing that is most often missed is the most important factor of all: what the customer wants. We all know that the key to really making it in carpet cleaning is repeat and referral business, so we need to fully understand what our customers really want - not just what they say they want - so we can give it to them over and over again. Remember, if you don't give them what they want, they'll find someone who will.

What our research revealed was that homeowners said they preferred two-man crews. They gave three reasons for this preference:
1. They would feel safer.
2. The job would get done faster.
3. Two men would be able to move the furniture more easily.

But here's the surprise. Our company extensively tested both one- and two-man crews. And when we looked at our customers who called us back year after year and recommended us to their friends, neighbors and family, we found the vast majority of these customers were those that we had serviced with one-man crews!

Digging deeper, we found that there were two equally important factors that made a one man crew so much more likely to get repeat and referral business. The first was that it was obvious to the customer that the cleaner was working hard; after all they could see him sweating. And this made the customer feel that they were really getting their money's worth.

The other reason was that when there was only one person doing the cleaning, it was much easier for the customer to develop a relationship with the cleaning technician. Our best customers regularly reported that they liked the technician that performed the work! Even though customers said that they would feel safer with a two-man crew, it was much easier for them to develop a strong, positive relationship when there was only one tech on the job. Instead of being focused on their helper, the technician had time to talk to the customer about the job, problem areas, where they should start, etc. And this naturally led to the building of positive relationships.

We also found that customers were often somewhat intimidated by two men in the house and that, when they had each other to talk to, a two-man crew spent less time speaking with the homeowner.

Human beings are social creatures. Homeowners want to find cleaners they can trust and use over and over again, and so they often talk to the tech to get a feel for them. The conversation is business related at first, but as people talk they reveal a little more about themselves simply as part of relating to another human being. And this seems to be easier when there is only one tech in the house.

Once a personal relationship is established, the No. 1 reason that customers used us again and, especially, referred us was that they wanted to help the technician. If you've ever taken any sales training you've heard over and over again that "people buy from people." We found this to be true in the carpet cleaning business. It's all about the relationship!

So what does this tell us? It strongly suggests that one-man crews have a major advantage in terms of building repeat and referral business. Remember, if you go this route, you must build in systems to address homeowners' stated concerns, namely safety, the time it takes to complete the job, and furniture moving.

Of course, there are many reasons to operate two-man crews, all of which are perfectly valid. So if you currently operate two-man crews, this doesn't necessarily mean you should change your operation. But systems must be implemented to ensure the levels of communication that build relationships with your customers. These systems must first address what your customers say they want, then go a step further and address their unspoken and perhaps subconscious desire to build a relationship with your technicians. This way, you will be making the most of every opportunity to successfully communicate and build relationships with your customers.