Drake's Blog


Janitorial employee theft accusations

In the cleaning business, accusations of janitorial theft are rare, but occasionally, you will get this customer call: “We came in this morning, and widgets were missing from someone’s desk. We’re not trying to accuse anyone, but… only the cleaning people were here last night… so it had to be them.”

Your business has been accused of theft! This is a very serious charge. In fact, it’s #8 (DO NOT STEAL) on the top 10 “DO NOT DO” list, just two below #6 (DO NOT MURDER).

Yikes! How do you handle this situation?

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Years ago, a wise man told me, “Drake, do the right thing, and the right thing will happen.”

When your company receives an accusation, the right way to handle it is to empathize with and listen to your customer, get all the facts, get your staff’s input, ask your customer how they would like you to proceed, and then make a decision. The wrong way is to get haughty, angry or blow up at your customer. All that will accomplish is a lost customer, a lost/diminished reputation, lost revenue and possibly criminal charges — even if your business was falsely accused.

I didn’t say doing the right thing is easy, or even comes naturally — but if you want to keep this customer, you have to remain calm and do right by them. Remember, it’s the foolish person that says everything that’s on their mind. Trust me on this one. I’ve played the fool with my mouth more than once, and the wrong thing happened every time.

With that said, and in the hopes of helping someone who may be new to the janitorial industry, I’ll share a few real-life examples of how I’ve responded to accusations of employee theft during my three decades in business.

  1. Falsely accused of janitorial theft, and vindicated: This is the most common scenario. A customer calls to report that something is missing, and it has to be the cleaning people. You investigate, but soon get a call back noting that the missing item has turned up.

    Actual scenario: A client rep telephoned that she left her purse in her desk, and her wallet was missing. She was positive that it was in her purse, so it had to be taken by my staff. I listened more than I spoke, said I would talk with the staff that had been on duty, and told her I’d get right back to her. My employees that night were an elderly husband-and-wife team that I trusted completely. They vehemently denied even going through her desk, much less taking her wallet. A few days later, I received an apology call when the lady’s wallet was found in her car. The couple was relieved that they’d been vindicated, but they didn’t want to work at that site anymore. I didn’t blame them and assigned them to a different client. I also didn’t try to make my customer feel bad or (openly) get upset. Twenty years later, we still have this account, and it is one of the largest and most loyal accounts that we have.

  2.  Falsely accused of janitorial theft, and couldn’t prove otherwise: This is a tricky one. You don’t think it was your staff, but right or wrong, the cleaner is always the first suspect.

    Actual scenario: The client, a private school, calls to say that about 10 movies are missing from their daycare classes. Can we check to see if our staff took them, or knows what happened to them?  Keep in mind, there are hundreds of kid there, each with backpacks that could easily have the movies in them, but I digress. My staff denied taking them, and I believed them. I said the same to my customer and offered to pay to replace the movies, just to be above reproach.

  3. Simply informed of janitorial theft: This situation is more likely at larger facilities with hundreds of employees. The customer doesn’t call with a direct accusation, just a notification of a situation.

    Actual scenario: The facility manager at a building with more than 1,000 employees calls to let us know that there has been a “trend” developing. Disney trinkets have come up missing from employees’ cubicles.  This building has many employees of its own that work there late into the night after our staff has gone, and there are 24/7 security and cameras everywhere. I don’t think the culprit was one our folks, but alerting our whole staff that all eyes and cameras are on them is a good deterrent. Without accusing anyone, we informed our staff and supervisors there to keep their eyes open. By the way, this client is still a beloved customer, and we have a great relationship with them.

  4. Accused and proven janitorial theft: This has only happened twice to my cleaning company in 28 years. Call it luck, great hiring, or the grace of God –we have been blessed with few occurrences. (I’m going with the grace thing.) I was raised not to air your dirty laundry in public, and I’m a firm believer and practitioner of that philosophy. But because actual theft is so rare and I believe this story will help someone, I’ll share.

    Actual scenario: A customer calls, saying that we need to come in and take a look at a video. We meet and watch a video of a new staff member taking $6 off a desk. (It was a teenager that had been recently hired to pull trash.) I was truly shocked, saddened and disappointed to see this. I listened to our client and asked how they would like me to handle it. Of course, the client wanted the employee off of their campus and wanted the money replaced. They did not want to press charges. The employee was terminated from our company immediately. Our client was gracious in not firing us. They said that we were the best service they’d ever had and didn’t blame us personally for one bad apple. I still felt responsible, but grace does abound.

Some perspective… I take pride in running a company based on integrity, honesty and doing the right thing, always aiming to be above reproach and never giving the appearance of wrongdoing. For starters, my staff is highly screened, background-checked, and instructed not to even take a piece of candy off of someone’s desk (even if it has a “Free Take One” sign on it). And I’m pleased to note that over the years my awesome team has turned in lost wallets, cash, cell phones, diamond rings, credit cards, checks, laptops, iPads, jewelry, and the list goes on and on. Out of thousands of employees spanning three decades, the number of janitorial theft accusations has been minuscule, to say the least. I’ve very proud of these good folks!

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Increase Your Janitorial Customer Retention Dramatically

Do you want to know how to increase your janitorial customer retention dramatically? Silly question, right? Of course you do! But what exactly is “customer retention” and how do you achieve it?  In practice, customer retention is less about you keeping your existing cleaning accounts and more about having your customers not get rid of you.

CleanGuidePro Janitorial Bidware - A proudly cleaned floorTo acquire new customers, you spend a lot of time, effort and money to market and sell your services. Once you get a new customer, that’s just the beginning; Now you have to keep them!

Don’t think for a moment that just doing the basics and going through the motions will retain customers. A Janitorial Service Agreement is a business relationship that absolutely requires you to be attentive, nurturing, caring, loving – (yes, I said it, love your customer!) – and to occasionally bite your tongue. And just like any other relationship, it has to be nurtured and developed this month and next month and the month after that…

You actually need to move from “Customer Retention” to “Customer Loyalty” to thrive in this business. There’s a lot to be said on this subject (and I promise to to do so in future articles), but for now, let me start with my core “Customer Retention/Loyalty Tips” that have served me so well for over 25 years in this great janitorial industry.

  1. COMMUNICATE: Right up front, when you do a walk through before preparing a proposal, make sure that you communicate with your contact about exactly what they expect. Do they have a checklist or do they want you to create one? Then, when you get awarded the account, make sure that you have a signed Service Agreement, spelling out the details and terms of your service. Customers understand the necessity of this document. Be on the same page on day one!
  2. SIMPLY DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO: Keep your promises! If your proposal stated that all waxed floors will be polished once per week, then do it. If it noted that return vents and blinds are dusted monthly, then do it. I know one national franchise that promises (on their proposals) to take all the trash cans outside and wash them every month. Of course, it rarely gets done. That task wasn’t required, but since it was promised, it became expected and was subsequently viewed as a failure to perform. If I had a quarter for every new customer that told me, “the last cleaning company didn’t do what they promised”, well.. I’d have a lot of quarters.
  3. KEEP THEIR BUILDING CLEAN: The #1 way to keep your customer happy and loyal is to keep their building clean! The #1 way to keep their building clean is to do regularly scheduled checklist inspections for quality control! It’s good and actually necessary for your customer to like you, but that alone will not keep you there. You need to consistently keep their facility clean and even exceed their original expectations. Go the extra mile, it will be well worth it. Strive to be a top service provider!
  4. THEY NEED TO LIKE YOU: Hear me out on this one. I’m not talking about a joke telling, fishing buddy (although, being “professionally” personable and friendly goes a long way towards customer loyalty). Instead, when they like the way you and your company take care of their facility, they will also like you! Yes, cliché, but take care of your customers and they will take care of you.
  5. BE PROFITABLE: You want to “retain” profitable customers. If you’re losing money on an account or just breaking even, then you will stop caring about the things that will make your customer keep you. They’ll probably drop you and you won’t care. Do all you can to keep your costs down and quality up. But if, for example, you start cleaning a private school with 200 students and 6 months later they’ve increased to 300 (which will increase your labor hours up to 2 hours a day), then it’s time to sit down and talk about a fair price increase. Even the Good Book says, “the worker is deserving of their pay”. That’s good enough for me.
  6. TRAIN YOUR EMPLOYEES: To provide consistent quality cleaning on an ongoing basis, your crew needs to know what to do. You need to have some type of training on cleaning techniques, chemical use, customer relations, safety, protocol, procedures, production rates, etc. A trained and competent employee creates a loyal customer!
  7. USE CHECKLISTS TO MANAGE “THE SYSTEM”: A checklist of exactly what is done each day is not just a good idea, but an absolute must to succeed. e.g. Individual employee checklists, area checklists, specialty work checklists, end of night supervisor checklists, monthly inspection checklists, etc. That’s managing a system that works!
  8. EMPLOYEE UNIFORMS/BADGES/NAME TAGS: At each customer location, project an image of trust, structure and professionalism. After hour customer accounts should still have company t-shirts with your name and logo. And higher profile accounts need to project a more professional image. Specifically, polo shirts with logos and khakis, with employee lanyard or company identifying name badges need to be worn. The more your customer sees your employees, the sharper they need to look!
  9. WHATEVER IT TAKES!: Commit to being that person that finds solutions. Every problem and situation has a perfect solution. Some tougher than others. Are you willing to fulfill a customer’s last minute, 4pm request to wax or polish floors tonight because their corporate boss is visiting tomorrow? Will you miss a little sleep or work late to provide a solution? Expect the unexpected! When another cleaning company comes “a courting”, they will say “No thanks, we’re very happy with our current cleaning service”. That’s customer loyalty!
  10. HAVE A SPIRIT OF EXCELLENCE!: If you have a mindset of “it’s good enough, they’ll never notice, everyone cuts corners”, I know 4 coats of wax would look awesome, but 3 is enough for tonight”, then you don’t get it. When I used to ask my Floor Techs how a job came out and they would say “good”, I would ask them “do you know who the enemy of excellence is”? It’s “good enough”. They quickly got the point! They then started sending me cell phone pics of every job, and yes it was excellent work! Average Spirit equals Average Business and that equals average customer retention. Excellent Spirit equals Excellent Business and that equals EXCELLENT CUSTOMER RETENTION!

Always remember to nurture your customer relationships. Make them feel cared about and appreciated. Your customer retention will increase dramatically and your customer loyalty will soar!


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