From Complainer to Flag Waver

How to reassure your most difficult clients

From Complainer to Flag Waver

A cleaning contractor told me his company maintained a five-story medical building in San Francisco, CA. To prepare him and his company for what was to come when starting the job, the management company that hired the contractor told him it had some problem tenants.

After the meeting, the daily calls and complaints began.

The manager of one of the medical office suites would call weekly, if not daily, about all types of service issues, and communicated these problems in such a way that even the hardiest among us would begin to perspire.

One evening the cleaning contractor went to inspect this manager’s office before his cleaning staff arrived. What he discovered was quite startling.

Even though this medical office was large and busy, the manager still took time before leaving work to use a hole puncher and place little pieces of paper on top of window ledges, restroom dispensers, on the corners of desks, behind toilets, on the carpet next to walls, and even on individual blinds covering the windows.

When the manager returned to work in the morning, the first thing she would do is look to see if the paper clippings were still where she had placed them, and if they were, it meant—at least to her—that the cleaning crew had not done its job. After finding any of the clippings on a surface, her next step would be a bright-and-early phone call to the cleaning contractor to discuss a handful of problems.

While most cleaning contractors have experienced or have a difficult customer or two, this one—I must admit—takes the cake. However, contractors should know that in most cases, even a customer like this can be turned into a flag waver—someone who really applauds your service—with a little time and care.

Taking Preventive Measures

Before discussing how you can turn a problem client into a reference, here are a few reminders for cleaning contractors:

  • Anytime you provide a service, you have a customer. It will be a joy to work for some, but not for others, so just accept it.
  • Sometimes building tenants do not know exactly what services their contractors provide. In the situation previously described, the management company hired the cleaning contractor; it was not the office manager whose company is a tenant of the building. While a tenant may call, complain, and want you to provide specific services, that person is likely unaware of what cleaning duties your staff is responsible for providing or being paid to perform.
  • Communication is vital .Apparently, a revolving door of cleaning contractors had serviced the previously discussed building in the past. These contractors all had one thing in common: During a period of time, they all stopped communicating with the office manager in addition to other office managers. Each time, a service termination notice would arrive a few months later.

How to Handle Troublesome Tenants

Many years ago, I was in charge of the cleaning and maintenance for the Walt Disney Co. in California. My job was to oversee several buildings on the lot, and sure enough, in one six-story building, there was one manager that knew of every trash can or dispenser missed by the cleaning crew the night before along with any other cleaning-related problems by the time she got to work the next day.

After hearing her complaints every day, these are the steps I decided to take:

  • I asked to have a meeting with her as soon as possible.
  • In our meeting, I thanked her for her observations and for taking the time—each day—to point out cleaning deficiencies or issues.
  • I told her without her feedback, it would be difficult for us to improve our services for all the Disney buildings.
  • I took the time to review our scope of services with her, so she was aware of the exact services we were able to provide on a regular basis.
  • After that, I asked her for a favor. I asked if she would continue to call me and if we could meet on a regular basis. I also asked if I could use her as a resource to help us improve the cleaning and maintenance of all the Disney properties.

During our meeting, a smile came over her face. Instead of viewing her as a complainer, I told her she was a teacher, and one that would help us improve the cleaning throughout the lot. She agreed to call whenever necessary; we did have regular meetings, and in time, she became our biggest flag waver, always raving about the high quality of our services.

Posted On January 31, 2017

Ron Segura

President of Segura Associates

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with all segments of the cleaning industry to help streamline their cleaning and building operations as well as promote sustainability and healthier cleaning strategies. He can be reached at

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