Reviewing a “failure” can be a pain-staking and time-consuming process, but the potential to create a better company out of it is priceless.
Whenever we have a service failure, we discuss it in our weekly meetings. I am sure everyone who reads this has had the same experience where one customer seems to be cursed. We can clean 40 homes a day and everything goes wrong with the same customer. We also write it up and save it because we do not want to forget the lessons we learned.   

[EasyDNNnewsToken:Left Justify Embed 300 x 250]A Comedy of Errors

Mrs. Baldwin was scheduled for service on Friday morning with Brenda, who was scheduled off so we moved her appointment to Sarah. The person doing reminder calls did not tell Mrs. Baldwin that her team was changed for the day. Mrs. Baldwin did tell us she had a showing and wanted us there first thing.   

Friday morning, Sarah’s partner calls off sick. I assign Amber to work with Sarah.  

7:30 AM:  I get a call from Sarah that she will be a little late. She left her mop at a client’s home the previous day, so she went to Home Depot to buy a replacement mop and forgot her purse at home, so she has to go home.

8:30 AM: Sarah comes in and gets Amber.  

9:00 AM: Mrs. Baldwin calls wanting to know where her team is. She is upset because no one told her we changed the teams, she has a showing at 11:00 AM, and it needs to be done by then. I assure her the team left 30 minutes ago and should be there any minute. She has to leave and is leaving the front door open. I call Sarah to tell her what is going on, and she is at Home Depot again. I thought she did that on the way in, or we would have given her one when she came in. Home Depot is out of stock on mops. We tell her to go to Mrs. Baldwin’s now and forget the darn mop. I leave the office and run to Mrs. Baldwin’s to drop off a mop, which we had in the office, and to help them clean and finish on time; I am unsure why she went to Home Depot after the office.

12:00 PM:  Mrs. Baldwin calls and is mad that her bills have been thrown out. She keeps her bills in a trash can beside the shredder and we threw it out. She demands we come back and dig the bills out of the trash for her.  

The office manager calls me and says she does not think we should do it. My office manager thinks it is not our fault the lady keeps her bills in an unlabeled trash can. She thinks if you put something in a trash can when the maids are coming you better expect we will throw it out. I tell her we should go back. It is stupid, but it will only take a minute, and we had legitimately screwed up several different ways already with this customer.   

My office manager tells me that she thinks I am wrong and that we cannot let customers push us around, but I overrule her. The cleaner then throws attitude when we tell her she has to go back. She is a mother and a grandmother, and she is not digging through someone else’s trash. I was not in the office at the time, but I am pretty sure the office manager did not help my case when she called her. My office manager probably led off the call by telling the cleaner how stupid it was and she could not believe I was asking her to do it.  

So I had to call the cleaner when I was out of the office to talk her down and say, yes, it is stupid but it is not that big of a deal. We did not mix the trash bags, and she said the bag should be right on top, so all she would have to do is pull it out and open the bag. The cleaner goes back and takes care of it.

At the End of the Day
Derek’s total time lost:  
 – 2 hours running around and cleaning due to the mop                                               
 – 30 minutes of phone calls with the customer, the office, and the cleaner
Two technicians did not get to their first job until 9:30 AM instead of 8:30 as they were supposed to.

And we’ve got one unhappy customer on our hands, all for reasons we could have avoided.

Lessons Learned
 1) Review the policy on lost equipment.  Was something so harsh about it that my cleaner would rather buy a new mop with her own money on her own time rather than tell us she needed a new one?
 2) Reinforce the policy on lost equipment and use this situation as an example to explain why it is there.
 3) Find out why we forgot to tell the client about the team change and find a way to fix the system so it does not have to count on someone noticing and remembering.
 4) Review and retrain staff on maintaining and updating job sheets, especially for cases where another team is substituted. For this situation, discover why the note about the bills in the trash was not on the job sheet?  
 5) Address training for the entire company on customer service. They need to understand the principle that you can be right or you can be successful, but you often cannot be both. To be successful in a service business, you need to let go of “being right” and concentrate on serving the client.

Derek Christian is founder and owner of My Maid Service, Cincinnati’s largest, independent professional cleaning company. Prior to that, he spent thirteen years at P&G working on household cleaning products.