Suddenly the house cleaning industry is awash in know-it-alls. So let me begin by saying we obviously don’t. All we can offer is what has worked for us, and our experiences seem to be remarkably different from what is being sold as gospel by the house cleaning industry’s gurus.
Denver Concierge started five years ago with zero maid service customers and zero maid service employees. Denver Concierge has since grown to become one of the largest purely residential, independently-owned, maid service companies in the US. We avoided becoming mired in mediocrity, because we ignored the house cleaning industry’s babble, and found our own way. In doing so, we dwarfed the gurus’ own growth rates, and we spent loads of dough in developing systems. Last week, one fellow referred to us as “Cowboys.” Yada, yada . . . I suppose, had we hailed from Boston, he would have used a different term.
If you’ve already bought CD’s telling you how to start or operate a maid service, then we congratulate you on your purchase. In fact, we likely agree with 80% of what is included in the package. But the difference between offering mediocre service and exceptional service is concealed in the 20% bit about which we disagree.
Over the next six-months, the House Cleaning Alliance will offer, mostly for free, its own details about how to operate a scaled maid service enterprise. Keep an eye out for the forms to appear in the Maid Service Co-Op Shop, over the next several weeks, at fantastically low prices. Until a complete package is made available, the following (along with Articles included in this site) will have to suffice to summarize our main points of dissent.
Your Father’s Marketing Plan
Any guru offering a marketing plan which doesn’t mention web-based marketing is either headed for the bone yard, or has just arrived from the moon. Traditional marketing methods are passé. With a fully-developed web-based marketing plan, your next customer will seek and find you, and each new customer will cost you just pennies on the dollar, as compared to traditional methods proposed by the gurus. And you will add new customers at a rate which will astonish you.
Specifically, we don’t agree with making door hangers the cornerstone of your marketing plan. Since the no-call lists have served to eliminate those dinner-time telemarketing calls, door hangers have taken their place as the new fly in home owner’s ointment. Use door hangers sparingly, for operational reasons, and with discretion.
Mailings certainly have a place in your overall marketing scheme. They should be incredibly focused in terms of content and target, and we would never again have a third-party distribute them on our behalf, without independently verifying that they were indeed mailed.
Phone book and newspapers ads are passé. We don’t intend to ever spend another nickel on either.
Mind Your Phone Manners
The Gurus advise: End every sentence with, “So when’s the In-Home Visit going to be then?” Such hard-sell techniques have no place in our industry. If a prospect phones your office, it would be remiss for you not to offer an In-Home Visit (or an hourly price over the phone, if the Prospect prefers), but to do so more than once would insult the Prospect’s intelligence. If the Prospect has called for information, then give it freely over the phone. Selling house cleaning services requires instilling a sense of trust, and acting like a high-pressure used car salesmen is not going to give her that warm and fuzzy feeling she is seeking. Consumers are weary and wary of high-pressure sales techniques, so relax a little. The difference is subtle; it depends on adopting an attitude different from that of your mediocre competitors. Exude confidence, not desperation. You offer exceptional services, and your services are highly sought after. This Prospect is seeking your services. Be a facilitator. Invite her, don’t scare her. Be the spider sitting back in your web, not the hawk swooping upon its prey.
When fielding calls from Prospects, you want them to finish the conversation thinking that you are polite and competent. Respect the Prospect’s process, rather imposing your own. Your objective for each call from a Prospect should be to satisfy the inquiry, with a secondary objective being one of a number of possibilities: 1) the Prospect visiting your website for more information about your company and services; 2) the Prospect phoning back the next day (or next month) to inquire further; or just maybe 3) booking the In-Home Visit while the Prospect is on the phone.
In-Home Quotes: Leave your Plaid Jacket at Home
The purpose of the In-Home Visit is firstly to describe those tailored services you are offering to this particular prospect. The process offers the chance for you to distinguish yourself from your competitors. Indeed, if it is a mediocre service that you are offering, then it might be altogether better for you to skip In-Home Visits and quote everything hourly over the phone. But if your service is exceptional, then it’s going to be a natural sale. You can simply walk around, listen, and, with complete candor and confidence, make 20 promises to your Prospect about the baseboards, under the beds, cobwebs, etc. Collectively, the promises represent your sales pitch.
When you are done, and have established (and documented!) the scope based on your walk-through with the Prospect, then give her the prices. Hmmm . . . I have loads to say about how to arrive at the prices. It won’t fit here. Suffice it to say, we go about it altogether differently than the gurus. If you want to chat about our pricing method sometime, I may be happy to do so. We are presently developing a statistical tool to help you price house cleaning assignments. It’ll be ready this calendar year.
Aside from arriving at the price, we disagree with the gurus’ Living Room techniques. Better to assume your Prospect has an IQ of 150 and will appoint a house cleaning company precisely when she is ready, and not before. Make your offer, then describe your method for having arrived at the price (it’s a function of the time you estimate it will take to clean the home, based on the agreed-upon scope).
The offer is followed by a pregnant pause, not by the obnoxiously insulting question, “So what’s it going to be then, weekly or every two weeks?” At this point in the visit, you will have a good sense for whether or not you’ve won over the Prospect. The price might astonish her. That’s OK, you’ve already described your premium services, and now you’ve given her your premium price. Maybe she needs a moment to digest it. Be calm and polite. Of course, you’re ready to book it on the spot. But if she seems indecisive, I always say, “These quotes are good for one year. If you get three quotes from three companies, I will expect that ours will be the highest. It’s not that we charge more per hour for our services, but rather that we spend more time in our clients’ homes, and our prices reflect that. If you are uncertain, then choose one of our competitors for a lower price. Once you’ve tried them, you’ll find that they either satisfy your needs, in which case you’ve saved money, or they disappoint you, in which case you will be more appreciative of our services, once you appoint us six weeks hence.” The most common response: “Wow (what confidence!), why would I waste my time with the others? When can you start?” Of course, over time, this only works if you can actually deliver what you’ve promised.
The gurus track close rates. To them, a sale equals success. To us, a sale may very well represent the worst-case scenario, if it is based on a bad price. An orangutan dressed in a plaid jacket can sell premium maid services for a bad price. We monitor close rates, but we emphasize accuracy in pricing. The difference may seem subtle, but beware, the results can be remarkably different.
Let the Market Dictate Your Operating Profile
The gurus say three person teams are “the Best.” That’s like saying a Cocker Spaniel is the best. The best for what? When it comes to Operations, think outside the box. Flexibility is the key to meeting customer demands and optimizing the big Scheduling Puzzle. One of the benefits of being an independent maid service company is that we don’t have to abide by one of those pesky operational manuals, and we’re not about to impose superficial operational rules on ourselves as a substitute.
We happily and intelligently run one-person, two-person, three-person, four-person teams, depending on the clients, the location, and the circumstances (maybe even five or six-person teams for special assignments). We do it to please our customers, optimize the schedule, minimize drive-time, facilitate training, and because we have the systems which enable us to do it.
The gurus, with their manual forms and pencil sharpeners, sacrifice flexibility in order to simplify and solve the Scheduling Puzzle. To them, “a Team” is a static concept. To us, it is dynamic. On Monday, Maria manages a two-person team. On Tuesday she manages a separate three-person team. On Wednesday she manages an altogether different four- person team, and so on and so forth. What’s the difference? Well, to Maria’s Monday clients, there is none. She has the same Monday team each Monday. But from an operations perspective, the difference is remarkable. Firstly, evaluations: every Cleaning Associate works with, and is evaluated by, multiple Team Leaders every two-weeks. Yes! Another relative performance parameter on which to base pay! Secondly, flexibility in matching the perfect personnel package to the perfect assignment. Thirdly, flexibility in solving the Scheduling Puzzle. Fourthly, camaraderie across teams, not just within them.
The gurus’ specialization concept? Yech! Who wants to become a bathroom specialist? Why would anyone introduce yet one more constraint into the Scheduling Puzzle? Get real. Everybody does everything—the Team Leader trains everyone, and uses her discretion in assigning tasks. She mixes it up amongst the team so as to make their lives more bearably interesting. And it would be naïve to imagine that quality won’t suffer from the gurus’ undue emphasis on efficiency. Give your house cleaners some credit for being intelligent enough to work out efficiency among themselves, monitor quality carefully and continuously, and you may be surprised at the results. Rely on your pay schemes to reward your employees for a combination of efficiency and quality. What pay schemes, you ask? Well, that really is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Please see the Forum.
Please check back to read about our plans to send a maid to the moon.