I had a wonderful opportunity to talk to a gentleman from Bellingham on Friday, who is starting a home cleaning business in Washington with his wife. He was hoping for some insight into some of the ups and downs of this crazy business. Having been the fortunate recipient of so much time, input and help from other business owners and experts who had absolutely nothing to gain from my success, it was a privilege to be able to pay it forward and help him perhaps avoid some of the pitfalls that caused me to stumble.
We talked for around 90 minutes about marketing, staffing, products, scheduling, margins etc… lots of logistical stuff. As we wrapped up the conversation, he leaned in to me a little, and said in a lowered voice “you know, my wife and I actually see this business as an opportunity to speak into the lives of the people we employ who need help”.
I lost it.
It took me a good minute – somewhat embarrassed by an emotional display in a business meeting at a busy Starbucks, with someone who was basically a stranger – through choked sentences to compose myself and affirm that this is what has become by FAR what I cherish most about what I do.
Isn’t life crazy? Seven years ago, in my late forties, I bought a toilet brush and began cleaning toilets and picking up pubic hair from bathroom floors, hoping to make enough money to make the rent. Little did I know that my greatest reward would one day be not monetary, but walking into our depot every morning and seeing our team of amazing, authentic, caring, dedicated ladies. Good, good people that I have the privilege of investing time and effort in.
By God’s grace I have discovered my purpose and I am profoundly grateful, and pray for the wisdom and worthiness to lead well (which I don’t, often). I guess my point to this post is to encourage those who are discouraged by the mantra “change the world”, but feel left out, feel your role is too small, too insignificant. More insignificant than picking up pubes?
Stop looking for the “big score”. Be awesome at whatever it is you do, however insignificant you might think it is. Change YOUR little corner of the world. Press on. Love people. Be a servant. Press on some more. Love some more. Bloom in your little patch of dirt. Then, help someone else bloom in theirs.
If you help enough people bloom, pretty soon the whole world’s a garden.
“The Company that Cares”.
It’s our company tagline, but what does it mean, exactly?
A quick Google search for the definition of the word “care” yields the following: “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.”, and to “feel concern or interest; attach importance to something.”
The maxim that keeps us on our mission course here at ZOOM! headquarters – our “North Star”, if you will – is this notion of “care”. It is this principle – “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone” – that we strive to keep at the core of every decision we make here; something that we apply not only externally in our interaction with customers and our home cleaning services, but – perhaps more importantly – internally as well, to the inclusion of each individual ZOOM! team member.
It’s an easy slogan to throw around… the company that cares… care for people, care for property, care for the planet. And it’s not like it’s exclusive. Most companies will boast of excellent customer service – or care – in their marketing efforts. So how do we differentiate between tossing around a simple slogan, and the consummation of an authentic imperative to do the right thing by all people?
Here are a few thoughts on the “Authentic Care” that we aspire to here at ZOOM! Home Cleaning, and that we strive to deliver to both our team members and customers alike:
Authentic Care has a Conscience
Most of us have a conscience; an “inner voice” or “gut feel” that prompts us regarding the right or wrong thing to do. Often it can be in conflict with what we might really want to do in a given situation. Authentic care is demonstrated when we act in alignment with what we know to be the right course of action, even if we don’t want to do it. Authentic care can even transcend our conscience, when we give beyond what will appease our conscience, or beyond what might be considered reasonable or fair.
Authentic Care is Inconvenient
Care is most easily demonstrated when things are going well. But our true colours shine when things are going poorly, or when the wheels fall off our plans. For example, it is never convenient when one of our team members struggles with a life crisis in the middle of a work week, or a customer cancels a house cleaning at the last minute due to illness. Every parent is familiar with a tug on their trouser leg at the least convenient time, from a child in distress yearning to be acknowledged and comforted, and would never consider deferring their response to a more convenient time. Convenient care is cold and conditional care. Authentic care is punctual; it shows up when it’s needed most.
Authentic Care has a Cost
As a rule of thumb, authentic care will cost you something. That cost might be pride, giving up being right, acknowledging a mistake, eating a little crow, or losing money. When we have our crews stand down and cancel cleaning services on a snow day due to hazardous road conditions, it costs us financially. But authentic care puts the safety and well-being of our cleaning crew members ahead of an invoice. We have in the past conducted house cleaning jobs that have not – for whatever reason – gone well and failed to meet the expectations of our customer. Instead of trying to cut our losses and run, authentic care means we pursue these failures as opportunities – with a cost – to demonstrate to our customers the depth of our commitment.
Authentic Care is not always Comfortable
Because authentic care can prick our conscience, has a real cost and is not always convenient, it goes without saying that it is often not comfortable. It can mean we have to step out of our comfort zone, engage in a confrontation, bite our tongue, or come to terms with our own inadequacies. Authentic care is not always an easy road, but one that leads to significant, loyal, longterm relationships. And considering almost everything of value in this life can be found within our interactions with others, it is a road well-worth travelling.
Here’s a question for your consideration:
Generally speaking, what do you think of “Company Policies”; those rules that aim to manage specific events or occurrences during your interaction with a business? Do they strike you as user-friendly, affirming, and in your best interest? Or, as I’m personally more apt to perceive them, cold, inflexible, unfriendly, and designed to protect the company’s best interest?
Let me share a short story. There is a business in my neighbourhood where I regularly pick up supplies. I have been dealing there for over a decade, and know the staff by name. My visits to their premises are generally pleasant, with the usual casual banter preceding a transaction. I estimate that each year I spend $3000 at this establishment. Multiply that over the ten years I have been dealing there, and that totals 30,000 of my hard-earned loonies that I have slipped into the owner’s pocket. Assuming that I will continue to shop there for another 10 years, that investment doubles to $60,000. I want you to remember that number.
A couple of months ago I paid my usual visit and after exchanging pleasantries communicated to the owner that I was in a small bind, and requested his help. I needed an unknown quantity of a particular $15.00 item to complete a job I was working on. I asked the owner if I over-purchased the quantity I needed, could I return one unused item, unopened, within the next two days. I was surprised when he informed me that he would not be able to accommodate my request – that it was “against company policy”.
I admit that I left the store somewhat disgruntled. Perhaps I am a little more sensitive than most. But did he not jeopardize a $60,000 relationship over $15.00? I assure you he did. He missed an opportunity to help a customer solve a problem, cement a relationship, and secure future business… and that opportunity would have cost him nothing.
Company policies should not be confused with company systems, which are designed to main consistency and integrity throughout the customer experience. Policies on the other hand are hard rules that are designed to remove discretionary decision-making from the process. And therein lies the problem. It is because policies are non-discretionary that often no room or allowance is made for individual circumstances or situations. And isn’t a unique, tailored customer experience what we are all after these days? Company policies should never be an impediment around which your customer must navigate to do business with you. Policies become something easy hide behind because we are too lazy to deal with the issue at hand, or because we are afraid of being taken advantage of.
Just to further drive home the point, imagine if you, as an individual, had a policy for how you dealt with everybody – friends, family, business acquaintances – on a daily basis. Whenever you were confronted by a friend on a particular topic or in a specific situation, you would defer to your policy manual, and respond accordingly. Do I want to go for dinner tonight? Let me look that up. Can you borrow a screwdriver? Hmmm… page 79. One could hardly expect to foster deep, healthy relationships with those closest to you if all you ever did was trot out scripted answers.
As ridiculous as this may sound on a personal level, in business it tends to be the norm and it makes it difficult for a business to foster deep, healthy relationships with their customers. This is why at ZOOM!, we don’t dig in our heels over company policies to the detriment of relationships. We always put relationships first, even if it costs us to do so. Just as every one of our customers has a unique house with unique cleaning requirements, every engagement we have with our customers honours and protects the individual and their needs… not ours.
Failure probably sounds like an odd topic for a blog post, particularly for the very first blog post! No one likes to talk about their failures, and businesses in particular go to a lot of trouble to keep them hidden, out of fear of tarnishing their brand reputation. But learning to fail well is crucial to the success of any small business.
No one sets out to fail, but every business will inevitably encounter a situation in which they do. As much as we at ZOOM! want to succeed – and succeed greatly – with our home-cleaning customers in Surrey and Langley, sometimes, for various reasons, we fail. And let’s not confuse failure with making a mistake. A mistake is usually a minor incident that can be corrected, like, for example, forgetting to clean a countertop. Mistakes are opportunities to shower a customer with extra care and attention, and demonstrate how much they mean to us. A failure is a complete breakdown in the relationship, where it becomes apparent that we will not meet the expectations of the customer regardless of what we do.
We recently had a failure of this kind at a home we were cleaning in South Surrey. The customer was insistent that we use a piece of her equipment, despite my reservations. We like to use ZOOM! cleaning equipment and supplies, as our team members know how they work and what they do. But, more importantly, we like to make our customers happy, so we agreed to use her device. And, the inevitable happened. The customer was not happy with the job. A mistake! We sent a team member back to correct the situation at no cost, with our equipment, and the customer was happy. Hooray! But on the next visit, the customer was again insistent that we use her device. At the end of the job the customer called, almost in tears, about the poor job the team members had done, and demanded a discount.
I was unable to reach her for several days, which gave me ample time to consider my options. I had left a pleasant, earnest voicemail expressing my regrets, but was not looking forward to talking with her in person. I feared getting an earful when I finally connected with her. I had also dropped a hand-written greeting card in the mail, acknowledging that we had not met her expectations, without apportioning blame or trotting out excuses, and expressing my regret at losing a good customer.
Much to my delight, when we finally connected she was gracious and accommodating. I offered a discount I thought was fair which she accepted without hesitation. We chatted amicably about life, family and cleaning, and parted ways on good terms. Mission accomplished.
I don’t know if I’ll ever hear from her again, but that’s not the point. What’s important is that she was left with a positive impression about ZOOM! home cleaning, even in the middle of a negative experience. That’s what we call a successful failure. That’s standing behind our promise. That’s the Company that Cares™.