Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping, Small Business Tips

Google, Amazon, Homejoy and Customer Service in the Dog Days of Summer

fall cleaning business trendsThe start of the school year, the demise of Homejoy and the entrance of Amazon and Google into on-demand home services make Autumn 2015 the perfect time to focus on customer service.

 

The reason we focus on Customer Service in August, specifically, is because it’s the beginning of the classic seasonal turn for major facets of the cleaning industry: home cleaning ramps up as kids go back to school and bring home new germs; vacation rental turns level out for the same reason; commercial bidding heats up as big businesses approach the end of the fiscal year; carpet cleaning picks up as the kids are less underfoot at home. And in 60 days, it’ll be time to launch holiday marketing campaigns and hire some extra support to push through the 2-month holiday crush that ends every year.

Making Customer Service Your Edge

This second half of the year is typically stronger for cleaning businesses in general, and one thing we’ll be watching here at CleaningBusinessToday.com is customer behavior. With the exit of Homejoy from the maid service market and expansion of Amazon’s and Google’s home services divisions, the “trend” of the on-demand, tech-enabled service access is about to be tested.

A New Era of On-Demand Competitors

Publisher Derek Christian writes in his op ed this month that what we’re seeing is the transition between Home Services 1.0 into its evolution into 2.0. And the choice CBOs have is one of customer service, specifically which kinds of consumers you want to serve and which ones you’re willing give up to competitors in your market.

Customer service is what drives your choice of staffing model: choosing one that empowers the best customer experience possible. And there are many different customer experiences in demand. That’s the beauty of the evolution we’re experiencing today in the cleaning industry: being at the center of an expanding marketspace with more customer interest than ever – demanding better customer service than ever.

CeCe Mikell is the Editor-in-Chief for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published August 22, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
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Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

5 Ways to Win the Game of Reviews

online reviewsCleaning up your customer service and your quality procedures are key to getting great reviews online – and upgrading the not-so-good ones.

In March 2014, it looked like the online review landscape might be changed when Joe Hadeed, owner of Hadeed Carpet Cleaning, won a suit against Yelp that would require Yelp to release the legal identities of seven anonymous reviewers who had posted reviews that could not be matched with actual customer services provided.

The ruling was later overturned on a technicality because Hadeed could not show definitively that the anonymous reviewers were not customers; their names or service addresses were not available to be compared with Hadeed’s customer records.

And so began the saga that led to more lawsuits from businesses against Yelp and other online review sites/services where, many suspect, there are more purchased reviews than organic ones. The sheer volume of lawsuits against Yelp alone that Prost Productions, Inc., has successfully raised funding for a documentary Billion Dollar Bully investigating Yelp’s alleged transgressions.

But if Yelp’s recent food delivery acquisition is any indication, Yelp is headed for direct battle with Google and Amazon in the online marketplace arena, far beyond the game of reviews.

The Question: Is buying (good or bad) reviews unethical?

Business and technology lawyer Joy Butler (link: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joybutler) explains, “Not only is buying reviews an unethical business practice, it is illegal and can lead to significant punitive monetary damages leveled against you by the government. In one case, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) penalized Legacy Learning Systems $250,000 to settle FTC charges that the company paid affiliate marketers to pose as independent consumers and write glowing online reviews about the company’s products. Posting negative reviews about a competitor’s business could lead to lawsuits alleging things like libel and product disparagement.”

While creating and posting positive reviews for your company may initially seem like a good marketing technique,” Butler continues, “it can be an expensive mistake. The Federal Trade Commission’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising Prohibitions specifically prohibit such online shilling. If you pay anyone for endorsing or recommending your company’s services, the law expects you to disclose such compensation. This even includes bloggers and other social media types to whom a company might give free company products in the hopes of favorable blog and social media mentions. The FTC regards those freebies as compensation and expects that compensation to be disclosed in any resulting online reviews.

The First Amendment versus The Internet

Despite the fact that buying reviews is illegal – whether good ones for your own business or bad ones for a competitor – the fact remains that it’s so easy and fast to do that the legal system’s ability to track and catch perpetrators is strained.

Why? Because “the Internet” empowers the creation of new options and opportunity faster than laws and legal loopholes can keep up.

At this time, the law cannot compel a website like Yelp to reveal the identities of reviewers who wish to remain anonymous. And without clear evidence that an anonymous review is made by someone who is not a consumer of the services about which the review is written, the court is obligated to protect the reviewer’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, even anonymously.

Amazon Fights Back

In April 2015, Amazon filed suit against California resident Jay Gentile as well as several anonymous owner/operators of “reviews for purchase” websites, several specifically aimed at securing reviews for product listed on Amazon’s open marketplace.

Bobsled Marketing owner and consultant Kiri Masters works with a number of companies with products listed for sale on Amazon; she offers these insights about the practice of review purchasing:

  • Customer reviews are critical to sales conversion on product pages. One of my clients who had only two reviews across their product listings recently ran a promotion to encourage genuine customer reviews; now their sales are around $1,000/week
  • Amazon’s terms of service defer to the FTC’s requirement for persons receiving a product for free to disclose it as such in their reviews. Most reviewers comply with this requirement, so it should. It is interesting to note however that when a brand is generously giving away their product for free, few testers will give it a poor review, opting instead to attempt to resolve it with the brand.

 

Masters notes that the ethics of giving products away for free in exchange for a usually-favorable review is murky, even when the reviewer is careful to disclose this fact in their review.

5 Steps to Earning Positive Organic Reviews

With Amazon Home Services – including cleaning services – expanding rapidly since its launch earlier in 2015 and Google expected to follow with its own online marketplace and reviews plugged in, the Amazon lawsuit is being closely watched by all stakeholders in the review industry.

But what we know is that consumers rely on what appear to be objective reviews by fellow service recipients to determine not just with whom they actually spend money but often whom they even visit your website with your credentials and amazing testimonials or call for a conversation first.

For business owners choosing to steer far clear of any hint of wrong-doing, continue developing your quality control procedures and metrics as well as your customer loyalty-building initiatives:

  1. Train thoroughly
  2. Inspect and quality check pro-actively
  3. Anticipate and respond to complaints quickly and positively
  4. Wow each customer
  5. Ask happy customers for reviews periodically

CeCe Mikell is the Editor-in-Chief for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published August 11, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Housekeeping, Small Business Tips

Do More Than the Minimum To Keep Clients Happy and Boost Sales

600600p3069EDNmaingeneric-apartments-flipped-600-x-250To become and remain competitive, you’ve got to know what your competition is likely offering – so you can do more and better.

When 75% of an industry is doing the same thing, that thing (or collection of tasks) becomes a standard – no longer a competitive advantage but is simple the minimum level of service. So to start with, CleaningBusinessToday.com asked “What’s on your base task list?” in an effort to better define the most basic possible scope of work to give guidance to young businesses as they are getting started and working out the kinks and on their unique selling propositions.

We know that the list can change, especially so for companies specializing in customization. But everyone seems to have a basic task list; otherwise, no one would have a place to start with training, which we all seem to agree is the real core of each company’s competitive advantage.

So what stacks up as the Basic Weekly Scope of Work for Residential Cleaning? These are the minimum expectations, based on earning at least a 75% adoption rate by survey participants. (Click here or on image to see Table 1.)

The question remains what to do with all of the things on your list that might be now considered extra when compared to the minimum scope of work. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Keep them right where they are and highlight them as points of differentiation between you and your local competitors.
  2. Use them to create levels (basic, plus, premium, custom) of service to more easily show the value of cleaning in a home.
  3. Reserve some of the lowest cost/lowest time options for a WOW list that you can turn to when you want to thank or surprise a loyal customer, reward someone for a referral, or add on in a service recovery (complaint) situation.
  4. Create a Custom or Add-on list of services for which you charge a little bit more – because it takes longer and a little more training for your techs to get it right.

Here are the things you can use to boost your base or additional service options (Click here or on image to see Table 2.)

Originally published on August 7, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

4 Ways to Keep Your Best Employees

motivating millennials at workIn an industry with 300% turnover, having concrete actions for inspiring and keeping your best employees is the best cost-saving hack you can get.

It’s been the plight of the business owner for eons: these younger workers just don’t have the work ethic, the professional attitude, the loyalty to do quality work, make customers happy, and stick around long enough for me to make some money.

And the chant is growing louder as the largest generation in history is already edging out older workers. They’ll work cheaper, and that appeals to business owners trying to keep costs down and prices competitive. But these millennial workers seem to have different expectations of “work” and “advancement” that can make them appear transient, unreliable.

Employee culture and engagement expert Sandy Geroux offers these four ways business owners and managers can better communicate with and motivate millennial workers.

What motivates Millennial employees is the same thing that motivates all employees: respect. However, the difference is in how actions are perceived by the different generational groups, and how certain things come across as disrespectful, even when no disrespect is intended. Here are 4 ways Xer and Baby Boomer bosses can change the way they interact with Millennials that will help lessen perceived disrespect and encourage millennials to comply, engage and feel loyalty to their leaders:

1. Explain the Why – Not Just the What

While Boomers and Xers are often satisfied with an answer of “I don’t know,” Millennials want to know the answer to everything… immediately! They have grown up in an age where the answer to almost anything is literally at your fingertips at any moment via the Internet.

Boomers and Xers had to work harder and wait longer for answers because they often had to research answers in printed books, encyclopedias, and other resources – which many times they didn’t possess, so they had to (gasp!) drive to a library, or call and ask a librarian to research it for them. Thus, they were used to having to forge ahead without ALL the answers in their possession.

Millennials don’t want to do anything without the answer to the question “Why?”. So explaining the “why” behind the policy, rather than simply telling them what the policy is, will inspire them to comply of their own free will because it makes sense to them.

Remember that when someone decides to do something, it has to be for his/her own reasons, not yours; and if they don’t know the why, there is no reason to do it.

2. Ask for Their Input

Millennials are the most socially-oriented generation ever. They love to discuss things, get advice, and offer it in return. In fact, if they are not asked for their advice, they feel disrespected, as though their opinion doesn’t matter and the person making a
decision that affects them doesn’t feel they have anything valuable to offer.

While this didn’t feel disrespectful to previous generations because that’s just the way it was in the past, it does feel disrespectful to this generation where everything is socialized before being acted upon. In addition, Millennials also place much more emphasis on their peers’ opinions than on their elders’ views; thus, they will respect someone much more if that person asks for their input, especially if the decision involves or affects them.

Again, the “why” comes into play, so at least hear and acknowledge their opinions on the matter. They’ll feel less like a policy is being rammed down their throats without input, and you’ll gain buy-in more easily. However, this also means that if you don’t take their advice, you MUST at least let them know you heard it, as well as the reasons why it is not possible, at least right now.

3. Help Them Learn and Grow

Millennials have grown up in a learning environment, so it comes very naturally to them. Therefore, giving them opportunities to continue to learn and grow are vitally important.

They will not stay or engage in a workplace where there is nowhere for them to go, where there are no opportunities to improve themselves and build a foundation for later success in their career and their life.

These opportunities include job training, leadership and other soft skills training, as well as mentoring from their leaders at various levels who can offer advice and guidance on their careers, mindsets, and other important life- and career-related skills.

4. Take an Interest In Them

No one will go to the wall for a leader who acts as though their people are just another number. If leaders don’t take the time to find out the first clue about their people – and also don’t let their people get to know them, why would their people care about the leader or the organization?

Remember, people don’t work for organizations; they work for people. So, start engaging with them. Ask about their lives, joke with them occasionally, share your hobbies, find out the names of their significant family members. You don’t have to be best friends with them, but you do have to at least look like someone they would want to be friends with.

The best way to eliminate the Us vs. Them mentality is to let them know just how like their leaders they really are.

Originally published on July 28, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.
Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

New Overtime Rule Will Cost You Money

overtimeIf your staff make less than $1000/week, you’ll now have to pay them overtime – even salaried employees.

If a new overtime pay rule proposed by the President and presented by the US Department of Labor on Tuesday, June 30th, is adopted, cleaning business owners will be looking at an even more complex compensation calculation system – even for salaried employees.

Here’s how it breaks down:

  • hourly workers who gross $1000/week or less would be eligible for overtime pay
  • salaried workers who gross $50,440/year or less would be eligible for overtime pay

Supporters

It’s easy to assume that the 5 million hourly workers in the US are rejoicing at this news, but other supporters include various labor unions known to advocate for higher wages in general, specifically the AFL-CIO.

Opposition

It’s easy to assume that employees will rejoice, but you might be surprised by some of the opponents of this change:

National Retail Foundation: “Overtime expansion would drive up retailers’ payroll costs while limited opportunities to move up into management.” and “most workers would be unlikely to see an increase in take-home pay, the use of part-time workers could increase, and retailers operating in rural states could see a disproportionate impact.”

National Federation of Independent Businesses: “rule will be especially tough for small businesses in small markets.”

National Restaurant Association: “it seems as if these proposed rules have the potential to radically change industry standards and negatively impact our workforce.”

What YOU Can Do

  1. Read the bill in its original and entirety; avoid forming opinions based solely on others’ interpretation of the bill and proposed changes.
  2. Register your comments here by September 4th, the end of the required 60-day public comment period. Please note that your comments will become public record and cannot be filed anonymously.
  3. Compose and post your comments to the office listed in the bill (link above, instructions on page 2).

Sources
USAToday
AssociationasNow

Originally published July 1, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

6 Processes Your Cleaning Business Should Automate This Summer

mobile business automationFor a first foray into technology-supported automation, these common processes in a cleaning business are a great place to start.

Technology is an amazing tool which any business can use to begin improving efficiency, but only if the basis processes, procedures, and policies have been created to govern the decision-making that drives the systems. For a first foray into technology-supported automation, these common processes in a cleaning business are a great place to start:

1. Time Tracking

As the IRS requires you to track both job time and travel time towards calculating overtime rates (which often change weekly), time tracking is a daily task that can easily get lost in the paperwork. Some of the traditional maid service scheduling applications offer some form of field time tracking options, though you may want to consider independent time tracking apps before committing to a larger system.

2. Mileage Tracking

Because employers must pay technicians for their travel time, it’s in your best interest (and bank balance) to monitor both mileage and travel time to make sure you keep it to a minimum; that’s where mileage tracking (aka GPS tracking) applications can increase the reporting accuracy and help you keep labor costs down.

3. Blogging

Content marketing continues to dominate the SEO strength and search rankings of websites, and a weekly blog is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. But it can be a pain to remember to stop and write and post once a week. Use a blog scheduler to help you out so that you can dedicate a smaller block of time once a month to writing and scheduling 4-5 posts for the month that support any specials or themes, and then just “set it and forget it.”

4. Social Media

As with blogs, there are many free applications that let you schedule social media posts ahead of time so that you can make that a weekly or even a monthly task. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll still need to monitor your social media sites daily to respond to comments, client contact messages, and reviews (if you have that feature enabled).

5. Email Autoresponders

If you’re using email marketing, hopefully you are using an email management system that complies with CAN-SPAM. And if you are, then check the additional features for an autoresponder option. With this, you can program an automatic response sequence when a contact hits reply to specific emails or newsletters. It’s a great way to set up and test out your first automated nurture campaign, which is a commonly used feature of larger automation systems.

6. File Sharing

The first time you bring on even a part time office staff member, you’re going to need to share information and files and programs and passwords with that person. A great way to do this without investing in an expensive and complex office network is to use an online file-sharing service, many of which are free.

In general, these are single-task solutions, which are a great way for a company in the beginning stages of bringing on cleaning technicians (time tracking and mileage tracking), launching its online presence (blogging, social media, and email autoresponders), or adding a first office staff member (file sharing).

CeCe Mikell is the Editor-in-Chief for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published on June 30, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.

Posted in Business Articles, Small Business Tips

Growing with Technology: From Ledger Books to Online Bookkeeping

accounting and bookkeeping at homeAdopting a tech-based solution for your business doesn’t mean you have to abandon your back-ups.

Growing up, my family – which includes my mom’s parents and her sister’s family – took a month-long “vacation” from Sunday dinner from March 15 – April 15 every year. Why? Because my grandfather, a retired military accountant for the Veterans Administration, spread his entire tax kit out across the three dining tables in my grandparents’ home, leaving us nowhere to sit our 12-person gathering. And when my grandmother opened her business in 1982, my grandfather added her business bookkeeping and accounting to that process.

Setting the Standard: Ledger Book Accounting

He’d already spent 1 full day each month meticulously organizing, cataloging, and entering each credit and debit into a practice ledger and then, once satisfied that it couldn’t be more correct, into the official old-school ledger book by hand. But then he’d spend a full month re-tallying everything in the practice sheets, and again in the official month-to-month ledger book before embarking on his annual pilgrimage. That’s what I learned to call it as a child because he spent so much time talking loudly to God, and not always using his nice words.

That pilgrimage took him through the annually revised tax code, completing every possible permutation of deductions so that he could figure out the minimum he owed the government. You see, he and my grandmother made a magnificent business team: she analyzed consumer and market trends and selected the investments and he served as her financial backer and accountant. They always owed taxes as the end of the year but were determined to pay as little as possible.

Building on a Traditional System: First Bookkeeping Software

My grandfather’s system worked so well that he passed it along to my mother, who applied the same redundant (that’s a good thing in accounting, by the way) bookkeeping and accounting system to her business, which she sold in 2011, and continues to use as her base system for managing her own personal accounting.

But while she continued to apply those fundamental GAAP accounting systems to keep everything straight, I was able to convince her in 1996 to start using Microsoft Money to keep better track of her business’s regular bookkeeping and monthly, quarterly, and annual reporting; after all, it came free with her first box-style desktop computer and back then, no one even considered using a professional system like the early Quickbooks for home use.

That first year when she was able to turn in her year-end financials to her CPA for the business taxes, he bought her season tickets for the local college football team. Yep! It was that big a deal to him to have his business clients make the transition from all of that paper that had to again be entered by hand and calculated and corrected in his system before it could be turned into tax statements. But to receive an electronic file on that 3.25” floppy was like winning the lottery, making it easy and time efficient to run the taxes and make room for even more clients and his own business growth.

But that didn’t stop my mom from continuing in her father’s footsteps. The last and first day of each month is a tricky time to call her still and we never have family dinners then because, like her father, she spreads all of the statements and receipts out on the dining table and gets to work – every month without fail.

In 2009, when Microsoft announced that it was no longer developing or supporting Microsoft Money, well, that wasn’t a good day. And since you can no longer download the original program (there’s a replacement program), my mom spends a lot of time and energy keeping her laptop in good shape because when it goes, she’ll have to grow with it to a new accounting package.

The Value in Redundant Bookkeeping

Though she no longer does the bookkeeping for her own business, she now volunteers as the bookkeeper for several small charitable organizations. And when her laptop went kaput, she lost two years of electronic records for those organizations.

After she recovered from heart-stopping fear, she gleefully shot me – her tech-happy daughter – a big, fat “I told you so.” Naturally, I’d given her a lot of grief over keeping ledger books and doing so much work every month when she could just keep it on the computer once.

But if she hadn’t had those laboriously organized and cataloged ledger books, she wouldn’t have been able to recreate the missing two years in a new program to pass on to her successors in those organizations.

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far

So I’ll let you in on a little secret. For all that I’ve abandoned pencil, paper, and calculator in favor of a cloud system when I do my own personal weekly reconciliation, I’ve got every statement and every receipt neatly organized in an 13-slot accordion file and tucked away in my home office. Just In Case!

 

CeCe Mikell is the Editor in Chief for Cleaning Business Today, coming to the cleaning industry from a 15-year career as a college professor of communication and business. She also works with several cleaning business owners on business development projects.

Originally published on June 16, 2015 at CleaningBusinessToday.com.